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Meatball Obsession: On the Frontiers of Meat Ball Merchandising

Hidden under there somewhere is a single beef meatball.

You’d think the city had reached its meatball saturation limit. Following in the footsteps of the Meatball Shop — which itself has sprouted branches — there are plenty of places now willing to make you a premium meatball sub with exemplary cheese on good bread. Someone had to come up with another formula. Now they have.

After delays, Meatball Obsession finally opened yesterday afternoon.

Meatball Obsession (clever to make it sound like a mental illness) is a stall — just a window, really — embedded near the PATH train entrance on the east side of Sixth Avenue just short of 14th Street. Inside is a stove with three variously colored La Creuset Dutch ovens, each filled with meatballs of a single composition: beef, pork sausage, or turkey.

Here’s the fun part: The meatballs in ones, twos, or threes ($4, $7, $10) are deposited in a paper cup, with a sprightly tomato sauce, and your choice of toppings, some free, some requiring an extra $1-per-meatball charge. Plus a dry piece of focaccia you’ll probably end up throwing away.

The idea, I guess, is that you can enjoy a meatball any time you want on a whim, just one meatball, which makes it a snack rather than a full meal. Who ever thought of selling just one meatball before?

The interior of the beef meatball, which gives you some idea of its size and composition. The cup is a normal coffee or soup cup.

The pork sausage meatball with the crispy pasta option

The beef meatball is herby and good, but really, can meatballs get much better? The pork sausage meatball was a disappointment, only because you expect something zesty, and end up with just bland ground pork.

On the pork version I had fried pasta sprinkled on top, the most interesting-sounding topping. It wasn’t so great, but some of the other toppings probably are. The menu is one of those that seem inscrutable at first due to so many options, but you’ll quickly discover which combo you like and stick with it.

Really, I liked this place much better than I expected to. Pocket meatball sandwiches are also available. And that doesn’t mean they just pile the meatballs in your pants pocket!

Meatball Obsession
510 Sixth Avenue
212-260-8646

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Michael Chernow on the Meatball Shop – Meatball Factory Rivalry: Interview Part 2

Yesterday we spoke with Michael Chernow, co-owner of the popular Meatball Shop and co-author of the just-published The Meatball Shop Cookbook, who gave us tips for making great meatballs at home. Today he tells us how New York City’s culinary landscape has changed since he grew up here and shares his thoughts about the new Meatball Factory (231 Second Avenue, East Village, 212-260-8015).

So how do you feel about the Meatball Factory getting up on the meatball market?

We welcome them. This is New York City and it’s a big place. We wish them well and hope that they’ll succeed. There’s more than enough room for multiple meatballers.

How would you say you’ve distinguished yourself from the Meatball Factory?

We’re just happy to be at the forefront of meatballs. We opened a few years ago, and it’s been amazing to see people follow suit. We’ve seen meatball concepts open throughout the country, and that’s been really gratifying.

You grew up in New York City. How do you think the culinary landscape has changed?

Obviously chefs are up there on a celebrity platform. That’s really taken shape and the food scene has followed suit. People are eating focused foods as opposed to five-course tasting menus. I’ve just noticed over the years that people are more likely to gravitate towards a meal with more value involved. Do one thing, and do it really well; people are interested in the “best,” be it the best pizza, hot dogs, or meatballs.

Where do you eat when you’re not at the Meatball Shop?

I’m a sushi guy. I love Tomoe Sushi, and I love Takahachi. I love the burger at the Spotted Pig and there’s also a new restaurant in the neighborhood that I love, Betto. That restaurant is very special.

And they make meatballs, too!

Yeah, they do.

OK, so, finally — if you weren’t making meatballs what would you be doing?

I’ve found a real passion in designing restaurants, so I think at this point I’d be consulting and helping people design and decorate their own restaurants.