Shelia’s Grinder Shop carries the Mario’s torch in Westport

Last December, we lamented the closing of Mario’s, a slim Italian joint at 204 Westport that had slung its trademark grinders since 1969. 

Thanks to long-term employee Shelia Shields, though, those Westport grinders now have a chance to make it to their 50th birthday after all. 

Two months after Mario’s closed, Shields quietly opened Shelia’s Grinder Shop in the same location. Aside from the name on the front window and a few potted plants, not much has changed. You can still get a classic meatball grinder assembled and toasted in less time than it takes to run your credit card. It’s still $6. And it’s still the goods: a crusty, sesame-dimpled Italian sub roll hollowed out and stuffed with soft meatballs, gooey melted cheese, and a silky red sauce. The pièce de résistance is the end cap of bread, plugged over the hole to keep the innards warm and your lap sauce-free. 

Grinder novices, be advised: the first couple bites are bone dry. The toasted roll’s going to crumble into your mouth (and onto your shirt). You’re going to think there’s too much bread. You’re wrong. There’s not enough sauce. The pro move is to ask for a cup of the red sauce on the side for dunking/sousing. It’s a classic, comforting, herby marinara that will soften up the bread’s crusty edges like a well-timed compliment. 

That sauce is the restaurant’s original recipe. Shields worked at Mario’s for over 30 years and is smart enough not to mess with a good thing. Which means the pasta salad, too, is the same addictive blend of broken spaghetti, chubby rotini and tiny conchiglie with julienned carrot and red and green pepper (all lightly coated in a creamy Italian dressing). 

Besides the pasta salad and grinders (meatball, Italian sausage, or all cheese), Shelia’s sells lasagna, soup, and homemade cannoli. For smaller appetites, there’s “The Maddy Slider,” which is a tender meatball wedged between two slices of garlic toast for $3. 

But if you’ve never had a grinder before, you know what to do. Some traditions are worth preserving. 

Shelia’s Grinder Shop

204 Westport Rd 816-531-7187 

Hours: 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Saturday

On Twitter: @lizcookkc. 

Categories: Food & Drink