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Nirvana Thy Name is Meatball

Meatballs? What the hell is wrong with me? I’m sitting here wanting to talk about meatballs. It is true that I have been extremely stressed of late with five homicide cases and several really large civil cases in final trial prep, but writing about meatballs is the functional equivalent of Glenn Close sitting in her living room clicking the light on and off while she waited for Michael Douglas to call.

Am I actually working my way through a nervous breakdown? Is this the end? I have to admit that I find the idea of walking around the neighborhood in a robe and fluffy slippers very appealing lately. But meatballs? Really? Let’s explore….

In every part of the world people combine some form of ground meat, eggs, bread crumbs and liquid and then form them into various sizes and shapes. There is something so basic and comforting about the delicate texture, subtle richness and lusciousness of a meatball. Yeah, yeah…ground meat is bad…I know….but this is not the “Eat a Meatball Diet” (although that might be fodder for my bestselling diet book). Listen up, if you’re otherwise good to your body, you cannot go wrong if you dive into a meatball sandwich once in a blue moon. Even if you do die from eating a meatball, what’s the big deal? I mean you were probably going to die anyway, so at least you’ll start the dirt nap with a smile and just a bit of indigestion.

If you don’t like meatballs then you need to figure out what is wrong with you. People who eat meatballs like dogs, long walks on the beach, classic movies and the Baby Jesus. I’ve written to the FBI and urged them to add “Hates Meatballs” as a box on their serial killer profile surveys. You know who probably has never eaten a meatball sandwich? Mitt Romney. We all know we don’t like the guy and that’s why. I’m willing to bet that Mitt has never pounded down a meatball sub, and washed it down with a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Hell, I’ll bet you that Romney, Santorum and Ron Paul haven’t eaten one.

I think a persuasive argument can be made that there is no such thing as a bad meatball sandwich. Now in my corner of the world we call submarine sandwiches “subs” or “grinders” (pronounced “grinda”) if they are heated in the oven. Everyone I trust in this world can tell you where you can find a great meatball sub. In my old neighborhood it was Mama Mia’s on Hyde Park Avenue.

If you don’t like meatballs you need help. What meatballs lack in nutritional value, they more than make up for in soul healing comfort. Personally, meatballs bring me back to Mom’s kitchen standing over a pot of her sauce and stealing meatballs to make sandwiches with fresh Italian bread and some grated cheese. She’d always yell that she didn’t make a lot but remarkably always managed to leave the bread right next to the huge simmering pot. As I think about meatballs in my life I do not have a single bad memory. Even the bad meatballs they served in the Air Force weren’t that bad. Meatballs my friends are a wonder food.

Last week I had business in Manhattan and wanted to take my business associates for lunch someplace uniquely New York, but still very casual. “Uniquely New York” normally means a stop at the Carnegie or Katz’s for deli or Lombardi’s for pizza. Last fall my wife and I did the Carnegie Deli and learned, once again, that a 2 lb corned beef sandwich (while wonderful) would not allow for any food for at least two days. Lombardi’s Pizza is great but you can find pizza anywhere, and although New Yorkers won’t agree, the best pizza in the known world is made in Boston’s North End at the original Regina’s. So I decided to try something a bit risky, and headed to Stanton Avenue for lunch at the “Meatball Shop”. The Meatball Shop is the creation of Michael Chernow & Daniel Holzman, and the beauty of their concept is that they “Make Balls”, a few well executed extras, and nothing else. You won’t find a steak, tacos, fish, burgers or any other type of food, this is all meatballs all the time and it is really fantastic.

On our visit to the Stanton Street location (they have 3 locations) we had a 35 minute wait at 2:30 on “Good Friday” (sorry about the meat on Good Friday Father). They text or call you when your table is ready (a very good feature), and we found a park bench to hang out on while we waited. I knew we were in for a treat by the number of New Yorkers who were eating out of Meatball Shop to-go boxes on the benches where we waited. If you want to find a good diner or local joint look for cars in the parking lot, lots of cars then it’s usually a safe bet. If you see people eating out of boxes on the freaking street…why then my friends you’ve found a real gem. When we were seated we were handed a laminated menu with a dry erase pen similar to what you frequently find in sushi restaurants, and then the moment of discovery. You can do a lot of stuff with meatballs! You can get “Naked Balls”, “smashed balls”, sliders or heroes all with different sauce options….and lots of great sides like roasted cauliflower, braised spinach, risotto, polenta and white beans. There are four standard balls and one daily special. You can have beef, spicy pork, chicken or a veggie ball. I opted for a spicy pork meatball hero on a whole wheat sub roll with provolone with classic tomato sauce. When our lunch was served it was nothing short of amazing in its simplicity and perfect execution. Three spicy pork balls on a fresh roll that was not too large or bulky, and more than up to the task of standing up to the delectable meatballs. I am not sure what happened next because I was consuming a sandwich that was consuming me right back. I mean it, this was one of the best things I’ve ever put into my mouth. They give you a small arugula salad so that you can tell yourself that, with the whole wheat bread, perhaps….just maybe…you just ate something healthy. After a few moments of trepidation you’re not going to give a rat’s ass about your calorie count as you devour this sandwich. I just sipped my Pabst and thought about my mom, and which ice cream sandwich I was going to have for dessert. I decided to call Mom and to go with the white chocolate lemon pistachio cookie and buttermilk ice cream sandwich.

Oh, my lunch guests? I do not have a memory of them once the sandwich arrived. I know that we were all very happy and full. We decided to walk the 70 blocks back to our hotel to undo some of the caloric damage.

When you’re in New York and you need a break, do yourself a favor and check this place out. If you can’t get to New York, go and find a meatball sandwich, or even better make your own.

Here is my meatball recipe….(you’re not ready for my mother’s)

• 2 lb ground beef (buy organic to avoid the pink slime nonsense)
• 1 lb ground pork
• 3 large eggs
• 3 cloves minced garlic
• ¼ cup of grated cheese (I prefer Romano)
• 1 tbls oregano
• 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
• 1 tsp red pepper flake
• Milk, water or chicken stock to moisten the mix (usually about ½ cup)
• Salt and pepper to taste.
• 2-3 tbls olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients and allow the mix to sit in a refrigerator for 1 hour. Then form into balls about 3” in diameter (if the mix is too stiff add some liquid, if it is too moist mix it a bit more and add a bit more meat), then place into a baking dish or pan and allow to bake in a 350 degree oven turning them at least once until they are firm to the touch and 140 degrees internal temp, then just pop the cooked balls into a tomato sauce and allow them to simmer for at least an hour, then eat them before you’re kids find them.
Once the balls are done, slap three of them in a sliced sub roll, slice the balls in half, add some provolone pop it into a 350 dgree oven for 10 minutes to allow the cheese to melt and and then smash that beast into your mouth. Enjoy.

If you need a tomato sauce recipe send a reply with an e-mail and I’ll shoot one right out. I might be having a nervous breakdown but I’m going for a meatball sub for lunch.

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4 Responses to Nirvana Thy Name is Meatball

  1. Joknee DeMott says:

    I’d love the tomato sauce recipe. Thanks!

  2. Mike Wilcox says:

    This is a simple Marinara and NOT a gravy which is heavier and utilizes tomato paste, a large amount of water or stock and a long simmering process. This sauce can be done in less than 30 minutes…..

    1 small onion minced
    2 cloves crushed or super thinly sliced
    olive oil
    2 -28oz cans of whole San Marzano tomatoes (stay away from the preseasoned or “Kitchen Ready” tomatoes)
    Fresh Basil
    1 pinch red pepper flake
    Fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese
    A splash of red wine (your choice but I like cheap table wine)
    If you need to thin the sauce use a vegetable or chicken stock for a bit of body.

    I remove the hardened tops of the tomatoes and then rough chop them (you can pulse them in a food processor if you want the marinara smoother). Set aside and reserve all liquid.

    Saute onions in the olive oil in a large sauce pan over a medium heat for 3-5 minutes…do not let them carmelize you are looking for translucence not brown. Lower the heat as needed.
    When the onions are just about done I add the garlic, watch it closely it will burn and ruin the sauce.

    When the onions are done I remove about 2/3 of them and then add the tomatoes, wine and stock if needed. I allow this to simmer over low heat for about half an hour and season with salt, pepper and basil.

    You can add the meatballs to this sauce and allow them to simmer along with the sauce.

  3. Bizzy Life Author Avatar Michelle Cardinal says:

    Ohhh I love meatballs. And well said! I just recently rediscovered them (not as prevalent on west coast). There is a great restaurant by my office called Oven and Shaker in Portland. They do a pork meatball with Orange peel – (and something else they won’t say) they are amazing!!

  4. Mike Wilcox says:

    I’m actively trying to convince the boss that Team Cardinal-Wilcox ought to be in the meatball business.

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