Monday, January 10, 2011

Roll 'em

Not since Cher left Sonny has a split-off been this warmly received. Meatballs, sans the spaghetti, are on a roll in restaurants.

We’re not talking about the Swedish (and sweetish) versions that Ikea shoppers can spear in the stores’ cafes after a long day of room-organizer shopping.

By all accounts, that version is still going strong. But it’s no longer the only choice today for lovers of the unaccompanied ball o’ beef. Restaurants with a menu of meatballs are springing up wherever bread is being toasted and crumbed.

At The Meatball Shop in New York, for instance, guests can pick one of five types of meatballs, including a daily special. They then pick one of six sauces, including a special, with the four dressed balls served on focaccia.

You can skip the bread at Donatella’s Meatball Wagon, a seasonal food cart in midtown. A bowl of meatballs is a mere $5. If you want to splurge, you can have the only other thing on the menu, a meatball hero, priced at $7. It’s the street entry of Donatella Versace, restaurateur, design heiress, meatball goddess.

The cart might be upscale compared with some of the meatball outlets in the New Meadowlands Stadium, home of the Jets and the Giants. Executive chef Eric Borgia features meatballs made by hand according to his nonna’s recipe. The balls are available in the walk-up concessions as well as in the new stadium’s luxury suites.

The New York area doesn’t have a lock on the meatball market, despite its pronounced Italian heritage. Athens, Ga., for instance, boasts Totonno’s, a meatballs-only restaurant.

Nor are all these new meatballs even Italian. Jeffrey Chodorow, the New York-based restaurateur with outposts in other hotspots, is featuring a Japanese meatball in his izakaya, Tanuka Tavern, in a trendy Manhattan hotel.

Heck, they’re not even limited to lunch and dinner. Ruthy’s, a cupcake concept, offers a meatball version—though accompanied with spaghetti in this instance. I guess it didn’t want to be too outlandish.

Is it any wonder that meatballs top the list of restaurant trends predicted for 2011 by Michael Whiteman, the recovering editor who now functions as a New York restaurant consultant? As he notes, even Disney is jumping on the bandwagon. You can now choose one of four types of meatballs, along with a beer, at one of its theme parks.

Does it get any better than meatballs and Mouseketeer ears?

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