Photo by Anthony Mair A trio of Pellegrino’s classic meatballs in her classic tomato sauce.
Photo by Anthony Mair Baby arugula salad with Bosc pears, walnuts and gorgonzola.
Photo by Anthony Mair A Birthday Cake milkshake.
Opening the right concept in the right place at the right time won’t ensure success in the restaurant business. Add a talented, passionate chef the likes of Carla Pellegrino—who owns Bratalian in Henderson and recently got a divorce from Bacio at the Tropicana—and your chances suddenly go from very good to excellent.
We’re talking about Meatball Spot, a casual, breezy corner space just across from the Rave Cinemas in Town Square. The previous occupant, Nu Sanctuary, served a number of creative dishes in a bizarre, spiritually themed environment that seemed out of place for a shopping mall.
The appeal here is more visceral. Think variations in the key of meatball, pizza in the pan, a dozen or so salads and milkshakes topped with gobs of whipped cream—in short, just what millennials here to see Twilight and the James Bond extravaganza want for their postprandial cinema experience.
It’s priced right, too: $6.95 buys you three meatballs with your choice of sauce. There are six different kinds of meatballs from which to choose and six sauces. That makes 36 permutations. Whew!
In practice, I paired Carla’s classic meatball, a blend of beef, pork and veal with Romano cheese and fresh herbs similar to what she did while she was executive chef at Rao’s in Caesars, with her classic tomato sauce—a winning combination.
Later, I tried her dense vegetarian meatballs (think falafel for texture, Garden Burger for taste) with a delicate Parmesan cream sauce. Then came the best combination: beef blended with Pecorino cheese, paired with the house pesto. Less ambitious appetites also have the option to choose the meatball slider, a meatball on a brioche bun, or the Smash, two meatballs on a baguette, both topped with identical options for sauce.
Both salads and pizzas are available in half- or full-portion sizes. And believe me, this is a clever move as both are more than generous. The best salad among the dozen or so on the menu might be the baby arugula with Bosc pear, caramelized walnut and a crumble of gorgonzola. But the Tuscan bread salad, panzanella, gives it a run for the money.
Pizzas are sensational—thin, crisp crusts, and toppings you choose from a long list. They’re also served Roman-style in a flat, metal tray. Three of us didn’t finish our half pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms, but hey, meatballs aren’t exactly appetizers.
For dessert, we tried Bananas Foster, a gourmet ice cream sandwich of two white chocolate macadamia-nut cookies with bananas Foster ice cream and white chocolate shavings, as well as the Birthday Cake milkshake, diabetic-coma sweet thanks to lots of cake pieces and rainbow sprinkles in the mix. In terms of calories per dollar, Meatball Spot is a deal and a half. Do we care?
Yes, we do, because this is quite an attractive place as well. There’s lots of rustic brick, whitewashed wood and exposed timber-frame walls in here, as well as pressed pewter and tin ceilings, aged hardwood flooring and the restaurant logo carved into bricks on a rear wall.
A patio, offering both indoor and outdoor seating, fronts the restaurant and is bordered with a white picket fence. I’m told the owners were striving for a homey look, which works if you are from Hoboken, N.J., I guess, or anywhere else where Grandma’s specialty is meatballs and pizza.
Speaking of Hoboken, that’s Sinatra on the sound system, and soul-king Al Green. That’s not quite what the millennials listen to, but no worries. The music gets younger at Meatball Spot as the evening grows older. So the concept seems safe, for the moment.