A few weeks ago, my father surveyed our dinner table and mused, "I'm glad we have an Italian Christmas." He'd spent the week rolling prosciutto di Parma for trays of antipasti and frying slabs of eggplant destined for lasagna, and even though we only had three of the requisite seven fishes this year, we agreed that we were glad to pass on poultry in favor of dishes that honor our version of Italian-American heritage.
A few meals later, at Emilio's Homemade Italian Subs and Dinners, an old-timey sandwich shop in Watertown, something felt familiar: the sturdy, rich meatballs; the gargantuan plates of fried eggplant rounds. The shop is simple as can be: a few tables and a counter; hardly anything adorns the walls, and the most ambiance you can expect is the glow off the soda cooler. There's nothing surprising about the menu, from steak-and-egg subs to big, greasy plates of onion rings. But the red-sauce New World Italian subs — big, soft rolls filled with hot, fresh cutlets— are about as good as this kind of sandwich can get. Most sandwiches cost less than $8 and are easily big enough to make up two meals. The tomato sauce is smooth, acidic, and ubiquitous: thankfully, unlike so many sauces clinging to vestigial treatments of modern tomatoes, it has not been sweetened. Its best application is oozing from beneath a layer of melted provolone and grated Parmesan cheeses, on the very good chicken Parmesan sub. The chicken cutlet is pounded thin, dredged in a wonderful eggy crust and fried crisp, the meat juicy. The Italian cold-cut sub is packed with mortadella, salami, bologna, and provolone, and topped with minced hot peppers, chopped pickles, and onions that have been tossed in an herby vinaigrette. Sweet Italian sausage is stewed and yielding. I would suggest ordering a side of fried eggplant, and cramming a few of those beauties in with your meatball sub.
A sturdy brick of lasagna is simple and hearty: ricotta and mozzarella share the real estate between beefy pasta frills ($8.95). Homemade soup includes minestrone with real chopped vegetables and elbow macaroni in tomato broth. Counter service is quick and attentive, though the shop is designed for take-out. Sometimes a sub is just the right thing; for those times, Emilio's offers a tried-but-true version of sandwiches as portable as they are palatable.
Emilio's Homemade Subs and Dinners, located at 6 Bigelow Avenue, in Watertown, is open Monday–Friday, 9 am–10 pm, and Saturday, 10 am–6 pm. Closed Sunday. Call 617.923.4647.