About a week ago, I had dinner with an old friend, Michael and meeting a new one, one of NY Times’ freelance photographers, Evan Sung at the Meatball Shop in the Lower East Side. A casual, fun, nostalgic meal that’s causing quite a media stir that specializes on their namesake – meatballs.
Entering the small, already bustling restaurant at 6:45 PM, one would see the aged-looking walls decorated in black and white portraits and vintage kitchen tools (like hand-cranked meat grinders) and a tinned ceiling. Two-top tables strewn against the one wall while the wooden communal table takes up most of the space with the bar on the right.
When you do look at their laminated menus, you take a marker and “X” out your choice of meatball (four per order; five different meats and one vegetable to pick from) and a sauce (four different types).
The beef meatballs with tomato sauce was strictly traditional. Golf ball-sized orbs of beef cooked to perfection, wallowing in a tangy tomato sauce, covered in shredded Parmesan cheese. Not bad but it’s nothing inspiring.
The spicy pork meatballs with spicy meat sauce was something I read around the Interwebs that this is something one must get here. It’s similar in plating as the beef meatballs – four meatballs, cover it in sauce and give it some shredded Parmesan snow on top. The meatballs were moist and the sauce was piquant enough that it imparted a spicy twang but it’s missing a certain element that makes it interesting. Evan mentioned that the spicy sauce might have been a bit too spicy that it’s masking the delicate pork flavor.
The Weekly Special meatballs (at least the week I went here) was a take on one of the cook’s grandmother’s on a meatball: a mixture of beef, chicken livers, matzoh meal and lentil covered in a gravy-type sauce and sprinkled on Parmesan cheese. It’s really moist and a bit musky/gamy from the chicken livers but it’s pretty good. Arguably, this was the best of the three.
Along with our meatballs, we had a trio of sides: rigattoni in tomato sauce, roasted fennel which was the roasted vegetable of the evening, and risotto (the one you see on the foreground of the photo above). The rigattoni was good. The pasta was cooked al dente and the tomato sauce was light yet flavorful. The roasted fennel was cooked until it’s soft, tender, sweet and mildly licorice in flavor. The risotto was creamy and the rice was cooked well but I had better.
The highlight of the entire evening’s meal was dessert. You should not skip dessert here since everything is made in-house and these are well composed ice cream sandwiches. We shared the walnut brownie cookie with vanilla ice cream sandwich and a mix-and-match of walnut meringue and gingersnap cookies with salted caramel ice cream sandwich. The brownie cookie sandwich was tasty; crisp yet moist brownie cookies filled with a generous amount of vanilla ice cream. The little tiff I have is the ice cream was a bit too icy.
The other sandwich cookie was great as well. The gingersnap cookie had a spicy kick from the ginger and it worked well with the salted caramel. The walnut meringue was surprisingly good. I usually don’t like meringue cookies because of the texture but this one was a good in-between of a meringue and cookie texture.
In all, this is a good, casual, inexpensive meal. Just expect waits during the dinner rush hours. If you do sit at the corner at the bar nearest to the door, expect people to reach over your shoulder to pick up their beer or wine.