For decades, the mall food court was like a public cafeteria. It had unremarkable chain fast food joints with cheap food where workers from nearby businesses could grab lunch or shoppers could get a bite between purchases. For a while, it was overtaken by food trucks, which could pull up outside a building and offer all manner of different cuisine, often with more impressive culinary results.
Now, food courts are making a comeback — yet ANOTHER one is set to open next month. Sure, now they are often standalone restaurant conglomerations referred to as "food halls," but make no mistake, they are food courts not that dissimilar from their distant mall cousins of days gone by. Which is why actual mall food courts — like Atlanta's Ponce City Market — feel like more than afterthoughts and places like the Brooklyn Meatball Company (1200 McKinney), nestled inside downtown's Shops at Houston Center, can grow and thrive in a place as antiseptic as a mall.
Considering some of the best street vendor-style baked ziti and pizza is also found at little spots in mall food courts, it seems natural to find great meatballs there too.
And, no surprise, they do make great meatballs. Like really great. They better, it's in the name. But in much the same way it can be difficult (if not impossible) to find great New York-style pizza in Houston (something about the water...blah blah), finding a classic Italian meatball on a sandwich isn't all that easy either. We wrote about Mandola's previously, and it's extremely good (particularly the over-the-top mozzarella sheet that covers it - yum), but if you need a straight up meatball fix, the Saucy Sub at BMC will have you singing "That's Amore" un-ironically within seconds.
I love a place that offers choices and BMC does just that by allowing you to choose standard beef, lightened up turkey or meatless eggplant for your meatball of choice. That is followed up by your choice of sauce including Joey's marinara, spicy marinara, creamy gorgonzola and pesto. Regardless of choice, they come served on fresh Italian bread with herbs, parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic glaze, which is brings it all together.
I went for the traditional beef meatball and Joey's marinara. It's exactly what I expect from a NYC-style meatball sub. The meat is hearty and tender. The sauce is bright and acidic with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes. And the Italian bread is light and crusty. I added mozzarella to mine as well because, well, it's cheese. Duh.
Here's the secret though, it's the balsamic. Think a sharp and slightly sweet balsamic reduction drizzled all over the sandwich. It adds some moisture but, more importantly, that zip from the glaze perfectly balances out the hearty and rich meatball. It really holds it all together and makes this sandwich a standout.
So, if you are looking for the bada bing bada boom of a classic Italian meatball sub just like they make in New York, you can find your spot in a mall food court. Who knew?