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Feb 7, 2012 05:38 AM

Meatball Shop - Calories without pleasure

Finally slipped into the west village restabot of this acclaimed and popular franchise. I like meatballs, I thought, how bad could a restaurant be that specializes in them? Plenty bad. I ordered the spicy pork meatballs -- "no mix and match", warned the menu -- with marinara. "Great choice"!, I was assured by my server. And, at only 4 bucks a pop, I decided to have a mini feast of sides: Kale with garlic, butternut squash with ricotta salata, and risotto.

The risotto was hard nuggets of rice in a tar pit of butter and cheese, but without any discernible flavor -- just richness. The squash was equally inedible, served warm and mushy and flavorlessly. Chilled cubes of al dente squash, and maybe some salt and lemon, would have made a much better dish. Kale was without flavor, just something whipped together by a distracted line cook, like everything else.

The meatballs themselves were not at all spicy as advertised. Worse, they lack zest and character and texture, like a conceptual exercise in softness and blandness. Do they poach these things into existence? A child could really love these meatballs: crustless, tender, bland, and milky. The marinara, on the other hand, was very flavorful.

The scene is mostly young and youngish diners attracted to the casual, hip vibe, the relatively low prices, and the media fame garnered by the operation.

To call this place overrated is an understatement.

The Meatball Shop
64 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10011

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  1. yeah, my one visit to the LES branch wasn't quite that bad, but i've had no desire to return.

    The Meatball Shop
    84 Stanton St, New York, NY 10002

    1. Damn, we had this on our list for an upcoming NYC trip. Sad to hear it's not living up to the hype. Is there anywhere you'd recommend as an alternative, that has a similar buzz? We're already doing Locanda Verde as our upscale Italian-American and Motorino for pizza. So maybe Parm? Or Rubirosa?

      5 Replies
      1. re: PigsOnTour

        We tried to go to parm a week ago sunday and were told the wait would be 2.5 hrs at 7pm. We went down the street to Rubirosa and were seated right away, had a great meal (including an order of their meatballs, which had great texture/flavor and a bright sauce - not as tender as motorinos but very good) for slightly more money than we would have spent at Parm. I suppose we will get to eat there some day, but as much as i love that turkey, its not worth 150 minutes of my time.

        235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012

        1. re: PigsOnTour

          Keep it on your list. The guys who own this place came from Frankies. The meatballs are good. The mashed meatballs over salad is good. Don't get exotic , just stick to the meatballs and you will enjoy them I am sure. The grilled veggies are also good.

          1. re: foodwhisperer

            Will think it over. Had Frankie's on our Google Map as well - is it better? (Aware that it's different)

            1. re: PigsOnTour

              I love, love, love the meatball sandwich at Frankie's. It's not spicy, so I always ask for a side of crushed red pepper, which goes quite nicely.

              Frankies 17 Spuntino
              17 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

              1. re: PigsOnTour

                The meatballs are about the same in Meatball Shoppe as Frankie's. The guys who make them at the Meatball Shoppe used to make them at Frankie's. Frankie's is better for a meal, as they have more than just meatballs. Frankie's Bklyn is better than Hudson St IMO

          2. you didnt mention that there is totally a filler in the meatballs.

            i always thought this place was a joke...its for college kids who dont know any better.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sam1

              The filler seems like soaked white bread, which is not necessarily a bad thing as it can impart to meatballs a smooth, luscious texture. However, here it tends to produce a bland and mushy meatball. In fact everything on the menu tends toward the tasteless and the limp and the lame. They even serve foccacia with the balls, instead of crusty bread, thereby underscoring the theme of softness and flabbiness. I hate to come down so hard on this soft place, but it is truly undeserving of acclaim (i.e. its not even good, let alone great). Gastronomically, its a total bore and unworthy of patronage by sophisticated diners. However, its dedication to "mushy food" makes it perfect for children and toothless gum chewers. There. I'm done.

              1. re: sam1

                Many italians like to use bread ( not bread crumbs) in their meatballs. I think the meatballs are decent at both Frankie's and Meatball Shoppe, but they arent' anything special. Too bad Ennio and Michael closed, they had great meatballs. Most of these new spots are overrated, that includes Rubirosa and their meatballs, and their pizza too.

              2. I haven't been here in a while, but I remember figuring out that the best combo was chicken meatballs w/ mashed potatoes and gravy. Best to go in the summer when you can get the ice cream sandwiches w/ mix & match cookies.