A meatball sandwich, like Bay Cities Italian Deli is more than up to the task. It's not as beautiful as many other sandwiches around town. In fact, it's not even the most respected sandwich in its own shop: that honor goes to The Godmother. But when the world gets you down, as it invariably will, there might be no better cure than tearing the aluminum foil off a warm Bay Cities meatball sandwich, staining the tips of your fingers red, then sinking your teeth through crunchy bread and into a hulking sphere of juicy, animal-based protein.

So what makes this sandwich so spectacular? Put simply, it's all about flavor and lightness (lightness, that is, for a meatball sandwich). The meatballs are fluffy, specked faintly with fennel seeds, and made from an appropriate balance of beef and pork. Soaked in a bright marinara, they manage to lift the sandwich up, rather than bog it down to sloth-in-a-tar-pit territory, like many other versions you'll encounter.

Here the bread's interior can soak up all the bright, tangy sauce, while the golden-brown crust will maintain its shape, and, with it, the integrity of the sandwich. Think controlled chaos. (Speaking of which, here's an old video of Benigni on Letterman.)

If you want to eat this meatball sandwich but are loathe to venture into the mosh pit that is the sandwich counter at Bay Cities, you're in luck. The hot sandwiches can be ordered at the hot food counter, where you won't need a deli number and there isn't, generally, a line. Time for lunch.

Bay Cities Italian Deli: 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279.

LA Weekly