Having a Ball

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“Four types of meatballs, four kinds of sauces and three ways to eat them.” That’s the simple (yet genius) core concept of New Haven Meatball House, the newest eatery opened by restaurateur Bob Potter, who also brought us downtown’s craft burger/beer hub Prime 16 and State Street hotspot c. o. jones.

Here’s how to get the ball rolling at NHMH: First you choose what type of meatballs you’d like—beef, pork, chicken or vegetable, all made fresh daily, each around the size of a golf ball. Then you pick a sauce: traditional tomato, creamy Parmesan, spinach pesto (a must-try), or mushroom. Next you decide how you’d like them served: in a bowl of four with sauce, as is ($7), or over black garlic mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, rigatoni or spaghetti ($10); in a brioche sandwich with any sauce, plus a choice of mozzarella, smoked mozzarella or provolone cheese, accompanied by a side salad ($9); or in a mini brioche slider, topped with any sauce ($3 each); order a few of these cuties, and you’ve got a fun way to try several kinds at once.

Everything’s mix-and-match, and you can round out your meal with any number of shareable (or not!) sides: from roasted sweet potatoes to Tuscan kale (glistening with golden raises and toasted pine nuts), quinoa, edamame and more. “We try to use really high quality ingredients for everything,” says Potter. “Everything is fresh—nothing’s frozen except the ice cream,” and you can taste it.

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The beef meatballs start out with an 80/20 blend, which is mixed three-to-one with sweet Italian sausage, plus breadcrumbs, spices and a key ingredient: ricotta cheese, which not only keeps them moist through the roasting process, but also makes them “a little bit lighter and airier,” notes Potter. The pork balls are boosted by an addition of hot cherry peppers and a little bit of pickling brine. The recipe for the vegetable balls (vegetarian, though not vegan) is a time-intensive labor of love: lentils and chickpeas must be cooked and cooled before adding sautéed onions and a tasty blend of spices and other ingredients. It’s worth the effort—NHMB’s vegetable ball is a menu standout and, surprisingly, happens to be Potter’s personal favorite.

“It’s funny,” says Potter. “If somebody asked me to pick a favorite meatball, I would have picked beef right off the bat. But my favorite one [here] is vegetable. I’m not vegetarian, but it’s really good, it’s just different.” Potter prefers the veggie balls topped with spinach pesto or traditional tomato sauce.

Come dessert time, you’ll want to have saved enough room to keep playing ball. In line with the prevailing mix-and-match M.O. of the place, you can design your own ice cream cookie sandwich ($4). First choose the type of cookie: chocolate chip, cluster with nuts, ginger snap or sugar—or double chocolate, if it’s being offered that day—from local landmark Judie’s European Bakery. Then choose one of their Ashley’s Ice Cream offerings: espresso, chocolate, black cherry or vanilla bean. If liquid luxuriation is more your speed, try a spiked float—such as the popular Double Barrel, a mix of Elijah Craig bourbon, Abita root beer and Ashley’s vanilla bean—for $7.

Since this is New Haven Meatball House, Potter strives to source locally as much as possible. At the bar, you’ll find Foxon Park sodas (from East Haven) and selections from New England Brewery (of Woodbridge) among the six craft beers on tap in rotation, plus Onyx Moonshine (of Manchester) and organic vodka and aged apple brandy from Westford Hill Distillers (of Ashford) on the menu of boutique spirits.

Behind the bar (and behind all day-to-day operations) is General Manager Jeff Horton, who you may remember from his 17 years of professionalism at the former Scoozzi Trattoria (which shut its doors about a year ago). At least five former Scoozzi staff members followed Horton to the New Haven Meatball House, which explains why Scoozzi’s level of customer service and attention to detail have carried over to the House, even though the latter is a more casual joint.

In what sounds like a fun part of the job, Horton helped curate the wine list. It’s a thoughtfully compiled, affordably priced selection of four whites, five reds, a rose and a sparkling—a couple of which are organic, and almost all of which you can order by the glass, by the half-carafe or by the bottle. My table especially enjoyed the Vega Tolosa “11 Pinos” Bobal, a Spanish red with a lovely, lingering finish ($7 a glass).

Though you can already find daily specials like Swedish meatballs, veal meatballs, gluten-free meatballs, and Bolognese sauce at the Meatball House, Potter and Horton plan to add more items to the menu and hope to expand the kitchen hours soon to offer late night eats. Later in autumn, expect to find seasonal dishes like roasted vegetables and risottos. For now, daily deals include a brioche sandwich for $5 on weekdays between 2-4 p.m., and a happy hour featuring half-price beers and select wines from 4-7 p.m.

The physical menu includes a cheeky nod to Yale with the phrase Lux et Carnies Globus—“Light and Meatballs”—printed along the bottom. (Yale’s motto is Lux et Veritas, or “Light and Truth.”) Meanwhile, a row of randomly numbered glass bottles lining a shelf the length of the dining room looks like it could be some type of advanced numeric code.

Horton says students often ask what the bottles are all about. “One time I said, ‘If you study them long enough, you might unlock one of the secrets of the universe,’” he recalls with a laugh. At very least, you’re likely to enjoy a good meal while you try.

New Haven Meatball House
1180 Chapel St., New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 5-11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm, Sun 11:30am-10pm
(203) 772-3360

Written and photographed by Kathleen Cei.

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Kathleen Cei studied photojournalism at Syracuse University. She is a native of the Nutmeg State, and is proud to call New Haven home. She has covered the local dining, music, arts and culture scene for more than 20 years.

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