The Meatball Shop | Hell's Kitchen
After finishing my bagel and coffee I walked from Herald Square to The American Museum of Natural History.
I took 7th Ave to Central Park — thinking about Real Kung Fu as I passed its street. The sun was finally out — drying the pavement as bicyclists and runners filled the sidewalks. I pulled off my pea-coat and scarf, stuffing it into my bag as I walked.
I followed the wide sidewalk parallel to Central Park. I noted the dog-walker carrying one brown chihuahua across the street. A bride in a long dress stepped out of a vintage yellow taxi for her photoshoot. A British dude and his two daughters stopped to ask me where the John Lennon statue was (I had no idea).
I knew I was close to the museum as the buildings widened — eating up large swatches of the block with decorative lawns and gardens. I saw the long stone steps for the entrance of the museum. There was a line of people along the length of the building.
The American Museum of Natural History
I found the end of the line and waited. It only took a few minutes for the line to advance through security. Of course, my bag pinged the security alarm, and I had to take out everything I had shoved into my Great Gatsby tote. Once I was through, I grabbed a map and found a staircase up to the exhibits.
My Favorite Exhibits
I explored every floor of the Museum of Natural History. Here were some of my favorites from each floor.
People and Cultures
Half of this room (though I didn’t photograph every piece), featured sculptures and pieces from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
One little card gave historical background that read: “Brought to New York by John Loiyd Stephens in 1840 during his exploration of the Maya area. Alongside Frederick Catherwood, Stephens was one of the earlier discoverers of the ancient Maya Ruins.”
Animals and Reptiles
Most of the exhibits I saw on the upper levels of the museum featured glass exhibits of animals. This included the design of their natural habitat and families of the species to show the different sizes and characteristics.
For example, this species of deer (I can’t remember from where), were adorable! Until you remember that the babies had to die to be in the exhibit. I wondered how half of these animals ended up on display in New York?
There was also an entire floor of birds — which I loved. Except, those exhibits were dark, so it was difficult to see every type that was in the case.
The upper floor had displays of reptiles. I am not a fan of reptiles, though I was shocked at the above exhibit featuring a 23-foot long snake skeleton. It was found in Florida, which was alarming.
Dinosaurs and Fossils
I was most excited about the dinosaur exhibits. I love learning about dinosaurs and watching documentaries about their existence/extinction.
It was unbelievable to stand dwarfed beside them. Especially the one dinosaur that took up the entire room. It was impossible to photograph its entire skeleton in one frame.
I paid extra with my ticket to have access to the T-Rex Exhibit. For some reason, I thought that this exhibit would be a video about the T-Rex (like what planetariums provide). Instead, it was an extra room dedicated to the evolution of the T-Rex.
There was a virtual reality exhibit as well as different displays (especially focusing on their speed, arm size, lifespan, and features). I would’ve preferred a video, but I thought the additional information and exhibits was worth the money.
A Spring Afternoon
Unfortunately, I read my map and location incorrectly, and exited out onto the street level (so I missed the underwater exhibit). I rested on a bench under a cherry blossom tree. There was a raised garden bed in the middle of my sitting area. Bundles of colorful flowers brightened the garden. A circle of wooden benches surrounded the space.
Three food trucks parked on the street. One served fruit smoothies. The other two served gyros and hot dogs. Coolers of Gatorade and cans of soda sat in blue and orange coolers on the sidewalk. A young boy to my right was trying to capture a pigeon. His mother played on her phone. Another boy to my left was throwing chunks of his bread to the birds. A couple asked me to take their photo under the cherry blossom tree.
I bought an ice water from the food stall on the other end of the block and walked back towards 9th Ave to grab an early dinner at a restaurant I recently heard about.
The Meatball Shop | Hell’s Kitchen
The Meatball Shop caught my attention for its clean, branded design and customized menu. Of course, being Italian, a restaurant featuring a menu of meatballs sounds like the place for me.
The Meatball Shop in Hell’s Kitchen was a large corner lot with lots of windows. The red “Meatball” sign told me I was at the right place.
I walked up the steps and into the chilly dining room. The room was filled with natural light and minimal design. I loved the white brick bar and the red accents throughout the room.
I was greeted by a young man with curly, fluffy hair and hipster glasses. I asked for a table for one.
“How about the bar?”
I was about to agree when I noticed the several two-top tables open against the front windows. “Can’t I sit at one of those?”
He paused and then agreed, “Sure.”
I went to the corner table, hanging my bag and jacket on the back of the chair and facing the room.
I loved the wooden tables and the row of windows looking out onto the sidewalk and street. In front of me at my table setting was the menu, a glass, and an old milk container filled with water. I studied the menu to see if it had changed from what I found online.
The Meatball Menu
The menu was two-sided and looked like a paper placemat. On one side was the drinks and appetizers. On the other side was the customizable meatballs, meatball sandwiches, salads topped with meatballs, and side dishes.
I didn't drink any alcohol while in the city. I'm normally dehydrated (my veins flow with French vanilla coffee), so I don't add alcohol to the mix. Yet, when I looked at the beautifully designed liquor menu that The Meatball Shop offered, that Prosecco reminded me of my hot afternoons in Florence.
I refrained and ordered a cream soda and water instead.
The cream soda tasted like sugar cane soda that comes in the glass bottles. It was delicious and refreshing — not fake-sweet as most sodas are.
When my waiter came back to take my order, I asked him about the appetizers. I wondered if it was possible for me to eat an appetizer and an entree of meatballs. He said that the appetizers were large to eat by myself, so I decided to order only an entree for my late lunch.
Make It a Bowl | $17.50-$23+
I spent most of my time reading this section of the menu. I could either order the meatballs on the plate with a slice of Focaccia or build a bowl. If I ordered a bowl, it would be more money, but I could order one-to-three side dishes to make a complex dish.
My meatball options included one of the following:
Spicy heritage pork
Then I could add a sauce:
Finally, I could select one-to-three of the following side dishes:
Mushrooms with white wine and parsley
Broccoli with roasted chili and garlic
Beets with citrus and almond goat cheese
Kale with garlic
Honey roasted carrots
My first thought was to order the classic meatball, with pesto, over polenta. But then I thought that wasn't adventurous enough. Plus, I make great meatballs and am particular about what is good or not. What if I hated their version of a classic meatball?
That meant, I went with the most unique meatball on the menu and paired it with a sauce that created a classic combination. I also ordered two different side dishes that were outside my normal tastes.
Maine Lobster Meatball with Lemon Butter Sauce
I was impressed with the bowl that arrived at my table. Four good-sized meatballs cloaked in lemon butter sauce.
The meatballs were tender and light — perfect for the warm spring day. They did have pieces of lobster with spot-on seasoning. I didn’t feel that I had to add any salt or pepper. The filling had cooked onion, chives, parsley, and breadcrumbs (among other ingredients I couldn't detect). The outside of the meatball had a light golden shell. I wondered if it was baked or fried.
Side 1 | Honey Roasted Carrots
The lobster meatballs were on top of my first side, which was the honey roasted carrots.
As described on their menu, the honey roasted carrots came with walnuts, prunes, and mint. I don’t normally find carrots impressive, but I thought the combination of prunes with the flavor of mint and the texture of walnuts was worth trying.
Unfortunately, that was not what arrived in the bottom of my bowl. There were carrots, but there also appeared to be other root vegetables. They were roasted or sautéed — as they were not seasoned or dressed with anything, though they were cooked enough to cut through with my knife.
Instead, the lemon butter sauce I chose for my meatballs pooled around in a bright, lemony sauce in the bottom of the bowl. The veggies had a sheen of the butter glazing them, rather than any fresh mint or a single prune or walnut. I was disappointed.
Side 2 | Beets
I branched outside of my normal tastes with this side dish as well. I think beets are a fine vegetable — but there is nothing breathtaking about them. Except for the description promised on The Meatball Shop’s menu: Beets citrus marinated with almond goat cheese.
I could imagine the orange-lemon notes of marinated beets, which have an earthy flavor. Plus the creamy texture of goat cheese, with almond? Awesome!
I was excited to try this combination. What arrived at my table? A bowl of sliced beets dowsed in chopped…walnuts? Almonds? A combination of the two?
At first, I hadn’t realized that my two side dishes were incorrect. But as I ate these plain beets with crumbled nuts I realized: Hey! Where’s my goat cheese?!
Then I went to my bowl and stirred around the veggies and saw there was no mint or prunes in there either. In fact, it looked like the sauce that was in the bottom of my bowl was the goat cheese that should’ve been on my beets! But when they put the hot vegetables on top of it, it melted the cheese, which mixed with the lemon butter sauce, into a cloudy, buttery pool in the bottom of my bowl.
Was my meal inedible as the result of this? Of course not. Did I get what I was expecting? Not really.
I think the error happened on the kitchen’s side. My waiter asked me when I ordered, if I wanted all my sides in the bowl with the meatballs? I said no — I wanted everything separate. Maybe the kitchen started to put everything together and then realized their error and try to fix it? Maybe they had a new chef?
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I was sad that I couldn’t experience the unique combinations promised on the menu.
I ate all my meatballs and sauce. They were perfect and just as I was expecting. I picked at some of my beets, but that was a giant portion for one person. I also ate most of the carrot out of my bowl, but I tried to keep them out of the butter sauce as it was getting to be too rich.
Here’s my ranking for The Meat Ball Shop in Hell’s Kitchen:
Lobster Meatballs with Lemon Butter Sauce: 10/10
Delicate, well-seasoned, and a delicious pairing
Side Dish of Beets: 2 out of 10
This dish did not include the promised ingredients. Though it was a large portion (and I hope locally sourced as per The Meatball Shop’s vision), I was charged an extra $7 for these beets though they should’ve been included in the cost of my $33 bowl.
Side Dish of Honey Roasted Carrots: 0 out of 10
No honey, prune, or mint — plus the addition of vegetables that were not listed on the menu with this side dish. I was disappointed. I can’t accurately judge this side-dish since it didn’t include its promised flavors.
Service: 4 out of 10
I had two waiters in total: One who sat me and showed me the menu and another who brought my food and checked in on me as I was eating. They both seemed like competent young men, but someone along the way didn’t communicate my order to the kitchen and didn’t confirm that it (or my final check) was correct before bringing it to me. I’m happy that I could sit at the corner table and wasn’t forced to sit at the bar.
Note: I do not complain or send back food when I am in a restaurant in fear that I will offend the staff and they will do something to my food that I am unaware of. Thus, I did not send anything back to Meatball’s kitchen when I dined there, and I paid the extra money on my check.
Decor and Brand: 10/10
I adore The Meatball Shop’s decor, menu style, space, and what they create with their menu. Now they must execute!
I would return to The Meatball Shop in any of the other New York City locations. Their brand and recipe development have my attention. Their first impression for me was a middle-of-the-road experience. Their lobster meatballs make it worthwhile to return to.