We watched an old episode of The Sopranos last night…and the night before…and perhaps the night before that as well. It’s a damn good show.
I like the NJ references. It takes me back to my childhood. Nick loves the dialogue. It’s almost poetic to him. We both love the food.
The ricotta (ri-Got) pie. The baked ziti. “What. No fucking ziti!?”. The cuisine is such an integral part of the show. They’re always eating, talking about eating, whacking someone and then eating. All the killing and crime aside, food is a major part of Italian American life and identity. So when we watched the episode where they go back to Italy and Paulie feels out of place because he can’t seem to find some “macaroni and gravy” it sparked a conversation.
Being ethnic food junkies Nick and I are always looking for the most traditional execution of a dish and most authentic example of a cuisine. But after watching that episode we began to talk about how Italian American cuisine has not only taken on a life of its own, but has also become a type of ethnic food in itself. It’s a source of pride. A cornerstone in families and communities. A part of the Italian immigrant identity. So even though Mario Batali will tell you Italians NEVER serve meatballs and spaghetti on the same plate, a good Italian American grandmother will tell you to shut up and mange’.
I was on a meatball quest a few months back and Nick knowing me as well as he does realized the only way to shut me up was to take me to this Meatball Shop that I had been talking about for weeks. The squeaky wheel, right?
This place is some kind of popular. It has four locations and all of them are perpetually packed. I think their success is due to a few factors. It’s approachable, inexpensive food that hits a nostalgic note with all Americans, of Italian descent or not. Oh, and it’s damn fine food as well.
We were lucky enough to grab a seat at the bar without having to wait for a table. They don’t take reservations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Always check to see if the bar is first come first serve because it often is and for some crazy reason people turn their nose up at bar seating. Not us. Bring on the bar.
We perused the wine list. There were plenty of affordable ($6) glasses as well as beer and sangria but we chose a carafe (we love being able to order a carafe) of the chianti for $13 and were more than happy with it.
While the bartender poured our wine he explained how the ordering system works. They give you a cute little menu with check boxes and you simply select what you want, check the box with a little miniature golf course pencil and wait. It’s a great system.
Sipping chianti made Nick want to go all in and decided to order the perhaps the most classic americanized Italian dish, spaghetti and meatballs ($12). When in Rome, right? He chose the spicy pork meatballs and the spicy meat sauce but he could have chosen from 5 different balls, 6 sauces and 12 sides like white beans, risotto, polenta or a salad instead of his spaghetti for the same price.
I, a girl who loves nothing more than a good sandwich, went back and forth between the hero($10), 3 balls on a baguette with sauce, cheese and a salad, or the smash, 2 balls smushed on a brioche bun with sauce, cheese and a salad($9). I chose to smash it up, and because I can never leave well enough alone I added a fried egg to my sandwich, which they loving refer to as the family jewels. Nice.
My sandwich was perfect. Tender, flavorful meatballs, a nicely cooked egg, soft and somewhat sweet bun. The side salad was a fresh addition to the meal and made me feel like less of a fat ass for ordering the fried egg on top. Overall it was a steal for $10.
Nick enjoyed his spaghetti and meatballs so much more than he expected to. His sauce was perfectly spicy, the pasta was well cooked and he loved the homey feel of the dish.
This isn’t haute cuisine by any stretch of the imagination but it was honest, straightforward food that was well crafted, very yummy, affordable (almost cheap) and fun. Sometimes food needs to be fun. In this world of celebrity chefs and stuffy, high end restaurants a place like the Meatball Shop is a welcome find.
This is a great place to go with a group of eaters with different needs. They have vegetarian balls and even gluten free options. There’s something for everyone on the menu. Honestly. And it’s the type of casual, fun eatery you want when you’re with a group of people. It would also be a great cheap date night. Share a carafe, get a few $9 sandwiches and have some laughs. The atmosphere is cute enough to make it feel special but not too serious.