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Monday, March 26, 2012

Not Just Meatballs

What's the formula for restaurant success? Get just about everything just about right. Do it well enough, and not only will they come, but they will also go out of their way. You will become a destination, allowing you to even dispense with one of the cliched elements of success: location.

Here at The Meatball Shop, the restaurant is abuzz. There are lines. Why? Take a unique concept, one of America's comfort foods, bring it to the next level, and spin it every way it can be spun. Provide an extensive menu so that there is something for everyone (there are numerous vegetarian options, including delicious vegan meatball dishes). Put thought into every offering, even including lemonade (we had rhubarb lemonade). Keep 'em coming back with numerous specials in every category every night (even the lemonade keeps changing).

Give 'em good pricing and value. Make it FUN (albeit a little noisy and with a menu selection check system resembling an SAT test). And don't forget a very well put together decor and homey ambiance that makes you want to relax. Tin ceilings, good lighting, antique photos, wainscoting - all working towards an old-timey atmosphere befitting comfort foods.  Even the bathroom had an equally nice decor and flowers. If you can, offer desserts so yummy you make 'em want to go for broke and throw diet to the wind for one night - here it is, homemade ice cream sandwiches like at Mud, but customized with six choices each of cookie and ice cream.

How do you do create such a successful place? For street cred, start with two New Yorkers who have credentials to spare and are clearly overqualified for the job. Apply these extraordinary talents and passion to a simple food item, and voila - you have what the co-owners, Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, like to call "best place on earth." From their website:

Daniel Holzman's cooking career started at age 15 at LeBernardin in NYC. He attended the Culinary Institute of America with a full scholarship from the James Beard Foundation. Prior to graduation, Daniel accepted a position at the Paladin in New York City for Chef Jean Louis Paladin, working alongside such culinary notables as Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason. Six months later Jean Louis asked Daniel if he would be willing to fill a vacancy at his flagship restaurant Napa in the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Accepting the offer, Daniel began a 10-year culinary journey through some of Los Angeles and San Francisco’s finest restaurants including The Campton Place, The Fifth Floor, Aqua and Jardinière.
In 2004 Daniel began his first management job as chef of the California organic bistro, Axe, in Venice, Los Angeles. After one year at Axe, Daniel became Executive Chef at the Inn of the Seventh Ray, a 250 seat restaurant in the Topanga hills known for its romantic outdoor setting and lavish weddings. Daniel remained at the Inn until 2007 when he moved to San Francisco to open SPQR, a rustic Roman Osteria, as Co-owner and Executive chef. Within 3 months of the opening SPQR received 3½ out of 4 stars from Michael Bauer in The San Francisco Chronicle, a rating usually reserved for far fancier restaurants.

Michael Chernow began his professional restaurant career in 1996 behind the bar of the popular nightclub, Life, on Bleecker Street in NewYork City. Learning from the ground up, Michael quickly worked his way through the ranks becoming the youngest bartender on staff. After 2 years working in both Life in New York and in its East Hampton sister club, The Tavern, Michael signed on to open Woo Lae Oak on Mercer St. in New York City.

In 2001 Michael made the move to Los Angeles where he worked at Woo Lae Oak’s original location on La Cienega Blvd. Returning to New York, he opened Punch and Judy, a wine bar on Clinton Street. In 2002 Frank Prizanzano offered Michael a position behind the bar of his eponymous flagship restaurant Frank on Second Avenue.For the past 7 years Michael has been managing the bar at Frank where he has a large, loyal following. In 2007 Michael enrolled in French Culinary Institute, graduated with honors, and was awarded an Associates Degree in both culinary arts and restaurant management in 2008.

It's another good example of a New York City establishment where, if you look beneath the veneer, you will find more than buzz, spin, and hype. This is a place where, under the skin, content is king and it's Not Just Meatballs :)

More West Village restaurants: French Roast (Heard It Through the Grapevine), Doma Café (Tangerine Dream), Cones, Magnolia Bakery, John's Pizzeria (Roots of Pizza), The Waverly Inn and Garden (Buzz and Bling), Le Gigot (Nuance), Lassi (Skinny), Tartine (Paris in New York), Chocolate Bar


i am marie said...

Love love love this place.
How exciting the outside tables are now beckoning to be filled, can't wait to get my next fix!

And again, such great photos..nice work

Leslie said...

Even if there's not a lot of comments, you know there's going to be a lot more people making their way over to The Meatball Shop! Back in 1970 one of your favorite things to eat was a meatball hero from that deli on University Place...right?