A lively hangout for those who don’t mind waiting for a table to open up. Serving meatballs and only meatballs into the wee hours of the morning on weekends, The Meatball Shop is a fun choice for an easy dinner, particularly if you’re not after culinary greatness.
Call me old fashioned or traditional or even stubbornly set in my ways, but I will never believe that it’s acceptable to wait over an hour for a table. I won’t even begin to explain the panic and anxiety I feel on a Friday night when someone suggests going to a restaurant that doesn’t accept reservations. It’s New York. So guess what? That means there is a better restaurant around the corner that does accept reservations. That’s where you can find me.
And don’t tell me that I can just put a name down and wait at a bar around the corner and grab a glass of wine. If I show up somewhere at 8:30, it’s because I’m hungry. And wine + one hungry blonde = one hangry (‘haNGgrē, adj. showing annoyance, displeasure or hostility in the need for food) blonde. Not someone you want to be around.
So clearly I like plans, which is why I did my best to make a highly detailed agenda before visiting The Meatball Shop. This involved showing up to the restaurant on three separate occasions at 5:30, 5:45, and 1 AM. Imagine my happiness when I didn’t have to wait a minute for a table! But had I showed up at an hour less fitting for an 80-year old, like, let’s say, any time between 6 and 9 PM, I would be welcomed with a warm smile from the hostess telling me that “It’s looking like aboouuut a 90-minute wait.” For meatballs. Okay, New York.
That’s not to say these meatballs aren’t worth a visit. For all the media attention this single-concept restaurant has gotten, it’s certainly worth experiencing what a chef-owner with a fine dining pedigree and a commitment to quality-sourced ingredients can do with the simple meatball. It’s a particularly fun and low-key spot for dinner when friends and family are visiting from out of town, too, because they have undoubtedly seen coverage of the shop on The Today Show, The Food Network, Martha Stewart, and much, much more.
The laminated menu you receive after finally sitting down doubles as the form you fill out for their pick-and-choose style of ordering. While the combinations can add up quickly, the best options are the Naked Balls, 4 meatballs with a sauce and a side of focaccia bread for $8, a Hero, 3 meatballs on a baguette with sauce, cheese, and a simple salad for $11, or the Sliders, the best way to mix and match meatballs with one ball on a bun for $3 each. If filling up with a hearty dinner is what you’re after, the Hero is the right answer, but if you, like me, are trying to find the best pairing on the menu, the Sliders offer the freedom to explore.
The Classic Beef meatballs with the tomato sauce or the spicy meat sauce are the most popular, but the beef flavor just doesn’t come through as much as you’d expect. The texture is also less reminiscent of ground beef and more soft and supple, making the toasted buns absolutely necessary for texture.
Surprisingly, the Veggie Balls are the best invention on the menu. Perhaps it is because we come to them with no expectations or memories from childhood, but the combination of lentils and spices makes for a ball that has a profound bite and balance to it. The walnut Pesto sauce is also the perfect complement, thick, fresh, and creamy, enhancing the inherently bold flavor of the lentils and vegetables.
The Spicy Pork with a Parmesan Cream sauce is likely the next best, as the light kick from the red pepper incorporated in the meat renders the meatballs less mushy on the palette. And of course, the prices will appeal to any budget, though after leaving you might be grateful that you weren’t swindled out of any more cash.
While the space is vibrantly eclectic, full of charm and character that makes for an incredibly social atmosphere at any time of the evening, the risk with such a highly-specialized concept is that the resulting food will be one-dimensional. The Meatball Shop unfortunately hasn’t found the depth or variety to overcome that flaw just yet, but they’re still dedicated to producing a food with passion that we haven’t seen it given before, and that’s pretty unique. Plan to go there just for that.