Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
Meatballs on a Plane
March 30, 2017 -- It finally happened. At around noon on Monday Lisbon time, a very attractive young woman leaned close to me in the most familiar way and asked something I had never in my life been asked before in such a venue: "Would you like meatballs or fish?"

The "fish" had been offered to me before, many times and in many places similar to this one.

The meatballs? Never. Not even once.

Considering my station in life--as you probably know, I run the Mister Meatball blog--I took this culinary offer as a sign that this final leg of my journey was either about to get better than the earlier legs--or a lot worse.

All this took place high above the North Atlantic, aboard a TAP Portugal flight bound for Boston's Logan Airport. My wife and I were returning home from a seven-night stay in Lisbon in seats that were mercifully, if only modestly, more roomy than the sardine can-like accommodations we endured on the flight out a week earlier.

I just don't know how you frequent travelers do it. Sure, you've got the whole business class thing going on, which is like cruising the Autobahn in a Mercedes-Benz S Class to my (at best) premium economy VW Jetta rocking the potholes along Route 1/9 in Jersey City. But we're still all tied to the same travel infrastructure, aren't we? And, let's face it, it hates us.

The travel industry really, really hates us!

I purchased our tickets to Lisbon many months in advance and our seat assignments were kept secret from us until 24 hours before departure. We were placed in the rear of the Airbus A330-200, in the first three-seat center aisle row behind the last four-seat center row. Not only were my knees pressed (hard) against the fully upright seat in front of me, but the tray tables in our row weren't even aligned to where our bodies were wedged.

Even my wife, whose physical comfort is more easily attainable than mine on an aircraft, was appalled and in utter disbelief. And she'd been in a swell mood up until then, thank you very much, what with TAP's apparent practice of hiring not mere mortal men as flight attendants, but the tallest and handsomest Portuguese gods.

When I asked if we might please move to minimally less dreadful seats, I was told that the flight to Lisbon was "completely 100 percent full" and that no other seats would be available. But then the doors closed and I saw that the flight was absolutely not completely 100 percent full. My wife and I grabbed a couple seats forward where the tray tables and the seat cushions actually lined up with each other.

Miracles, I am here to inform you, do happen.

The land side of my travel usually runs a lot smoother than the air side. Except, of course, when it doesn't. Like this time.

I won't burden you with the details, but let me just say this: Should you find yourself without a (long-ago booked and many times confirmed and re-confirmed) room and dragging a two-wheeled suitcase down the Rua da Misericordia in Lisbon's Chiado district, you could do much worse than grab a room at the aptly named Hotel Mercy. My wife and I did just that and the decision quickly put our holiday back on track in a hurry.

Now, back to the meatballs.

This was indeed the first time I have ever been offered meatballs on a plane. Which, when I think about it now, seems bizarre considering how ubiquitous the buggers are the world over.

"She didn't just say meatballs, did she?" my somewhat groggy wife whispered after hearing our dining choices. "Please tell me I'm hallucinating."

"Nope, this is gonna be the last indignity of the journey, so buck up," I answered before informing the attractive young woman that we would both be having the meatballs, not the fish.

How'd it turn out?

Let's just say that the final leg of our journey was not nearly as atrocious as some of the earlier trips I've taken. (Hint: Never fly United Airlines, TAP Portugal's partner in the Star Alliance.) Not only did we enjoy a couple extra inches of legroom--and non-reclining passengers in front of us--but the meatballs turned out not to be at all half bad.

"I've had much worse in restaurants," my wife said, finishing her tray of three meatballs over rice. "See, things are finally starting to look up."

This statement was made approximately 5 hours before the end of an eight-day journey. Just sayin'.

TAP Portugal's meatballs were indeed well-seasoned and of reasonable texture. (Not so the horrible and dreadful coach meals served on the outbound flight from Logan.) If given a choice, I would order TAP's meatballs again.

And yet, fellow traveler, I'm compelled to offer you another option. It is my very own recipe for meatballs and you will not go wrong if you carefully follow the instructions.

You also won't need to get yourself to an airport, board a plane or travel anywhere except to your very own kitchen.

And nobody hates you there.

This column is Copyright 2017 by Ralph Raffio. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.