Trendy as they may seem, I am a big fan of food joints with a singular focus: concentrate on just cupcakes, and you’re bound to have great ones. Only mac n’ cheese? Yes please. There will always be flash-in-the-pan imposters, but the greats stick out—and stick around. A visit to the February-opened, Lower East Side-situated Meatball Shop is simultaneously an exercise in control and an embarrassment of riches: with a meatball-only menu and seemingly endless ball, sauce, and cheese combos, this uni-concept resto is anything but limited.
Recommended by a friend who’d endorsed the Shop as be-all, end-all, Last Supper-good, I made my maiden voyage this past week. A veritable New York hotspot, no doubt, with an eclectic crowd of good-natured carnivores congregating outside to wait for one of eight intimate blonde wood tables (that owners Daniel Holzman, previously of Le Bernardin, and Michael Chernow personally reclaimed from a 100-year-old tenement building in the East Village) or a seat at the central, boisterous communal one. With an “Old New York” look—dark red walls adorned with a funky mix of portraits and a full white-tiled bar dotted with wooden stools and vases filled with wildflowers—and “New New York” sensibility: DIY dry-erase menus and ingredients sourced from organic farms, this is a restaurant to add to your roster of Manhattan must-eats.
The food is fantastic—whether you go for “balls à la carte,” (picking from chicken, spicy pork, classic meat, or vegetarian), or sliders, like we did, your meal is fully customizable. My dinner mate, Beau, and I made a point to try each sauce (tomato, spicy meat, mushroom, and parmesan cream) and every meatball, in combinations carefully chosen by our sunny, expert server. My favorite part, however, was the dessert: again, in the quest to do one thing and do it well, the Shop offers only ice cream sandwiches. We had startlingly fresh-tasting house-made mint ice cream between a chunky chocolate chip cookie and a thin, crackling brownie—really delicious, and exactly what we wanted, how we wanted it (Beau’s a cookie guy, while I am all for brownies). With so many incredible choices, there is no possible way to go wrong—we have plans to return to The Meatball Shop very, very soon.
Sarah Storms is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.