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For Those Who Have the Best Balls: "The Meatball Shop"

As I grew up in an Italian family eating someone’s marinara sauce or “gravy” as it is known is a sacred event. It means you trust them with your life, both literally and figuratively. It is such an important part of many of our meals and among the very first things that we will have to learn to cook as we get older. The taste and quality of your sauce will foretell many of the important things that will happen to you, such as if and what kind of a husband will you have, and if anyone will ever, EVER come to your house for Christmas. Believe me if they won’t they will be making fun of you to your face and behind your back for many years to come, it won’t be pretty. If you are about to ask me about sauces that can be bought in a store the safest thing for you to do right now is walk away from your computer and we both won’t ever mention this conversation again.

Now that we are all on the same page, we can move onto what goes into a traditional Sunday sauce. That is what is typically prepared for big meals and really any kind of “red” sauce you are going to have. Most people put sausage, pork, veal, and of course ground beef formed into balls. We take our balls very seriously. Meatballs are best when fried first and then placed into the sauce to cook but nowadays many homemakers are just cooking them in the sauce and leaving out all that other meat for health and financial reasons. Life isn’t always how it appears on “The Sopranos”; I mean I assume God knows I didn’t watch that travesty of a show mocking my culture. I knew before I finished typing that sentence that just about everyone reading had watched and loved it. Believe me I am used to being the minority on what is considered good in television and movies. ( I digress.

Since this is such a point of family pride we almost never order this type of food when out to eat in a restaurant unless one of us knows for SURE this is going to be safe. By safe I mean good and by good I mean up to the standards of a little old grandma in the back rolling up the meatballs herself. If not that grandma then, at least an old world recipe that is flawless. I do not even trying places that are so called award winning in this category. When it comes to traditional foods and culture some things are not to be messed with. So just imagine how much it kills me when I am in a local diner and people are ordering spaghetti. I want to smack them.

With all that being said I have to admit that I myself and not a huge consumer of meat, especially with pasta, and almost never, ever out. I will have my occasional meatballs that my mother makes and once and awhile that will hit the spot. It is never the kind of food I crave. It is never a food that would go anywhere in the course of a meal besides an entrée. It would never have dawned on me. That all changed a few years back the night my cousins and I went out to dinner during the infamous New York City Restaurant Week.

I believe that first one was during winter. It was freezing and we were all rushing to meet after work at a place called “Mia Dona”. I liked it right away because “Dona” was only missing one “N” and it would be my name.

I didn’t know anything else about the restaurant on that initial visit and besides knowing that we had a great time and a lot of laughs the only other thing I remember, in fact the other thing I remember eating, was the meatball appetizer. I remember my cousin saying that there were suppose to be delicious, actually infamous, as was their meatloaf, which they were already out of. So I being the daring one ordered those as my appetizer. I was nervous and sweaty immediately. I needed not be. I was stunned and pleasantly surprised. It opened my world up to trying meatballs from strangers although I have not done it since the few times I went back to “Mia Dona”. That was all until this Spring.

The real reason for this blog is all thanks to a link on Huffington Post from the Food section (see below). It is actually listed as number three of the best meatballs in the United States, “The Meatball Shop”!!

That is a pretty broad claim and with other seven other restaurants listed I took this to heart. I had already wanted to try this spot and heard so many great things about the amazing combinations and creative toppings they were using. I love when restaurants clear out the clutter and focus on one specific food group. I find the level and quality of that food is brought to new heights just like with rice pudding ( and macaroni and cheese ( for example.

This restaurant is hard to see if it is at night and raining like when I went. It is on a side street so pay close attention and you won’t miss it. From the outside it looks small but that is deceiving. It is actually a decent size and the service is incredible. I was actually only there for a takeout order because I was in the neighborhood and didn’t want to miss it. If you are going to Rockwood Music Hall, Katz’s Deli (, or Stanton Social ( you are in spitting distance, just don't.

Once I walked in, I was immediately overwhelmed. It was crowded and many people were waiting. I walked to the back to place my order but since I was still undecided after looking at the menu that whole week things went from bad to worst. Too many options one sounding better than the next confused me. After much debate and with a great deal of help from the gentleman working the takeout counter I made the intensely hard decision. I went with a hero with chicken meatballs smothered with mushroom gravy and provolone cheese. It only took a few moments and then I was off with a piping hot bag. I have to say the entire place smelled amazing. As I walked out I tried to see what other people were eating but my mind couldn’t process all the combinations fast enough.

On my way home the smell of my sandwich started to leak through the car. Luckily it was late and I got home in record time. As soon as I did I tore through that bag and set up shop. It looked different than any other meatballs I had ever had both because of the chicken and the mushroom sauce but the cheese was so strong and melting I was ready to dig in and I did.

That first bite was fascinating and I mean that in the best possible way. It had so many flavors without being overpowering. It was original yet familiar. It was hearty but not rock solid. It was fresh and delectable. For that price and the meal I was having it was a steal. In fact when I first bought I thought I could eat the entire hero. After one side I was so full I only picked at the other. I wanted it so bad but I didn’t want to push the issue and become too full that the memory would make me sick. Instead now I have a happy memory and am eager to practice my next order for a day when I have a chance to go and sit down for a meal.

So that just goes to show you, you can teach an old dog new lessons about balls of meat.

For More Balls of Meat:



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