East 14th Street is quickly becoming a go-to neighborhood for the seeker of comfort foods. Think about it: the first IHOP in Manhattan proper just opened between Second and Third Avenues a couple of months ago. And now, just a few storefronts further east, in the corner lot once shared by an Arthur Treacher’s-Pizza Hut–Nathan’s triumvirate of fast food, a new restaurant has just opened that specializes in one of our very favorite foods: Meatballs! The Meatball Factory – as it is called – is the creation of Chef Dave Martin. Known for serving up Foodie-esque yet accessible takes on classic American dishes, Martin was among the final three Cheftestants on season one of Bravo’s wildly popular reality cooking competition, Top Chef. Like fellow Top Chef alumni Angelo Sosa’s midtown eatery, Social Eatz, The Meatball Factory aims to elevate your palate for the American food favorites that you already crave.
Having lived in a state of Meatballs-on-the-Brain for close to a week while anticipating our visit, we chose two types of meatballs to share: the Cluck Cluck Chicken Meatball, made with Bell & Evans Chicken, Esposito’s Chicken Apple Sausage and White Wine, and the Meatza Meatza (one of two beef-centric meatball varieties on the menu) comprised of Braised Certified Angus Beef Brand Short Ribs, Hangar Steak and Filet, Buffalo, Potato and Parmesan. Both choices were very naturally juicy, and because Dave uses no traditional “binder” (i.e. breadcrumbs) in his meaty mix, you are really going to taste the flavor of the meat.
Other meaty concoctions offered include the Turducken (a mix of Turkey, Chicken and Duck, like it sounds), Lambda Lambda Lambda (Lamb, duh), Hog Wild (Pork) and the Vegan’s Dream meatless ball, featuring nine different types of veggies all mashed together with tofu and roasted garlic – yummy. All meatball selections are $8 for a generous 5-meatball portion, while the vegan choice is $9. Meatballs are accompanied by a side of your choice of eight homemade sauces, but for a few bucks more you can trade up to a selection of three different sauces, which seemed like the way to go – because if some is good, more is better! The Cluck Cluck was well complimented by the thick Salsa Verde of Roasted Tomatillos, Green Chilies and Caramelized Sweet Onions flavored with Lime, Fresno Chiles and Agave. We also chose a traditional Fire Roasted Marinara (super garlicky) and the Hells Bells Vodka Sauce made with Absolut Peppar – tasty, and excellent with beef. Kick up the fire in any of these sauces with a splash or two of the house-made Red Pepper Agave sauce found on each table.
While on Top Chef, Dave takes credit for starting the Truffled Macaroni & Cheese craze with the introduction of his signature dish, a Black Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese ($11), which according to our server is among the most popular items on the menu. Chef Dave, who was quite visible in the front of the house on the night of our visit, joined us table-side while we savored – noodle by noodle – a shared portion of this delicious cheesey-truffly baked goodness, to personally describe his secret method of first cooking the cream base for the sauce until it develops its own “nutty” flavor, then slowly folding in both Fontina and Parmesan cheeses so that ingredients blend perfectly, preventing the sauce from “breaking.” This technique makes for a very creamy sauce and a unique integration of flavors that, when combined with the essence of black truffles, elevates this memorable creation high above “your Mama’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese” status.
While we certainly would have been quite satisfied with the Meatballs and the Mac, a side of Pureed Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic (with cream, of course, $5) sounded too amazing to pass up, and we were not disappointed! TMF’s menu also features half a dozen varieties of Crispy Crackerbread Pizzas (we hear that the Thai This Pizza featuring the Turducken Meatballs in a Green Curry Peanut Sauce is a favorite), plus Pastas, Sandwiches, Salads and even Poutine (aka Disco Fries, $5 – 10)! For dessert we were easily sold on the TMF Floatillas: traditional soft drink floats made with Dave’s Vanilla Mascarpone Gelato ($6)! On the night of our visit they were out of the Fanta Orange soda that makes up the Creamsicle, so we chose the Purple Cow Floatilla made with Fanta Grape – equally decadent and so huge we could not finish it!
Last but not least, we tipped the scale of pure indulgence by ordering the Pig Sticks: Slices of Nueske’s Wild Cherrywood Bacon served with sides of Dave’s Malted Hot Fudge and Sea Salt Caramel for dipping! Pig Sticks are a dessert that should be enjoyed at least once by anyone who worships Bacon as much as we do here at The Worley Gig! As you can see from the prices listed in this review, The Meatball Factory is easy on your wallet: nothing on the menu is over $15. They also have a nice wine list with all bottles of wine is priced at or under $40. Beer lovers can choose from among 18 varieties on tap and 20 bottles of craft beer. With the welcome addition of The Meatball Factory to this East Village neighborhood, we just might turn 14th Street into a Foodie haven yet!
UPDATE: I AM SAD TO ANNOUNCE THAT THE MEATBALL FACTORY HAS NOW CLOSED EFFECTIVE APRIL 30, 2012. RIP!
The Meatball Factory is Located at 231 Second Ave. or 251. E. 14th Street – depending on whom you ask – at the Northwest Corner of 14th Street and Second Avenue!