Monday, May 9, 2011

It's a Spicy Meat-a-ball!

 

The Meatball Shop took food truck fare off its wheels and planted it in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. If any area can make eating meatballs trendy and worth an hour wait, it’s this downtown district on the gentrification fast track while cautiously maintaining is gritty edge. A brilliant concept in my eyes: specialize in one thing and serve it a million different ways.  Chef Daniel Holzman struck gold, keeping it simple and straightforward, and doing it well. 

Front View In
It's all about choices here; have it your way. Pick your ball: beef, spicy pork, chicken, vegetable, or the special; Pick your sauce: classic tomato, pesto, mushroom, spicy meat, or the special (non-existent the day we patroned); and decide how you want it (which is probably the hardest part): naked, on a hero, mix-n-match sliders, smashed on a brioche bun with cheese, on an "everything but the kitchen sink" poo poo platter - you name it! Plus, you can get a variety of sides that can accompany your balls separately or integrated into your dish pick! They even have you fill out your own order on a laminated menu aplenty with empty check-boxes (keeping it pointedly casual) as you sip on your carafe of wine (keeping it a dining experience). Rustic wooden tables- and even a communal one- spot the folky  upscale delicatessen-esque diner, equipped with a full bar flanked by a high-stooled counter and a Take-Out cubby at the back.

Pesto-ed Pork Balls Poo Poo Platter
Our lengthy wait for an outdoor table was worth it, as the breeze carried the aroma of fragrant sauces from the kitchen and the sun kissed our faces. I was feeling particularly spicy on this warm day, ordering the pork balls with the pesto sauce a la “everything but the kitchen sink,” which meant atop a platter of almost all the sides I would have loved to order a la carte anyways (but are not allowed to): the daily vegetables, market salad, white beans and greens. Perfection, with one minor flaw: the pesto sauce was unbearably oily. I actually had to mop up the excess shimmer with a few napkins, the puddles at the bottom of my plate a little off-putting. But certainly not enough to mask the delicious rich, mildly spicy flavor of the pork and the garlicky-nutty tang of the vibrant green sauce.

An Excess of Pesto: Spaghetti and Chicken Meatballs
I thought at first that my plate may have been free-handedly doused with extra oil because it was presented as a salad, but our chicken meatballs atop the spaghetti “side” was also swimming in a pool of oil, thanks to that accompanying pesto sauce. This one was a bit much to handle, so we ate from the top and let those bottom-dwelling noodles enjoy their glistening bath. The three sliders allowed us to try different ball and sauce combos, being the only mix and match order option. After thoughtful consideration of optimal flavor couplings, we wound up with the following pairings (in descending preferential order): the veggie ball with spicy meat sauce, the chicken with the pesto, and the beef with the classic tomato. (The special ball of the day wasn’t compelling enough to order in the form of beef Bolognese, and wasn’t exactly encouraged by our server either.) Surprisingly I found the classic combo to be the most boring of the three - the beef quite plain and the tomato sauce reminded me too much of the paste from a can. Conversely, I would have never expected the vegeta-ball to be so satisfying texturally and so flavor forward, no doubt, promoted by the savory meat sauce.  The chicken and the pesto went well together - hence its repeat pairing on top of spaghetti - but that flavor-packed pesto could have made rubber taste good, excess oil or not. But in my opinion, the best ball award  still goes to the spicy pork! And lucky me, I had three.

Sliders and their Sauces: Veg/Spicy Meat, Chicken/Pesto, Beef/Tomato
But luck is hardly the driving force behind this lil' shop. When you visit, know that you can’t go wrong in personalizing your meaty dish because the quality of ingredients bursts out of every component. Whatever your ground preference, rest assured your balls are in good hands.