The Blue Collar Foodie’s New Meatball Obsession!

For some people the mere utterance of the word meatball can conjure amorous memories of Sundays gone by.  These reminiscences most likely depict Grandma, all 5’2” furious inches of her, hard at work in the kitchen, while the entire extended family waited in anticipation for the meal that created such an aroma throughout the house that lingered until damn near Wednesday.  Most likely if you grew up in a family like this, you send a malcontented glare in the direction of anyone that suggests the idea of ordering a meatball from at a restaurant knowing that it can never be close to these angelic savory balls of meat that are on a pedestal in your mind, and so if I proposed the notion of buying one from a kiosk in the mall, you would probably want to punch me in the face.  Well, get your fists ready friend, because I am willing to take a punch if it means that you will give Meatball Obsession, a brand new meatball centric foodie cart located in the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus New Jersey, a whirl.

Meatball Obsession Logo

The Logo

Meatball Obsession technically started in 2008 in New York City, but its true origins date back to when Dan Mancini’s, the founder of Meatball Obsession, assisted his Grandmother in a Brooklyn, New York kitchen while she prepared authentic recipes from Bari, Italy.   These cooking sessions ignited a passion for cooking within him that could not be extinguished.  So much so that even though he worked in the apparel industry for 25 years, he decided to abandon that profession in order to dive into the often unrelenting world of food service.   Lucky for us, over the years Dan kept his Grandmother’s recipes alive and well in his own kitchen, and therefore we now get to experience the greatest meatball that Dan has ever tasted.

I have to admit, as my wife, Kat, and I were on our way to Meatball Obsession I was slightly apprehensive.  I am The Blue Collar Foodie and all, but purchasing meatballs from a kiosk is as unsettling as buying American made electronics.  As we approached the cart, which is located near the Cinnabon (See Map Below), the fragrant smell of the simmering sauce guided me towards our destination and with each step my worrying seemed to dissipate.  Even though my olfactory senses were being bombarded by every other malodorous mall scent, I could still make out the marvelous aroma of Meatball Obsession’s Sunday Sauce, and that made me feel much better about the meal we were about to partake in.

The Treasure Map

The Treasure Map

When we arrived at the Meatball obsession Cart we were greeted by a welcoming staff that seemed genuinely excited to be a part of this newfangled foodie movement.  Furthermore, since it was the grand opening we were also received by the owners of Meatball Obsession and I got to speak to both of them for a little while about their new endeavor.  Just from speaking to them for a short period of time, it was obvious to tell that they are passionate about the food that they serve and the business that they run, which is an often overlooked integral part of a successful food establishment.

Meatball Obsession Kiosk

Meatball Obsession Kiosk

Meatball Obsession specializes in, wait for it, Meatballs, and therefore even though they serve a few other items, the menu mainly consists of their Meatballs and Meatball related accoutrement.   Additionally, Meatball Obsession is not your ordinary Italian Restaurant and therefore the ordering process is somewhat different than what you may be used to.  You don’t just order meatballs at this establishment, you create custom made meatball sundaes tailored to your specifications. This ordering process is broken down into three fun and easy steps that the extremely helpful staff will guide you through if you are a rookie, as I was:

Meatball Cup

Ordering is only half the fun!

Step One:  Indulge Your Obsession:   In other words choose which type of meatball(s) you would like to tantalize your taste buds with.  They offer Beef, Turkey, Chicken, or Pork Sausage which can be mixed and matched any way you would like.

Step Two:  Choose Your Culinary Vessel and how large     you want it to be:  The tasty meat morsels that Meatball Obsession serve can be served in a cup or in an “Original Pocket Sandwich.”  Both options are served with their special Sunday Sauce and the amount of meatballs that you ask for.

Step Three:  The toppings!  This is by far my favorite part of the ordering process, and in my opinion what makes the Meatball Obsession experience unforgettable.  Meatball Obsession offers a wide variety of toppings that you can pair with their already flavorful meatballs to create your very own Meat Sundae.

Kat and I stumbled and bumbled our way through this process, changing our minds not once but three times, until we were finally satisfied with our order.   I decided to get three different meatballs, 1 Beef, 1 Turkey, and 1 Pork Sausage in a cup topped with Ricotta, Parmesan, Romano, Mozzarella Pearls, and Basil Olive Oil for $11.00 and Kat decided on one turkey and one beef meatball topped with 24 month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and gnocchi for $9.50.  While our concoctions were being assembled, we were informed that even though the idea behind Meatball Obsession’s containers, whether you chose the cup or the sandwich, were meant for people on the move, they are also going to provide seating for individuals that want to enjoy their meals sitting as opposed to walking.

Meatball Obsession Close Up

Cup of Yummy!

After receiving our cups full of yummy, Kat and I took our first forkful of Meatball Obsession together and it was magical.  If we were in a movie, as we chewed that first bite a melodic tune would have played over a slow moving montage of all the disappointing meatballs that I have eaten in my life, culminating in the triumphant rise of the music as I ate this very meatball.   A meatball, with so many layers of flavor, the perfect consistency, and that was swimming in a hearty marinara sauce that is literally so good that I would give up bacon for a year, just to get a peek at the recipe.   If this was not enough, the toppings paired flawlessly with the meatballs and sauce and brought the meal to whole other level.  After we were done devouring our meatballs, we then used the included side bread to sop up as much sauce as we could, and when our bread supply was depleted we just settled on spooning the sauce into our mouths until every last drop was gone.

Cup of Yummy 2:  The Rise of the Gnocchi.

Cup of Yummy 2: Rise of the Gnocchi.

Meatball Obsession also offers a variety of beverages to wash down your tasty creation with.  For the unadventurous, one can order Coca-Cola or Bottled Water.  If you are feeling somewhat frisky, you can go with a San Pellegrino Soda or even better a Manhattan Special Soda in a variety of flavors.  For the true Old World New York experience however I highly recommend a traditional egg cream, created with seltzer and U-Bet Chocolate Syrup.   They also offer a fresh made cannoli that is not filled until you order it, which are imported from Brooklyn, if you are in a decadent mood.

Egg Cream

Egg Cream!

I understand that YOUR Grandma, Nonna,  Bubbie, MomMom, or whatever the heck you call her makes the best meatballs on the planet, with YOUR Mother coming in a close second, but if you are interested in trying the third greatest meatball that you will ever taste, you should make your way over to Meatball Obsession.  I warn you though, once you taste these remarkable spheres of meaty goodness, you may have to lie to your Grandmother on a regular basis, when you say her meatballs are still the best.  You have been warned!

The Blue Collar Foodie Helps You Decide! Restaurant Week 2013 Edition

Restaurant Week 2013

Restaurant Week 2013

It is that time of year again folks! New York City Restaurant Week is about to commence and this year 317 restaurants will be serving up some of the finest food New York City has to offer, from January 14th until February 8th.  Each and every year more restaurants jump on the proverbial chuck wagon and attempt to compete for your business during the most hectic two weeks in the New York City restaurant business and the hardest part is choosing which restaurant to visit.  If you are as bad at making a decision as Notre Dame was at playing football this week, The Blue Collar Foodie has got you covered!  I have reviewed, inspected, and studied the New York City eateries participating in restaurant week this year and handpicked a few of my favorites to make your decision making process go a wee bit easier.

Before I get to the restaurants that made this exclusive list I first want to explain how these establishments were selected.  I evaluated each restaurant using the following criteria; the restaurant’s history, the building the restaurant is housed in, the menu offered, and of course the food they serve.  I then used a complex algorithm, not really but this sounded way too awesome not to write, and selected restaurants that not only serve remarkable food but also provide an amazing eating experience for the customer.

Considering I only get to visit these prestigious restaurants twice a year during restaurant week, due to budget restraints, my restaurant selection has to be more than just about food.  I want to visit famous buildings, have the chance to rub elbows with celebrities, dine where history actually happened, and do it all for 38 bucks plus tax and gratuity.  If you are looking for the best food this immense list has to offer this is not the review for you, but if you are looking for a once in a lifetime New York City experience keep reading!

It should be noted that I have not visited all of the restaurants that are on my list, so most of my research was done using the interwebs.  So if the restaurant that you choose is not as amazing as I say it is, please forward all your hate mail to dealwithit@Doyourowndamnresearch.com

To make your life even easier, I have broken down my selections to match the “by cuisine,” categories that are used on the NYC GO website, which lists all the restaurants that are participating.  I have also decided to follow Twitter’s lead and only use 140 characters to capture the essence of each eatery, I call them TweeViews.  If you like what you see in the Tweeview please visit the restaurant’s website to see more about the venue, by clicking the establishment’s name.  Furthermore, these selections are in Alphabetic order by cuisine type then restaurant name.  If you use this list to pick a restaurant out, I would love to hear about your experience in the comment section below, so please post.  Remember an outing into the City is really what you make of it, so as Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say, “Suit Up, and have a Legend, wait for it, Dary evening!”

 

Food Map

Gastronomic Map

American New

Butter:  A unique interior design inspired by nature paired with an eclectic menu featuring uncommon dishes make Butter a force to be reckoned with.

Hospoda:  Czech inspired fare paired with fresh pilsner instead of the normal wine creates a fresh take on fine dining at this upscale eatery.

The Lambs Club:  A famous chef and a building on the National Register of Historic Places that was home to one of America’s oldest theatrical organizations.

Leyla:  Boasting one of the finest menus on the restaurant week circuit, what it lacks in history it more than makes up for in culinary creativity.

Kutshers:  A modern Jewish American bistro, with roots in the Catskills, which offers Grandma’s favorites with a contemporary twist.

Park Avenue Winter:  A rustic American restaurant offering seasonal fare and a corresponding design that is only open until the end of winter begets spring.

Perilla:  With only 18, it is hard to score a table at this neighborhood restaurant, turned foodie mecca that focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Sprig:  Located in the Lipstick Building this posh eatery offers artistically prepared seasonal fare inspired by Northern California cuisine.

 

American Traditional

‘21’ Club:  A former New York City speak easy, still frequented by many celebrities, expertly serving awarding winning food with high class flare.

The Darby:  This former legendary Jazz and Blues Club turned chic eatery serves up creative cuisine with a side of swag in the form of live music.            

 

Asian Fusion        

Ajna Bar:  Beautiful interior design, renowned DJ’s, and a collision between French and Asian cuisine make Ajna Bar an appealing spot for 2013.

 

Barbecue

Hill Country BBQ:  New York’s own piece of Texas, serving up huge portions of fresh Barbecue for all of us with a city addresses but country souls.     

 

Chinese

Hakkasan:  This ain’t your local Chinese takeout joint; this is refined Chinese fare which is combined with a sophisticated and stylish dining area.

 

Continental

The Russian Tea Room:   A New York City Icon that was founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet and is frequented by the worlds’ most fastidious foodies.

 

French

L’ecole:  The ground floor of Fine Dining, located in the Int. Culinary Center; students from everywhere collaborate to create awe inspiring dishes.

 

Greek

Kellari:  A warm and inviting atmosphere that sets the tone for a Grecian inspired meal that the Chef lovingly prepares to celebrate his homeland.       

 

Indian

Junoon:  An extensive selection of interesting and delicious Indian dishes that offers the restaurant week veteran a wonderful escape from monotony.

Tamarind:  This trendy eatery is one of the most popular Indian restaurants in NYC, and one look at the décor coupled with the menu should explain why.

 

Italian

Asellina:  Sleek, posh, and chic describe this hip establishment where authentic Italian food collides with the modern day reality starlet scene.   

Barbetta:  Known as one of the most romantic restaurants in New York City, this is a great place for a couple to fall in love all over again.

Cipriani Dolci:  Located inside the majestic landmark that is Grand Central Terminal, Cipriani offers something to the architecture lover that others cannot.  

Pó:  An intimate space and fresh ingredients delivered daily by foot or bike by the surrounding markets, serving Italian food as it should be.     

The Leopard at des Artistes:  First time diners come for the buildings historical significance and the impressive art collection, but they come back for the food.

 

Japanese

Megu:  This establishment transports you to the Far East like no other restaurant I have ever been to, from design to dish, Megu is a phenomenal.

 

Korean

Bann:  A fantastic place to experience a variety of tantalizing Korean food while being surrounded by stunning authentic Korean décor.

 

Mediterranean

Ilili:  Ilili combines Lebanese cuisine with a Mediterranean flare, an epicurean delight perfect for the foodie looking to expand their palate.

 

Mexican

Maya:  Traditional Mexican cuisine meets modern culinary expertise at this contemporary eatery that promises warm Latin hospitality.

 

Pan/Latin

Raymi:  Billed as the best Peruvian restaurant in New York City with a menu and dining area that appears to back up that claim.

Rayuela:  A truly innovative and beautiful restaurant that created its own culinary genre known as estilo libre Latino or freestyle Latino.

 

Seafood

FishTag:  Mediterranean inspired seafood dishes expertly paired with wine from the imaginative culinary mind of world renowned chef Michael Psilakis.   

 

Southwestern

Mesa Grill:  Bobby Flay combines his passion for Southwestern cuisine and his love for grilling which leads to a marriage made in foodie heaven.

 

Spanish

Andanada 141:  A restaurant week menu truly built for adventurous foodies combined with a bull fighting theme makes this a great spot for thrill seekers.

 

Steakhouse

The Capital Grille Chrysler Center:  Located inside the Chrysler Center’s Trylon Towers, this highly rated chain steakhouse is an architecture aficionado’s dream.

 

Thai

Kittichai:  An exquisite design that lends itself to a romantic dinner for two with a menu that offers an inventive take on traditional Thai dishes.

 

Vietnamese

Le Colonial:  This one of a kind eatery transports you to a forgotten world known as French Indochina and serves French inspired Vietnamese cuisine.

The Blue Collar Foodie Goes Round For Round With The Duke at Charlie Blood’s

Occasionally the fact that I have a food blog comes up in conversations and when it does I typically get mixed reviews, pun intended.   Some people respond to this statement as if I just told them that I kick dogs for fun, while others reply as if I had told them I write for the New Yorker.  Although, I tend to enjoy the latter as opposed to the former reaction, by far my favorite response is also the most common; “That is, (Insert Favorable Adjective Here), you should really check out, (Insert Restaurant’s Name Here).”

This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago while I was at my local watering hole, The Twisted Elm, and ran into a few old friends.  One of them was unaware that I write this blog and as soon as I mentioned it she instantly began throwing names of restaurants out faster than I could digest them.  As I fervently tapped on my phone with my giant clumsy thumbs, trying to capture all the potential Blue Collar eateries that were being hurled in my direction, one seemed to stand out amongst the crowd, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Not only was the name appealing but the way she described this joint lead me to believe that it was right up my alley.  She may or may not have used the phrase Dive Bar a few times.

Charlie Bloods

Charlie Blood’s Restaurant

The following night Kat, our friend Rory, and I embarked on our culinary quest to Charlie Blood’s, which is located at 147 Frederick St., in Garfield, NJ.  As we pulled up to what I assumed was the front of the building, more on this later, I could feel the blue collar vibe emanating from this establishment.   The yellow brick of the building illuminated by the welcoming glow of the neon beer sign in the window attracted Rory and I like a tween to sparkly vampires.

Upon entering Charlie Blood’s Restaurant we were whisked away to a wondrous world of wood paneling and draught beer, that I lovingly call DiveBaria.  This extraordinary land is a lot like Narnia from the acclaimed novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, except that the Wardrobe is a bar, the Lion is food, and instead of a witch there is beer.  Come to think of it, there are really not any similarities between these places, except of course, they are both magical.  Once inside, we grabbed a table adjacent to the bar, ordered a round of drinks, and asked for a few menus.

Inside Charlie Bloods

Inside Charlie Blood’s

While we swigged our first round, we discussed the menu and conversed about the astonishing selection of food that this seemingly unimposing tavern has to offer.   Even though Charlie Blood’s offers a wide variety of Italian American fare, my mind was made up the second I picked up the menu and saw “The Duke’s” face staring back at me.  The Duke is Charlie Blood’s Famous 24oz Ribeye Steak and I felt obligated to my readers to conquer it, especially since it was only $17.95.  Kat opted to attempt to keep her girlish figure, which this blog does not help at all, and ordered the 12oz steak for $11.95, while Rory went with the Seafood platter, which is described as Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels, and Baked Clams for $14.95.  To add to the affordability of this spot, all of our meals came with a house salad and fries as well.

After the hardest part of the evening was over and our food ordered, we took our beverages in hand and drank in all that this restaurant has to offer.  The walls of Charlie Blood’s restaurant are covered from floor to ceiling with local sports memorabilia and hometown heroes.   I am not talking about the kind of crap that is draped all over the walls at your local Applebee’s, that was clearly professionally framed and placed there by a decorator either, I am talking about  the genuine article.  A large poster of this establishment’s namesake, Charlie “Blood” Benanti, hangs in the bar alongside this memorabilia.

Charlie Blood's Logo

Charlie Blood’s Logo

According to the Googles, “Charlie gained his nickname “Charlie Blood” at a young age from his reputation as a street tough fighter during his school days. He began professional boxing at the age of 16 to aid his family in the pre-depression years. Many of his fights were held in Garfield, Jersey City, and Paterson.  He gained the New Jersey Lightweight crown in 1928. With a winning record of 65-5, he retired in 1931. In 1940, Charlie took over a tavern in Garfield from his father-in-law and is now owned and run by his son Sal Benanti, and his family.”

Our salads arrived and I have to say I was impressed by the portion size.  That is not to say that the salads were over sized but they were not overtly petite either.  To paraphrase a famous blond girl who broke into a bears house, it was not too big or too small, but just the right size.  The actual contents of the salad appeared to be fresh and as far as a dinner salad goes, it did its job flawlessly.

The Duke

Charlie Blood’s Famous 24 oz. Ribeye Steak

With my appetite intact and properly primed, I was ready to go round for round with The Duke.  As this 24oz beast of a steak came to our table the theme song from Rocky was playing in my head.  I have never met a steak I could not finish and I was determined to make sure that the Duke was not the first.  So far Charlie Blood’s Restaurant was not disappointing this blue collar foodie, but as the first forkful of steak was slowly approaching my craw, I knew that the moment of truth was upon us.  For, a cheap bill is not the only requirement for a restaurant to be Blue Collar Foodie approved.   But alas Charlie Blood’s Restaurant did not dissatisfy, it was love at first bite.

The Duke

The Duke’s Close-Up

This colossal slab of cow was perfectly cooked, medium rare, and seasoned just enough to enhance the natural flavor of the meat.  This was one of the best steaks I have had in a long time, and I could not believe that I was having it at a place like Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Kat and Rory seemed to be enjoying their meals too, considering the conversation that we were having when the food arrived had not only stopped but was only a distant memory.  As I finished my steak, I found myself sopping up the juices with my French fries so I would not waste any of the deliciousness.

Seafood Melody

Seafood Melody

All in all, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant is the perfect two punch combination, it is affordable and the food is terrific.  This is yet another establishment that makes you hear your wise mother’s voice urging you not to judge a book by its cover, in that motherly tone that we all love to hate.  These hyper local Blue Collar foodie havens are difficult to find and get harder and harder as the years drag on.  There is something extremely comforting about Charlie Blood’s, a Cheers’esque’ quality, that is sadly endangered nowadays.

There are a few notes about Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I wish I knew before we visited that I will now share with you.  This blue collar foodie find, much like many others, only takes cash.  They do have an ATM on site, but if you want to save the fees stop at the bank before you head over.  Furthermore, if you are not into eating at the bar, I have been told that there is a full service restaurant side to Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I will be checking out on our next visit.  The entrance to the restaurant is apparently around the corner from the door we used to get in.

Judgment:

Overall:                          4 out of 5

Taste:                             4 out of 5

Presentation:                3 out of 5

Value:                             5 out of 5

Charlie Bloods on Urbanspoon