I’ve never been a big meatball fan. I never had a grandma with a secret recipe for them, never been one to order a meatball sub, and after a couple of years spent in Italy, the thought of spaghetti and meatballs together is almost sacrilegious. Yet last fall when I read about the opening of The Meatball Shop, a small Lower East Side restaurant centered solely around meatballs, I was intrigued. It’s been on my “list” ever since but it wasn’t until this weekend that I got around to finally going.
And let me tell you, I should have made going (again and again and again) a top priority.
There are a few ways you can have your meatballs, but the best and easiest, what Flaneur and I went with for our Saturday night dinner there, was the a la carte option. You pick what kind of meatball you want, what sauce you want on chosen meatballs, and finally what side you want either with or under them.
Meatball choices were classic beef, spicy pork, veggie, chicken and the week’s special: buffalo chicken wing. As curious as I was about a ball of chicken wing, I went with spicy pork instead. Then from my choices of classic tomato, mushroom gravy, spicy meat sauce and parmesan cream, I went again with the spicy one. Sides were divided into two categories: “stick to your bones” and “greenmarket.” Stick to your bones sides were risotto, spaghetti, rigatoni, polenta, mashed potatoes and white beans, while greenmarket, as the name might suggest, were different salad options and steamed, sauteed and roasted veggies. The logical choice for me, the one that jumped out at me when I first picked up the menu, was polenta, which I asked for underneath my meatballs.
While four meatballs on a bed of polenta might not seem like anything revolutionary or life altering, the plate that found itself in front of me was incredible and unassumingly one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in this city. The polenta was creamy and smooth with none of that bright yellow semi-gelatinous texture of bad polenta. It was the perfect home for the spicy pork meatballs which were juicy, soft, and just spicy enough to have kick without making me sweat or guzzle 20 glasses of water. The sauce, like the meatballs, was spicy without being too hot, and made for a rich, hearty complement to the meat and the polenta. Until the plate was clean all I could say between heaping mouthfuls was “Oh my God. This is SO awesome. I just can’t get over it.”
Flaneur, ever the traditionalist, went with the classic beef meatballs, and like me, went with the polenta underneath. And while I half expected him to go with the classic tomato sauce (which would’ve been the safe/conservative route to take) he decided on the mushroom gravy. The meatballs were good, just as juicy, well-seasoned and all-around delicious as mine were (though not at all spicy) and the polenta was obviously delicious too, but the mushroom gravy? Well, that was just insanely good. Better than I could have ever dreamed. I could drink a whole bowl of that mushroom gravy like it was a thick soup. It was creamy and rich and almost buttery in it’s mushroomy amazingness. Next time someone asks the hypothetical question “what would your last meal be?” I might just say this. It was that good.
While I was definitely full and would’ve been happy to go home from there, part of The Meatball Shop’s draw was its desserts: ice cream sandwiches made with fresh-baked cookies and house-made ice cream. Sure, the boyfriend and I could’ve just split one, after all they looked pretty big as the waitress walked by with some every now and then, but after the spectacular dinner we ate, we knew that this wasn’t the time for modest eating. We needed to maximize our tasting options and each get one.
Because it was still about 90 degrees outside (even though it was close to 11 pm) and I had just finished a plate of spicy meatballs covered in spicy meat sauce, I was in need of some cooling off. Mint ice cream, which was on the list with vanilla, chocolate, caramel and blueberry, seemed like it would be the most refreshing, and because I love a good mint and chocolate combo I went with the brownie cookie to sandwich it all together. Now, I’ve tried a lot of mint ice cream over the years but none of it ever, ever like this. While most mint ice cream is a pastel green color (hence mint green) or stark white, this one was a very subtle, barely-there light green shade. But it wasn’t the color that struck me, it was the taste. Smooth, creamy and cold, this ice cream tasted like mint! Like actual plucked-off-the-branch mint leaves! Sandwiched in between the thick, chunky brownie cookies, it was absolutely the best ice cream to eat in this hot, muggy weather.
Flaneur opted for the chocolate chip cookie and chocolate ice cream combo which while not as good or surprising as mine, was still one of the best ice cream sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. The huge round scoop of ice cream was rich and creamy with a wonderful chocolate taste that went perfectly with the big fat cookies. Not too chewy but not too crunchy, they were the perfect consistency for holding together the ice cream and making for a delicious, chocolatey perfect-for-the-heat-or-really-any-kind-of-weather dessert.
I might not have been a meatball lover before, but between The Meatball Shop’s ridiculously awesome meatballs and polenta, and their insanely delicious, fat ice cream sandwiches, I’ve changed my tune completely. If they were from The Meatball Shop, I could eat meatballs all day… especially if they were followed by ice cream sandwiches.