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Chef Holzman carves out meatball niche in NYC

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Daniel Holzman is planning to open meatball eateries in New York, a niche he helped to create in a city that's mad for hamburgers.
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Daniel Holzman is planning to open meatball eateries in New York, a niche he helped to create in a city that's mad for hamburgers.

The 32-year-old chef and his long-time friend Michael Chernow opened The Meatball Shop more than a year ago. They now sell 2,000 of their meaty creations smothered in a variety of sauces each day.

The New York City native spoke to Reuters about his passion for meatballs and why they are a universal food.

Q: How did you come up the idea for the restaurant?

A: "The meatball concept came when I was sitting with my partner (Chernow) at the restaurant he was working at before and eating a bowl of their meatballs, rigatoni and sausage in this sauce. He would always order it but without the rigatoni because he didn't want to eat the carbohydrate late at night when he was getting off work as a bartender. Eating this meatball reminded me of Italy when eating them was the main course, the prized course, the star of the meal."

Q: Are you surprised how quickly you are expanding?

A: "When we originally talked about this concept, we had talked about let's make this restaurant as simple as possible with the eye toward that if we are lucky, we could expand. I was always thinking three years, four years down the road if it goes really, really well. The fun thing about this restaurant that's so crazy for me is that it's so simple, it kind of works. When it works, there are not so many moving parts to constantly keep track of."

Q: What do you think it's the key to its success?

A: "Cheap, delicious, fast. Not that waiting for two hours is fast. Going out to dinner when I was 15 years old was on some level a special occasion thing. When you hear about a guy going out five nights a week, that's shocking. That was a rich person's thing to do. Now, people eating at restaurant has changed. It's no longer a special occasion thing. There are many people who eat out seven days a week because of the economics of restaurants has changed and the economics of eating at home has changed. It's almost the same price at a restaurant.

"With more people eating out as the main way of feeding themselves, they are looking for less special occasion fare. They are looking for what I would make at home or what my mom would make for me. It's delicious and simple. You don't always want to have the fancy chefs. Burgers have always worked. Anything in that vein should work too."

Q: But the meatballs you sell are not typical.

A: "On an objective level when you order from The Meatball Shop, you may not agree with it. You can say it's not authentic risotto because in Italy, you would never serve meatballs over risotto. You can always find a fault when you have rules. But when you forget the rules and taste the food, it's delicious. When you get the bill, it's really inexpensive as well."

Q: What kind of meatballs do you like?

A: "I tend to like simpler, classic profiles myself. I also like the Japanese meatballs that you get in little grill places like Yakitori Totto (a Japanese restaurant in New York) where I had their chicken meatballs. The funny thing is that it's completely different texture ... That's the funny thing about meatball. Every culture has a meatball. They all share the same principle, but they are all so different."

Pork Meatballs and Spicy Meat Sauce (yields 24)

2 pounds pork shoulder, ground

1-1/3 tbsp. salt

4 each hot cherry peppers, minced (about 1/3 cup)

1/4 cup pepper pickling liquid

4 slices white bread, minced (about 3-1/2 cups)

3 eggs

2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degree Fahrenheit. Combine all of the ingredients except for the olive oil in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.

Drizzle the olive oil into a large baking dish making sure to evenly coat the entire surface. Roll the mixture into round, golf ball sized meatballs making sure to pack the meat firmly.

Place the balls into the oiled baking dish so that all of the meatballs are lined up evenly in rows and are touching each of their four neighbors in a grid. Roast until firm and cooked through (about 14 minutes). Allow the meatballs to cool for five minutes before removing from the tray.

Spicy Meat Sauce (yield 8 cups)

1 large yellow onion, small dice (about 2 cups)

1 pound pork shoulder, ground

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. chili flakes

2 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. tomato paste

2 28-oz. cans, canned tomato, chopped

Cook the onions and pork, with the olive oil, chili flakes and salt over a medium heat in a large pot (6-quart) stirring constantly until the meat is thoroughly cooked and the onions are soft and beginning to brown (about 15 minutes).

Add the tomato paste and continue cooking for five minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and stir constantly until the sauce begins to boil. Continue cooking for 35 minutes stirring every four or five minutes so the sauce does not burn.