Chef Dave Martin’s Meatball Factory Vs. the Meatball Shop
We've been fans of the Meatball Shop since it opened a few years ago on the Lower East Side, and have cheered on its subsequent expansion to both Williamsburg and the West Village. The more meatballs the merrier, as far as we're concerned. That said, we were definitely a little skeptical when Top Chef finalist Chef Dave Martin opened up the Meatball FACTORY on East 14th Street this fall. With the same mix-n-match concept as the Meatball Shop–choose your ball, choose your sauce, choose your starch–was the Meatball Factory just an opportunistic imitation? After our visit to Meatball Factory NYC on a cold night last week before a movie at the Regal Union Square, the answer seems to be: yes and no.
First the good news: the food at the Meatball Factory is all really good. We tried three types of balls, three different sauces, two separate starches and enjoyed every bite of everything. The Old School meatball, for example, which the Meatball Factory's lengthy, brand name- and adjective-laden menu describes as containing "Certified Angus Beef Brand Hanger Steak, Heritage Pork, Premium Veal, Aged Asiago & Thyme", and which we paired with the Meat House sauce ("Our Signature Bolognese with Pancetta, Esposito’s Chicken Sausage, Certified Angus Beef Brand Hanger Steak and Elysian Farms Lamb, San Marzano Tomatoes and Herbs"), served with slices of the house bread, a solid, chewy white… well, once we got past all the words, we had to admit, these were some excellent meatballs: fresh and lively and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, balanced and complex in their flavors.
The Turducken balls (we'll spare you the adjectives; basically: turkey, duck, chicken) were also juicy and delicious, and went well with the Shroom Central sauce… not to mention the fries and cheese curds upon which they presided. The spicy Hog Wild balls were excellent with the spicy Salsa Verde sauce. Just to get something non-meat onto the table, we also wolfed down a plate of the Meatball Factory's Roasted Brussels Sprouts, which were nicely charred and drizzled with maple syrup and a red chili sauce. Again, everything was very good here, the balls-n-sauce combos maybe better, even, than anything we've had at the Meatball Shop NYC, and we've eaten there a lot.
So what's the problem? It's not really the Meatball Factory's fault, but the location is kind of off, sitting there on an unlovely corner of 14th Street and Second Avenue…. technically only three blocks from the movie theater, but it's a long three blocks. Also, the space itself at Dave Martin's Meatball Factory seems to favor boozers over diners, with the room dominated by a massive bar, with tiny tables crammed into the remaining space wherever they'll fit. If you're an NYU student looking to party and snack on some balls, it works; if you want to sit down for a comfortable dinner, it's less successful. Also, and this could have been a one-time thing, the front-of-the-house crew was more than a bit scattered; when we arrived there were multiple tables empty but still unbussed and cleaned, and so we were offered the worst possible seats in the house, right on top of the front door. It took a little persuading to have someone clear off a different place so that we could enjoy our meal. But, if you like (or, at least, don't mind) eating in a bar, and are in the mood for some first-rate meaty bites, the Meatball Factory definitely hits the spot.
The Meatball Factory details
The Meatball Factory is located on the corner on 14th Street and Second Avenue, and is open every day from 12:00 noon until 2:00 a.m. For more information and a look at the complete Meatball Factory menu, please see the restaurant's website, here.