To the cupcake craze add the meatball.

Yes, there have always been meatballs – lots of varieties from lots of cultures – but here in New York the first that comes to mind are those sauced inside a hero or laid out upon a mound of pasta at your local Italian American joint.  Now, instead of just an option on old school menus, meatballs have come front and center at meatball-centric restaurants like THE MEATBALL SHOP and THE MEATBALL FACTORY.

The Hero at the Meatball Shop, Greenwich Village, NYC

At THE MEATBALL SHOP (so far three branches and counting) the gimmicky menu-as-order-form keeps it relatively simple with pick-and-choose balls, cheeses and sauces that come as naked balls (bread-less and in a bowl) , sliders, smashes and heroes.  You also get to pick-and-choose a vegetable (usually good) and/or an arugula house salad (actually very good). Overall, it’s pretty well organized and easy to make a selection. I remembered my first visit to THE MEATBALL SHOP on the Lower East Side and the hero of beef balls, spicy tomato sauce and mozzarella on an Il Forno baguette:  toasted with a light brushing of olive oil it was an ah-so crunchy moment almost up to the very last bite.  With that sensory memory moment on my palate I couldn’t help being saddened with the spongy-at-mid bite experience at the fledgling chain’s newest shop on Greenwich Avenue. Even so, this was still satisfying comfort food with some pedigree to its ingredients (Creekstone beef though Bell & Evans chicken is not that impressive) that is relatively inexpensive, filling and, yes, fun to eat.  La nonna would be smiling though she might take issue with the too-cool-for-school (overly edgy waitstaff (formula: Williamsburg-type guys and gals that look part immigrant, part struggling rock star)) and thematic design (vintage meat grinders decorate the walls and are also used as substitutes for beer tap handles)) but,  overall it’s a formula that works just fine.

The Sammie at The Meatball Factory, East Village, NYC

Over at THE MEATBALL FACTORY the menu is a mishmash of meatballs and sauces that boast of well sourced ingredients but nonetheless confuse with silly names, descriptions and sheer abundance. Balls in bowls are the mainstay and sandwiches are a side note with the traditional hero replaced by the Sammie – a challah like roll (courtesy of Eli’s bread) scooped out and laden with three meatballs. I stuck to the Old School (beef, pork and veal balls) and in a carb conscious moment opted for the side salad rather than the french fries. The sheer speed in which the Sammie arrived at the table was amazing – no toasting that boat-like roll. I was underwhelmed by the flatness of the meatball taste that, for the most part, was overwhelmed by the sweetness of the too-mushy-for-balls bread. This is one meatball boat that just would not float.  There’s an okay Mac ‘n’ Cheese but I avoided the Customized Fettucine (someone was clearly over thinking that one!). The Seasonable Sides were okay but the Green Machine Salad was far from fresh and the metallic edge to its dressing rendered it inedible. No thought here to the restaurant itself (we guess the owners were too busy writing up that menu rather than focusing on interior design) with its plain and unadorned bar-like room.  The waitstaff were unmemorable at most but, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem with THE MEATBALL FACTORY is that it’s just

what it calls itself, a factory with mass produced food that seemed more budget cafeteria than specialty restaurant.

Next up at McDonald’s the McMeatball? Let’s hope not.

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