I admit I've come late to the Moochie's party — later, even, than out-of-towner Guy Fieri, who hyped this quirky pottery store/restaurant on his Food Network show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

But better late than never.

I'd hate to let a misplaced sense of pride keep me from fully enjoying food this good, served in a setting this unique.

Two old houses, brightly painted yellow and red and joined by a crazy-patterned brick courtyard filled with tables, make up the seating and eating areas for Moochie's, which specializes in Italian takeout and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.

Is this a weird combination? No one who's been to Philadelphia would ask that question, and this place is pretty authentically Philly, right down to the Tastykakes Cream Filled Cupcakes for sale at the front counter.

Because it was lunchtime, we focused on the sandwich side of the menu. Frankly, I think it will be hard to tear myself away from the sandwiches whenever I visit Moochie's again, because they're fabulous.

My husband had the sandwich of big, handmade meatballs, wonderfully meaty and perfectly seasoned, in marinara sauce with provolone cheese on a big, firm roll.

You can get the meatballs, a particular specialty of the house, in the "atomic" meatball sandwich, with feta cheese and jalapeno sauce, or you can get them on spaghetti, or you can get them on a salad (I swear!), or you can just get a meatball by itself.

However you get them, I'm certain they'll be as wonderful as was the classic sandwich.

I had the Philly cheesesteak, thin-sliced ribeye quick-grilled with scads of onions and shoveled onto a roll with American cheese on top. They don't call it Cheez Whiz, but that's what it tastes like, and as unlikely as it may sound to those who've only had cheesesteaks with provolone, it's the best way to have one: hot, juicy meat; sweet onions; salty and creamy processed cheese; chewy roll — it's heaven. Sheer, beefy heaven.

We made our lunches "Moochie meals," adding a side and dessert for about three bucks extra, and it's a tribute to the side dishes at Moochie's that I didn't once long for French fries.

We had both the macaroni salad, mild and creamy with firm noodles and crunchy veggies, and the potato salad, which was surprisingly fine-textured and had a great spicy finish. It's called "The Don's 'Zappy' Potato Salad," and you'll like the ZAP! it administers to your taste buds.

The kids ran the gamut on the children's menu, scarfing up spaghetti with a half-meatball (believe me, it was plenty!), a grilled-cheese sandwich and a nice, simple cold-cut sandwich of ham, cheese, spread and bread. Afterward, they wrestled us for Tastykakes and some of Moochie's dark, chewy brownies.

The Italian side of the menu gets a bit of short shrift from customers intent on the sandwiches, and that's too bad, because the deep-dish lasagna and stuffed peppers sound divine.

We did try the Italian rice, an inspired concoction of rice topped with a ladleful of marinara sauce and oozy melted mozzarella. Stir it all up and eat it with a spoon for an excellent side dish.

Sandwiches $5.49-$10.49, entrees $6.59-$6.99, salads $1.99-$7.49, sides $1.59-$6.59, desserts 89 cents-$2.89, kids' meals $3-$4.


Rating: ★★★1/2

Where: 232 E. 800 South

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 801-596-1350

Web: www.MoochiesMeatballs.com

Wheelchair access: One short step to enter; crowded interior

Also: Catering and box lunches available

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail:skratz@desnews.com