Hungry with a Chance of Meatballs
Sample these five crave-worthy iterations of the iconic Italian immigrant creation available right here in Westchester.
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Ah, the humble, hearty meat-a-ball-a.
A staple of Italian-American kitchens and just as American-born as any first-generationer.
The meatball — as we know it best — is the epitome of an immigrant invention. A perfect symbol of the culture that brought us the oh-so-melodious sounds of moozadells and manigots.
But the largish orbs that we are accustomed to (drenched in tomato sauce, often served alongside a heaping portion of spaghetti) would be scoffed at and, frankly, hard to find at any bona fide restaurant in the high-heeled, boot-shaped country that inspired the hybridized dish.
Yet, over generations, Italy’s cultural vibrancy was not diminished but enhanced as its food adapted in America’s kitchens.
Sure, every culture has a version of meatball. (Historical records show they are most likely a Persian creation — different story, different time.) But homeland Italians roll their meatballs (polpette) into a smaller size — ranging from marble to about a quarter — and often serve them in brodo (broth) or on their own as a separate main course. Certainly, NEVER alongside pasta.
Polpette were created as a way of stretching a meager, sometimes questionable quality, meat supply with milk-soaked bread. But the Italians who migrated here could eventually afford more meat and as the ratio to bread increased, so did the size of the ball. Canned tomatoes were cheap in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and spaghetti the only pasta available. Add that to an American palate used to eating a starch with every meal and, well, fuggedaboutit!
And so, we say a collective “bravo” to a people with arguably the best food cred on planet earth, a people who use their home kitchens as a way of strengthening the identity of the Italian diaspora and a people whose notably voracious appetites will always tempt them to leave the tasteless gun but totally take the cannoli.
Mom’s meatballs at Maria (Facebook/Maria restaurant)
The menu says it all at this Michelin-rated spot where old meets new Italian and sentiment is everything. Awarded the coveted Bib Gourmand designation, this New Rochelle eatery is owned by brothers Peter and Giovanni Cucullo and named as an homage to their mother. And what better menu item to represent their Calabrese heritage than the one listed: “Mom’s Meatballs” And on the plate? “Ricotta Toast, Pomodoro & Love.”
Burrata’s saucy polpettine
The veal-based polpettine at this Neapolitan-inspired Eastchester haunt come swimming in a sauce so delectable, you will mop up every drop, scarpetta-style, with glee. (And, also, with the killer charred bread!) The restaurant, owned by Chas Anderson, was also recognized by Michelin Guide 2021 with a Bib Gourmand award.
The Cookery’s heirloom meatballs
Yet another Bib Gourmand winner, chef and owner David DiBari’s “heirloom” meatballs are extra-large but eat light, dressed with just the right amount of sauce spooned reservedly over the top. Though the texture is ethereal, the flavor packs the kind of punch reminiscent of home cooking at its finest. A searing food memory of a Nonna’s kitchen if there ever was one.
Polpettina's three iterations of its eponymous menu item.
With a name that means “little meatballs,” expectations are set high at the original Eastchester location where, as the website says, it “debuted its little balls.” ACDC may not have approved… but we certainly do! The beef-based meatball is moist and delicious. (Incidentally, there is also a falafel meatball and a totally crave-worthy chicken iteration with soy jus that shouldn’t be mentioned here but, dang, it’s good.)
Polpettina’s classic beef meatball with spaghetti
A&S Pork Store of Yonkers
A&S meatballs to go are the perfect option for eating at home.
For over 35 years, A&S has been the king of the Italian deli scene. So, if you want meatballs to-go and don’t want to make the trek to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, head to the mini food mecca that is Highridge Plaza to experience southern Westchester’s own little Italy.
Jena A. Butterfield is a lifestyle writer specializing in food, drink, travel, and interior design. Whether she’s traveling or not, she can usually be found washing down a hunk of cheese with a glass of Nebbiolo. A native of the land of Quahogs and chowdah, she lives with her husband and son in New York.
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