Back in my youthful folk music days, I used to love hearing the great singer/guitarist Dave Van Ronk growl out an old 1930s Tin Pan Alley tune actually, it had roots in the 19th century called One Meat Ball. The song presented the tale of a little man who had only 15 cents for a meal. One meatball was all he could afford, and, as the waiter scolded him, Ya gets no bread with one meatball!
By STEVE PAUL
The Kansas City Star
Well, now, its eight decades after the Great Depression, but were still in the shadows of our recent great recession and meatballs still can count as a value meal.
At the City Diner, in fact, you get three meatballs as well as some bread for $4.74.
Heres why thats a real bargain: According to a standard inflation calculator, that 15 cents from, say, 1937, is worth about $2.37 today. So at $4.74 at the City Diner, youre getting three meatballs for the price of two Depression-era hunger stoppers.
The City Diner, at the northeast edge of the City Market area, might not be one of the greasiest of area greasy spoons, but it has served reliable and inexpensive meals since, yes, the very same 1930s of One Meat Ball. Owners Don and Nola Busch have run the place for 14 years.
The diners Meatball Dunk is just about the cheapest item on its lunch menu, except for a grilled cheese sandwich ($3.60) and sides.
The ground-beef meatballs, made from scratch, arrive in a bowl smothered with a thick and slightly sweet red sauce, the kind of sugo Paulie Walnuts (of The Sopranos) might refer to as gravy. On the side is a quartered and toasted, sesame-sprinkled Italian roll for dunking, as the name implies. But, given the materials at hand, you can also think of the dish as a deconstructed meatball grinder, though its doubtful the philosophical concept of deconstruction is frequently discussed in the diners black-and-white tiled interior.
On its own, the dish can be filling, but you can overdo it by ordering some fries ($2.35) or a lettuce and tomato salad ($2.75) on the side.
The diner serves a burger for $5.05, and other sandwich prices go up from there. Its huge, 12-inch pancakes are popular ($5.25), but a short stack of three smaller ones goes for $4.75, and on Tuesdays the diner offers all-you-can-eat pancakes for $4.75.
The day I downed the Meatball Dunk at the counter, there was a nearby discussion of the previous days miracle at the ballgame, the moment when Justin Maxwell drilled a two-out, full-count, game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning of the Royals last home game of the season.
Sometimes, the quick-thinking kitchen man said of the dinger as he looked my way, you get served meatballs.
Agreed. And theres nothing wrong with that.
The City Diner
301 Grand Blvd.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
Parking: Small lot and street parking