Photo by Angelina Aragon

Have a Ball

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Three Bites Issue: May 2018
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Top Valley chefs turn the humble meatball into a flavorful culinary canvas.

Fat Ox
6316 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
480-307-6900, ilovefatox.com
Whether you smother them in red sauce and mozzarella, stuff them in a sub roll or devour them solo, meatballs are one of the world’s great comfort foods. They’re also having a “moment,” according to Fat Ox chef Matt Carter, whose succulent meatballs ($10, pictured) start with a roughly 2:1 veal-to-beef ratio, ground and perfumed with garlic and caramelized onion. He adds milk-soaked bread to hold the shape, along with Parmesan cheese, red wine, and herbs and spices. He then whips the meaty concoction to aerate it for a light and buoyant meatball – no belly bombs here. Cozied on a bed of creamy polenta with a hint of Parmesan, the three princely meatballs are bathed in a simple San Marzano tomato sauce. Every order comes with pane bianco, spongy Roman bread brushed with olive oil and Maldon sea salt, along with a delicate whipped ricotta spread. “The beauty… is in its simplicity,” Carter says.

Match Restaurant & Lounge
1100 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
602-875-8080, matchphx.com    
The Spanish meatballs ($8) have performed so well at Match, inside the FOUND:RE Hotel in Downtown Phoenix, that Michelin-starred culinary director Alex Stratta now deploys them on the lunch, dinner and bar menus. Using a family recipe for beef and pork meatballs, Stratta substitutes buttery Manchego cheese for the typical Italian Pecorino, delivering the promised Spanish flair. The meaty orbs have a fluffy matzah-ball-like texture that Stratta attributes to using an abundance of eggs. He sautés the Aleppo chile-spiked meatballs in olive oil and then plunges them into a pot of no-nonsense tomato sauce scented with garlic, onions and fennel. The meatballs come four to an order for easy sharing with house-made flatbread brushed with roasted garlic-infused olive oil and then toasted in the wood-fired oven.

The Sicilian Butcher
15530 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix
602-775-5140, thesicilianbutcher.com
What better way to satisfy a meatball craving than at a place offering “craft meatballs”? Joey Maggiore’s new ristorante invites customers to choose from 10 different varieties, nine sauces and 10 “bottoms” (from house-made pasta to polenta) to build your custom meal. Traditionalists will revel in Tomaso’s Sicilian Meatballs ($16): three hearty spheres made with veal, prime beef and pork ground with pine nuts and raisins for a hint of sweetness. Pair them with garlic- and basil-laced marinara and play it safe with spaghetti, or venture out with pillowy gnocchi stuffed with creamy, spinach-flecked ricotta. Want to break away from beef? Try the lump crab and shrimp ($18) “meatballs” with vodka cream sauce over saffron risotto. The possibilities are endless. “It’s American comfort food,” says Maggiore. “When customers say it reminds them of their childhood, it kind of melts my heart.”

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