Fun, fun, fun is how I would sum up That Meetball Place in Farmingdale, which opened in August 2016, after the success of their Patchogue restaurant. I was invited to the new, and much larger location, for a Kerriann Eats assignment, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
I have to admit, I had no idea what to expect. Was it only meatballs? According to Corporate Executive Chef and Director of Operations John Hesse, that is a very common question.
“People are kind of blown away when they first come in because they say, ‘You only have meatballs?’ And that’s true. We don’t have steak, we don’t have grilled chicken. Our protein is almost exclusively meatballs,” said Hesse. “It’s a fun concept because you can basically turn any dish into a meatball. For instance, we have a chicken parmesan meatball, a vegetarian meatball and an eggplant pesto meatball.”
Why meatballs? According to Hesse, meatballs are comfort food. It’s about fun, family and memories from childhood. To celebrate family, That Meetball Place has a continuously growing display of framed “grandma” photos, where many of the grandmas are seen in the kitchen in their aprons making meatballs. Customers are encouraged to display their family photos on what’s called the “Grandma Wall,” which brings a very personal touch to the place.
Chef John Hesse has been in the food business working in kitchens since he was a teenager. He has worked in numerous (what he calls “fancy”) restaurants in New York City and on Long Island. After a while, he figured what most people want is really good quality comfort food. After a French bistro he was working at in the city closed, the opportunity came about for him to cook and run That Meetball Place in Patchogue when it opened in 2013. Four foodie friends, two of them brothers, came up with the meatball concept, which had previously caught on in other parts of the country. They decided to bring meatballs to Long Island, and it has proven to be a great success.
“What we are about is fun and sharing and bringing people together,” said Hesse. “We spell our name differently. We have two ‘ee’s’ in ‘meetball’ because our slogan is, ‘A place to meet and have a ball.’”
That Meetball Place seats about 250 people at various tables, many of which are communal. There is a lot of sharing that goes on here. The owners are very proud of the fact that they took an old paint store on Main Street Farmingdale, and converted it into a beautiful restaurant made out of recycled materials. All the bricks in both the Patchogue and Farmingdale locations are recycled bricks from various places in New York City. All the wood around the restaurant is recycled barn wood, or wood made from wine barrels, and the lights are all custom made from old barbed wire. They are absolutely beautiful and contain an assortment of Edison lightbulbs. There is also corrugated metal throughout the restaurant which has all been recycled and repurposed, and the ceiling is made from rusted repurposed tin.
The restaurant is quite large, having two bars, a first floor, a second floor, a private party room in the basement, and an indoor/outdoor patio area with couches upstairs. Despite its size, there is a coziness about the place, with its wood beams and soft lighting. Plus, the place smells like meatballs, so it feels like home. That Meetball Place has something for everyone. After all, who doesn’t like meatballs? It’s a great place for families with children as well as for couples, friends, and young adults looking for nightlife. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night music is offered and ranges from acoustic, to DJ’s to live bands.
Unlike most meatballs which are made with a lot of breadcrumbs or breading, That Meetball Place’s meatballs have less calories and are more healthy, because very little breading is used. Instead, many of the meatballs contain either caramelized onions or roasted garlic. Not only does it bring great flavor to the meatballs, but it keeps them really moist as well.
There are a number of ways in which the meatballs are served. There are nine kinds to choose from on the menu, and there are usually one to two offered on their weekly special. So, step one, is: choose your balls. There is a classic meatball which is a recipe handed down from two of the partners’ (the brothers) grandmother. It is made with pork, veal and beef. There are two types of chicken balls, one made with spinach and feta, the other buffalo chicken. There is a spicy Moroccan lamb ball, a pork and black bean ball, and of course the vegetable balls, just to name a few.
Second step is to choose a sauce. There are seven to choose from including regular or spicy marinara, a mushroom cream, pesto, spicy Asian, pancetta and tzatziki. Once you pick your sauce, you pick your style. Either in a bowl, over pasta, as a slider, on a baguette, with a three cheese ravioli, on a multi-grain artisan roll, or the most popular way, the TMP Sampler where you get a choice of three meatballs and three sauces.
Other menu items include an assortment of shareable appetizers, like “ballchos” which are tortilla chips topped with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo and beef chili balls, or mini mozzarella ball salad. There are also large shareable salads, small plates, special fries, flatbreads and wings.
I found myself smiling every time a new dish was brought out to me. Chef Hesse started me out with the TMP Sampler which consisted of a buffalo chicken ball which was breaded and fried and made with ground chicken, celery and blue cheese. That ball is served with its own special blue cheese cream sauce mixed with hot sauce. This meatball and sauce combination was excellent. Next came the classic with marinara. This was a moist and flavorful ball just like grandma’s. The last ball in the trio was a lobster risotto ball made from chunks of lobster, saffron rice and red peppers, which was served with a delicious pancetta cream sauce. I loved all the balls, but this was my favorite. I could eat a whole plate of these.
Next out was a giant everything pretzel served with three dipping sauces. It was fabulous, and was utterly delightful when it arrived at my table hanging from a banana tree. The pretzel had to have been at least 12 inches by six inches. Talk about fun! I’d get this again and share it. Dipping sauces for the pretzel included honey mustard, cheddar cheese and my favorite, scallion cream cheese.
An enormous Brooklyn Born Burrata salad came out next, which featured a fresh handmade burrata ball, grilled artichoke hearts, Kalamata olvies, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and crisp bacon with a delicious balsamic drizzle. This is a great dish to share or to have as a main course. It was extremely fresh and flavorful.
An adorable skillet was presented to me on a That Meetball Place board, and contained their Balls of Fire, made of ground pork, chorizo, and black beans over their signature mac and cheese with sautéed peppers and spicy black beans and fra diavlo sauce. I loved the spiciness of this dish, and the creaminess of the mac and cheese helped to offset it. I loved the addition of the black beans. It was filling, so definitely get this dish if you’re hungry. It would go well with their signature craft beer, The Big Ball Cream Ale, which has been made exclusively for That Meetball Place, from Lithology Brewing Company located across the street.
One of their most popular dishes was served next, the Brooklyn Sunday Dinner advertised as “just like grandma made.” Fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, sausage and a meatball is served over your choice of pasta and grandma’s slow cooked gravy. Rich and satisfying. A true classic.
If you have any room left for dessert, order the iron skillet cookie, which comes warm with a choice of ice cream flavors.
Not only is the food good at That Meetball Place, but it’s priced well too. The most expensive item on the menu is $17 for the Brooklyn Sunday Dinner. You can’t go wrong with that!
That Meetball Place is open daily for lunch and dinner beginning at 11:00 AM, and brunch is served on Sunday.