You are greeted at the door by a sense of dread. Suddenly it looks like the plans you had for a quick Thursday night dinner have been rewritten by scores of hungry foodies eager to dine on yet another high brow version of a low brow meal.
Inside the door of the newest Meatball Shop are at least ten waiting patrons and a hostess clutching an iPad to her chest. The bar is two rows of people deep, the tables are all full, waiters and waitresses move purposefully up and down the main aisle looking for any clues that a party is ready to take the next step in their meal so they can seat yet another hungry party.
The hostess types my name and phone number into her iPad and informs me that it will be an hour and a half wait. A text message arrives telling me that I’m in line at meatball shop! and gives me a link to their phone number should I change my plans. The text also has a link with the up to the minute status of my wait time. This is the type of thing I appreciate.
Still, my compadres and I are ravenously hungry, and a 90 minute wait sounds like a bitter pill to have to swallow, so as soon as we see a few bar stools open up we lunge for them (the bar isn’t governed by the same rules as the rest of the dining room). We’ve just chopped our wait by 85 minutes. Settled in with beer in hand, feeling like I’ve gamed the system in my favor a bit, I’m highly content with my life.
The next phase is deciding what to eat. The Meatball Shop’s menu is basic; it has its obvious main ingredient served in a variety of different ways. The menu is laminated and you place your order by checking off what you want using the provided non-permanent markers. You can order your meatballs as a smash, which is a two meatball sandwhich on a hard roll with sauce and cheese, a sub, which is the four meatball version of the same thing, or you can get festive and delve into the slider matrix, which is a grid where you check off what variety of meatball you want (y axis) with what variety of sauce (x axis). For balls there is the classic beef, spicy pork, chicken, and a nightly special (our night it was turkey and stuffing), and for sauces you have the classic tomato, a creamy sauce, a pesto version, and another special (thematically appropriate cranberry and gravy). If you want to sample all the Meatball Shop has to offer, ordering four or five sliders is the way to go, though good luck remembering which one is which while you’re eating them.
For my part, I sampled many of the different options but I think my favorite is the basic meatball smash with tomato and provolone. Unlike just getting the sliders, the smash comes with a nice little salad that helps cut the richness of continuous meat, sauce, and bread. You can order the salad, or a few other options, separately on the side, but I like that it came with it (the smash also ends up being the cheaper option). But my way of thinking may be too dinner-centric; part of the draw of the shop is its late-night friendly hours. Next time I’m in the Lower East Side, West Village or Williamsburg and looking to soak up some booze, I’ll happily throw down $3 for a spicy pork with pesto slider, as long as there is an open seat at the bar.