Tunnel Explorer: Brooklyn Meatball Co. Needs More Balls
Likely the only time I've found myself wishing for a third ball (cue groans).
Photos by Nicholas L. Hall
It's very difficult to predict the half-life of a tunnel restaurant. In a certain respect, it's the perfect arrangement. Fixed hours, captive audiences, little competition. I have no doubt the rents are high, though, the restrictions many, and the notion of "little competition" is a rather assumptive assumption, based around the general lack of quality food to be had underground. So, I guess, it's also a very dicey proposition.
Still, I'm convinced that if you can find your niche down there, you can have a real shot. Although there are certainly many things stacked against you, it's hard to get away from the allure of that captive audience. There's a reason so many subpar restaurants thrive in the circuitous rabbit-run under downtown, after all, even while charging excessive prices for their mediocre fare. When places down there do it right, even if the prices are a little steeper than maybe they should be, I think they stand an even better chance. Anything to save us from the never-ending feedback loop of chicken salad --> submarine -->crappy burger --> taco salad (repeat).
That brings us to Brooklyn Meatball Co. Apparently, it used to be called Saucy Balls, and is the brain child of erstwhile reality TV personality Joseph Galluzzi. I don't really care that he was on TV, or if he wants to have an entendre entrée. I just want it to taste good. It does. For $5.40 after tax, though, I'd have liked more balls.
I opted for "Just The Balls" (two to an order, natch), classic beef in spicy marinara. The balls were reasonably sized, about the size of middling plums, and came with a small hunk of bread. The marinara was a simple affair, a plus in my book, centered around the bright yet meaty taste of tomato, and laced with olive oil, garlic and just enough red pepper to stand up to their spicy designation.
The balls themselves came nicely crusted and properly seasoned, but with a slightly wan, overly emulsified texture on the inside. Interestingly, I think that came from what I'm sure is intended as a gesture of generosity and sincerity -- the balls' lack of filler.
BMC advertises their 100 percent beef meatballs proudly, and I must take slight umbrage. To me, meatballs are part of the grand tradition of making do, a vehicle for utilizing what meat you have and making it go further by blending it with some herbs (admittedly included here), the tail end of that week's bread, some cheese, maybe a bit of egg to bind it. The addition of all those extras separates a meatball from a ball of ground meat -- making it into something rendered spectacularly delicious, not to mention texturally interesting -- by the very virtues of its thrift. I have no doubt there are those of you who would disagree, but you're wrong. It's okay.
A hunk of bread and a dollop of "basil ricotta" completed my order, though they needn't have. The bread, a commercial specimen with that odd combination of almost cottony interior and tough-chewy crust so indicative of the form, was passable as a sauce-mop, but useless otherwise. The ricotta was just an unnecessary accouterment. Regardless, I rather enjoyed my lunch, but for one small problem. I was still hungry.
It wasn't that sort of "I still kind of want something more" type of hungry, but "I know I'm going to need additional sustenance, and soon." That shouldn't happen with meatballs, period. They're comfort food, meant to fill you up. Apparently, the BMC knows two won't do the trick, they just don't tell you that up front. Looking over their to-go menu back at my desk, I noticed that their catering menu recommends three to four balls per person when ordering in bulk. It seems a bit foolish to provide a portion you publicly recognize as insufficient.
Before you start thinking me displeased, let me point out a few things. First, I don't get the impression that this is a matter of stinginess. While I was waiting for my order, Joey himself presented a previous customer with hers, telling her with a smile that he'd overheard her talking about how hungry she was, and that he'd thrown in a side of rigatone on the house. It was genuine, kind and not the sort of thing you get from a proprietor who's interested in cheating his customers. I think, mostly, this is a matter of calibration, and I fervently hope it's a small kink that gets worked out.
The truth is, I'm happy BMC is here. The food was fresh and carefully prepared, and it seems clear that the guy in charge wants to do right by his product and his customer. I hope they stick around, with a few tweaks to portions or pricing. A bit of extra attention to bread (maybe sourced from one of our city's several fine bakeries such as Slow Dough, Kraftsmen, etc.) would go a long way, and might even help justify the price. If I know it's a good product, I won't balk as much. Neither, I'll wager, will the rest of the captive audience. Not that a third saucy ball would hurt.
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