Get the Ball Rolling

Meatball trend rolls heartily into Dallas restaurants

Meatball trend rolls heartily into Dallas restaurants

Carbone's
Behold Carbone's house-made spaghetti and meatballs, a pioneer in the meatball trend. Photo courtesy of Carbone's
Mama's Balls at Zeno's Famous Meatball Kitchen
Zeno's Meatball Kitchen is reminiscent of the Meatball Shop in New York, specializing in meatballs of all kinds. Courtesy photo
Zoli's NY Pizza Tavern
Zoli's NY Pizza Tavern does an exemplary meatball sub on a crunchy seeded roll. Zoli's NY Pizza Tavern
Carbone's
Mama's Balls at Zeno's Famous Meatball Kitchen
Zoli's NY Pizza Tavern

You can hardly call meatballs a new trend. Any red-sauce Italian restaurant has them on the menu, perched on spaghetti and swathed in marinara. But thanks to some recent openings, we're about to enjoy an attentiveness to meatballs we've never enjoyed before.

From chefs who dote over them, to pizzerias that give them a spotlight, to an entire restaurant dedicated to them, meatballs as a culinary trend have arrived in Dallas.

 "Every ethnic cuisine has some sort of meatball," says chef Doug Brown. "It has a different flavor and style, but it's still a meatball."

Carbone's, the Italian American bistro from chef Julian Barsotti, started the meatball rolling. Chef Doug Brown picked up the baton with Zeno's Meatball Kitchen, which has meatballs made from beef, turkey, chicken and chorizo. Zoli's NY Pizza Tavern in Oak Cliff takes them to another level by tucking them into a crusty seeded roll and draping them with melted cheese.

Meatballs first moved into trendiness in 2010 when a self-explanatory place called the Meatball Shop opened in New York. They're not complicated or difficult to make; they're just ground meat with herbs and other ingredients such as bread crumbs, grated cheese or eggs. But a little TLC can go a long way.

In Dallas, where Jimmy's Food Store was practically the only place that Italian was taken seriously as a cuisine, Barsotti began the current meatball revolution when he opened Carbone's in April 2012.

"We're just trying to do justice to Italian American food," Barsotti says. "It's not eloquent conceptually. It's not about the plate composition. It's about respecting the tradition of Italian American food by taking a no-shortcuts approach."

He makes his meatballs from pork, and he does everything from grinding the meat in-house to making his own spaghetti.

Brown sees them as an extension of the burger trend, calling them "the next step for burgers. Meatballs are similar to burgers, but you can do a lot more with them," he says. "To me, they're better."

Chef Kenny Bowers, a native of Boston, grew up with meatballs. He modeled his restaurant Kenny's Italian Kitchen after restaurants in the Little Italy sections of Boston and New York. He does spaghetti and meatballs as well as an "appetizer" of meatballs with melted cheese. "Italian American cuisine is a comfort food," he says.

Meatballs are versatile and all-inclusive, Brown says. "Every ethnic cuisine will have some sort of meatball," he says. "It has a different flavor and style, whether it's in pho or a kebab. To me, it's still a meatball."

Here are some of the meatballs found around Dallas: