It’s fairly synonymous with being stuffed into a sub for lunch or plopped atop a mountain of spaghetti at the dinner table. But the humble meatball was meant for so much more. This Thursday, the modest spheres take aim at greatness. The 5th Annual Meatball Slapdown comes to Brooklyn Brewery, with 12 local restaurants competing to create the best take on the traditional ball.
Judges will take a careful look at the flavor, texture, density and moistness of each one. “There are so many criteria that come to bear on a great meatball,” says Anastasia Cole Plakias, the event’s producer. “Some chefs test their recipes for weeks prior to the event — determined to take home the trophy. The competition really heats up!”
This year’s lineup includes: Ducks Eatery, El Colmado, Brooklyn Brewery with Humboldt & Jackson (as a joint entry), Brooklyn Star, Mile End, Lorimer Market, River Styx, Saltie, Martha, Briskettown, Emily and Market Table. And then there’s an added bonus, of course: brews from Brooklyn Brewery, along with SheWolf Bakery bread to sop up all that meatball sauce, and Liddabit Sweets for an equally delicious dessert.
Winners and crowd favorites from the first four slapdowns have ranged everywhere from the simple sauce-covered classic to truffle-topped treats. “Hugue's tartar ball last year was pretty exciting,” Anastasia says, referring to Hugue Dufour of M. Wells fame. “He ground his beef on the premises, and it was incredibly flavorful.” Hugue won Critic's Pick, but the judges made sure to note that it was a close race with the Nduja ball made by The Pines’ former chef, Angelo Romano. “[It] was the second entry we've seen garnished with freshly-shaved truffles,” Anastasia says. “At the inaugural event in 2010, Roebling Tea Room sent a gentleman in a very dapper suit to microplane the fragrant tubers over their meaty orbs.” (Did anyone else just, um, drool a little?)
According to Anastasia, the popular vote always seems to lean toward archetypal, Italian-style entries: two years ago, Astoria's Vesta Trattoria won over the room with a red sauce-topped, classic ball, and last year Wade Moises of Rosemary's took home the trophy with a bewitchingly savory meatball in brodo (a rich broth).
But why choose these little meat globes to take center stage? Well, “meatballs are a beloved comfort food for so many, and they're ubiquitous: almost every culture serves some sort of ball-shaped meat!” Anastasia says. “We wanted to create an event that encouraged playful innovation on a classic, and engendered some friendly competition amongst our chef friends, but didn't take itself too seriously. The result has been an awesome culinary industry party that's also really accessible and fun for anyone who digs beer and 'balls.”
And folks will leave feelin’ good about more than just a full stomach at the Meatball Slapdown. “While the event is an opportunity for everyone to cut loose and enjoy some comfort foods and great brews, it also supports two amazing educational nonprofits,” Anastasia says. Brooklyn Grange and the Brooklyn Kitchen will host the event as a fundraiser to support two youth programs: Brooklyn Kitchen's Classrooms in the Kitchen, which brings 15 school groups to its kitchen labs for a lesson, and City Growers, which teaches young farmers about urban agriculture and the environment up at Brooklyn Grange’s rooftop farms.
Tickets are $60 per person for unlimited balls and beers or $120 for early VIP access to the lineup. The meatballs get rollin’ at 6 p.m. for the VIP crowd and 7 p.m. for general admission on Thursday, April 3rd, at Brooklyn Brewery (79 North 11th Street between Berry and Wythe in Williamsburg.)