Hungry with a Chance of Meatballs
A few months ago, I stumbled upon – and blogged about – Sababa, a recently-opened falafel/shawarma shop in the mix-and-match style of Chipotle. Well, there’s another new kid on the block that lets you pick and choose how you want your entrée, what you want in it, and how you want to top it.
New Haven Meatball House's website advertises, “Four types of balls, four types of sauces, and three ways to eat them.” It’s that simple. Choose your meatball (beef, pork, chicken, or vegetable); choose your sauce (traditional tomato, creamy parmesan, spinach pesto, or mushroom); then decide whether you want your meatballs served over a starch (black garlic mashed potatoes, spaghetti, rigatoni, or mac & cheese), as a slider on a brioche bun, or as a full-size brioche sandwich topped with your choice of melted cheese.
Less than four blocks from the Law School, NHMH has only been open since August of last year, but it has already created a buzz among local diners. I’d heard that it can be hard to get a table at the Meatball House, so I decided to go with the hubby shortly after New Year’s, when “the Have” would probably be a little more deserted. Our plan worked – we arrived at around 7pm on a Thursday night and were seated right away.
The restaurant, though small, had a warm and inviting décor with glowing sconces and candles and tones of red, orange, and brown (which you can’t see in the photo because I had to use my flash). It looked to me like there was table seating for about thirty people and bar seating for about sixteen.
In addition to the regular menu, the Meatball House offers a number of specials every night, including a special meatball. On the night that we went, the specials included a bacon cheddar ball ($7), an appetizer of a New York-style pretzel with warm IPA cheese sauce for dipping ($3.50), three different kinds of pizzas ($8.50 each), and a side of mini shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes and melted cheddar cheese ($4).
We decided to order off the regular menu to get a sense of NHMH’s everyday fare and ultimately settled on four beef balls with mushroom sauce over black garlic mashed potatoes ($10), one brioche slider with a chicken ball and creamy parmesan sauce ($3), one brioche slider with a veggie ball and spinach pesto ($3), and a side order of Tuscan kale ($4), which came highly recommended by our server.
The beef balls, a mixture of beef and sweet Italian sausage, came covered in melted parmesan and were moist on the inside (thanks to the addition of ricotta cheese) with a nice outside crust. The mushroom sauce was earthy but not too creamy or heavy, and I enjoyed the mashed potatoes, which still had small chunks of potato to provide a little texture. I was, however, disappointed that I couldn’t detect any garlic flavor – just butter – in the black garlic mashed potatoes. The balls came with a garlic butter crostini which, as my husband noted, added a completely necessary crunchy element and saved the dish from being essentially mush on top of mush on top of mush. (Note to the Management: We definitely could have gone for another piece of crostini!) Overall, I think we picked a pretty good combination – the flavors were very harmonious and the dish was hearty and comforting. It reminded us of classic comfort foods like beef stroganoff or Salisbury steak with gravy and mashed potatoes.
Next up: the sliders. We started with the vegetable ball slider, served piping hot on a super soft brioche bun with melted cheese and a big dollop of verdant spinach pesto. If you order the pesto sauce with anything, make sure you like garlic because it totally packs a garlicky punch. The veggie ball was delicious and had a great nutty flavor and texture thanks to ingredients like lentils and chickpeas. Sadly, I think the delicate flavor of the ball was overpowered by the strong pine nut and garlic flavors in the pesto – next time, I might choose to pair the veggie ball with something more subtle, like the creamy parmesan or tomato sauce.
The chicken ball slider was surprisingly light – I expected the creamy parmesan sauce to be heavy (like a thick alfredo sauce), but it was just the opposite. The sauce was velvety and much thinner and looser than I expected; it oozed and flowed freely over the meatball and out of the bun. I also expected it to be very salty, as parmesan sauces often are, but I was surprised again to find that it was well-balanced and not over-the-top aggressively salty. The sauce was a great complement to the chicken meatball, which was also light and delicately seasoned. My palate isn’t the best, but I could taste ground chicken, minced onion, parsley, and parmesan in the crumbly (and not too densely packed) meatball.
Finally, there was the kale – one of the most popular side dishes at NHMH. Sautéed in sherry wine with lots (and lots and lots and lots) of garlic, toasted pine nuts, and golden raisins, the Tuscan kale came out bright green and perfectly cooked (i.e., tender but not limp and mushy). My favorite part of the dish was the balance between the slightly bitter greens and the sweet raisins and the overall marriage of salty, sweet, and sour. Definitely a great side, but maybe one to stay away from if you’re on a date . . . unless you buy into the Rachael Ray philosophy that two garlic eaters “cancel each other out.” (I don't.)
Although we were too stuffed to order dessert, we loved that the mix-and-match concept of NHMH carries over to the final course in the form of customizable ice cream cookie sandwiches ($4). Next time – and there most certainly will be a next time – I’ll be sure to try a few other slider combinations (at just $3 each they’re a great value) and save room for a chocolate-chip-cookie-and-espresso-ice-cream sandwich.
Snooki and Deena would approve.