Maybe it was Rocco Dispirito’s mama, Nicolina, and her star turn on his ill-fated Restaurant reality show that planted the meatball seed we are harvesting now. The image of her slowly hand-shaping orbs of seasoned ground meat in the midst of an otherwise chaotic professional restaurant kitchen stick in my mind.
But as several pundits predicted, including my own organization, meatballs are turning out to be to 2010 what fried chicken was to 2009. And who doesn’t love a good meatball? With hardly a place to stand at lunch on President’s Day, the new Meatball Shop on Stanton Street is proof that a whole lot of people do. The “shop” (it is much more of a restaurant than the name would suggest) delivered satisfying balls of meat (beef or pork) and vegetables (lentils, mushrooms, and bread crumbs, perhaps?).
“What should you call a vegetable “meat” ball, one of our friends wondered. The shop also has “meat” balls of fish (salmon), but we chose not to go there. You choose your sauce (we tried tomato, spicy tomato, parmesan cream, and mushroom) and your delivery method (in a bowl, as a slider, in a hero). We enjoyed them all but unanimously preferred the spicy pork meatball and tomato sauce combination.
Truth be told, we are anxiously awaiting a spinoff of The Ice Cream Sandwich Shop, because the ice-cream sandwiches they make to order for dessert (you choose your cookie and ice-cream combination) are superb.
Peanut cookie with chocolate ice cream was our favorite, but we would have gladly eaten another round of all of them. In fact, we ate so much at lunch we didn’t want to eat dinner (and those of you who know me, and I don’t just mean we are friends on facebook, know that means a lot. If you know me, you also know we didn’t actually skip dinner entirely, which would have meant giving up an entire mealtime. We just thought about it.)
Anyway, The Meatball Shop is not the only place in Manhattan to satisfy a meatball craving. (If it were, this would hardly be a trend.)
Check out the saucy lamb meatball sliders served on delicate housemade buns garnished with cucumber and goat cheese at Andrew Carmellini’s Locanda Verde (full disclosure: I know and love the chef and his food, not just because we are old friends, but because he can really cook). These meatballs won the New York City Wine and Food Festival’s Meatball Madness competition last November. And don’t miss chef Tony Liu’s meaty spheres studded with pine nuts and raisins, called polpettine alla siciliani at Morandi (another chef friend whose food I can’t get enough of). And here’s the special tip you get for reading all the way to the end of this post. Although any self-righteous Italophile worth her sale will tell you that traditionally a meatball does not belong on top of spaghetti all covered with cheese, which is considered by some to be an aberration of…porca miseria…Italian American invention, the truth is that spaghetti and meatballs can be delicious when executed well. At Morandi, a waiter once tipped me off that the chef will make an order of spaghetti and meatballs if you ask nicely (you don’t have to be his friend). Ask I did, and I received the most delicious, most satisfying order of spaghetti and meatballs I can recall ever being served in a restaurant. Mamma mia.