Chris Agharabi elevates a homey classic

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From the April 2023 issue


Chris Agharabi likes to keep things simple. The serial restaurateur says his style is “well executed, well plated and balanced.” Evidently, his customers at Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine Bar like what they taste. 

Named for daughter Ava, the restaurant started in St. Michaels and Cambridge, Md. The newest location is in the downtown Rehoboth Beach corner space that once held Jake’s Seafood.

Additionally, Agharabi owns Theo’s Steaks, Sides & Spirits in Rehoboth and St. Michaels; High Spot in Cambridge; and Hammy’s Burgers & Shakes near the entrance to Rehoboth Beach. The culinary school graduate divides his time between Washington, D.C., Easton, Md., and Rehoboth. “I like small communities geared toward the service industry, and we like to make an impact on those communities,” says Agharabi, who started his restaurant career in the “dish pit.”

“I like restaurants where people feel like they’ve come into a home,” he continues, “and they leave wanting to come back and visit an old friend.”

And perhaps there is nothing homier than meatballs. “They’re simple, they work and it’s what we do,” Agharabi says. 

The recipe was inspired by his mother, who claimed that her meatballs were better than her mother’s. His grandmother, of course, disagreed. The women, who lived in the same house (a la “Golden Girls”) never settled the debate.

Unlike some meatball recipes, his version focuses solely on beef. To avoid a dry, dense product, he advises, don’t overwork the meat during the mixing phase, and don’t overpack the meatballs in the scoop or on the pan. You’ll also need a good meat thermometer.



(Makes about 18)

- 5 ounces of white Pullman bread (the loaf-style used for sandwiches) 
- 1 cup of whole milk 
- 1 large egg 
- 1 bunch of parsley leaves, roughly chopped (no stems) 
- 1 tablespoon of minced garlic 
- 1⁄3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese  
- 6 teaspoons of kosher salt 
- 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper 
- 2 pounds of ground beef 
- 2 quarts of canned, crushed tomatoes 
- 2 basil leaves 
- Nonstick spray

STEP 1 Combine bread and milk in a large stainless-steel bowl. Break the bread up with your hands until it has a stuffing-like consistency.

STEP 2 Combine the bread-and-milk mixture with eggs, parsley, garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Allow it to rest for 45 minutes — do not rush the resting process.

STEP 3 Add ground beef to the ingredients and mix gently (do not overwork the ingredients but make sure they’re thoroughly mixed).

STEP 4 Spray your sheet pans with the nonstick spray.

STEP 5 Using a 3.25-ounce portion scoop — the kind used for ice cream — scoop up the meat, create a round form and place each on the pan. Don’t crowd them.

STEP 6 Place the pan in a preheated 325-degree convection oven and brown until the meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Do not overcook. 

(If using a regular oven, increase the preheated setting to 350.)

STEP 7 Remove meatballs from the pan and gently place them in a Dutch oven. Cover with the crushed tomatoes. Return to the oven until the meatballs’ internal temperature is 195 degrees. Garnish with freshly chopped basil.