I imagine my first-bite reaction to Cugino’s arancini was similar to a dragon's thoughts while biting into a knight in full armor: “Crusty on the exterior but quite warm and rather chewy on the interior!”

This appetizer’s core is a ball of Italian rice, spices, and mozzarella cheese that is full of flavor. Fried bread blended with Parmesan cheese makes up the “armor.”

Unlike some fried foods, the arancini do not have a greasy, county fair kind of quality. Instead, each orb was somewhat dry — more like a falafel ball than a carnival’s deep-fried cheese ball.

The appetizer, offered at the Italian restaurant in downtown Grand Ledge, is delivered in a shallow bowl filled with six balls, which are approximately two bites in size. Cugino’s menu says they are “served on a bed of marinara sauce.” Considering the ample amount of tasty red sauce the arancini floated on, I’d say “bed” is an appropriate term only if it refers to a king-size waterbed.

The appetizer was filling enough for me to make a complete meal by adding a dinner salad. I find adding them to a plate of spaghetti makes a fine substitute for meatballs. And if leftovers are taken home, I always have fun labeling the container with balls inside.

Cugino’s Italian Restaurant 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday- Thursday; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday 306 S. Bridge St., Grand Ledge (517) 627-4048, cuginosmenu.com

What’s your favorite dish/drink?

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