Being a food blogger for over three years now, I have attended my fair share of opening nights in New York City, but this one will probably go down in my book as one of the most chaotic. The waiters didn't know the menu, the waitresses were yelling at the runners, and the runners just wanted to get your food on and off the table as quickly as possible…if it was even your food. It was like living through an episode of Top Chef Restaurant Wars, and Chef Dave Martin was not pleased. Life imitates art, I guess. Or reality TV. The good and bad news is this: the food was good, but they need to get their shit together. Those were my exact words to the manager. If they want honest feedback, here is a little recap of the night.
Toting Alexis and her boyfriend Brian with me, we walked in around 6:30 pm for dinner, and the place had an overwhelming smell of burnt oil and smoke. There might have been a little fire in the kitchen for all we know, but either way the smoke was a little off-putting and it sure as shit didn't make anyone move any faster. Still, we were one of the first groups to arrive, so we made ourselves comfortable and were immediately offered wine, which was complimentary. So far so good. In fact, complimentary wine might have been one of their saving graces, because people tend to care less about waiting an hour for bread when they're a little sauced.
Our waiter was incredibly nice and attentive, but he didn't know what the hell was going on. When we placed our orders, my mind immediately thought "uh oh", because he must have stopped and asked us what we were ordering about five times. You would think we were getting complicated or requesting special substitutions but we were ordering straight from the menu. Black truffle mac n cheese, poutine (fries with mozz cheese curds and mushroom gravy), three kinds of meatballs, sauce samplers. That was it. We wanted to get a thorough tasting, but also wanted to keep it simple. When he walked away all three of us said "if they get that right, it will be a miracle." And sure enough…
Miracles are rare. We got one truffle mac and cheese (check), no poutine, and four orders of meatballs that weren't the ones we ordered, nor am I even sure what kind they were. But before I get to that, let me also point out that we waited about an hour before we even saw anything resembling solids, and when Chef Dave was alerted to this fact, he sent out a bowl of the Shroom Central sauce with bread for dipping, and a complimentary bottle of Pinot Noir. Ok, we'll take it. A nice gesture, but I was convinced we were going to get mauled by hungry bystanders, because we were the only ones with a scrap of food on our table at this point. Needless to say, all three of us burned our mouths on the Shroom sauce. At least it was hot, right? And tasty! Very tasty, I can't lie. Mushrooms, thyme, cream…nice consistency and flavor. Best part? The minute one runner put it down, another came up and asked us if we were done with it.
Runner: "Are you done? Were there meatballs in there?"
Us: "What? No? Can you give us some?"
Us: "So close".
Enter another frazzled-looking runner. The place was pretty packed by now, and he brings our food to the wrong table; at this point Brian steps in and tells him that it's ours. The waiter looks angry, the other diners look confused, and we're just. plain. hungry. We look down at the bowls and aside from the mac and cheese, the rest is not what we ordered! BALLS! Literally. Four bowls of meatballs, two platters of dipping sauces (though missing some of the ones we ordered), and three confused friends who just want to bond over a shared love of meatballs. We try to ask what was sitting in front of us, but no one knew, so we used our palates and our best judgment. I'm getting over a cold, so fortunately I had two other foodie friends with me to help out in the taste department. We were going to wait for what we actually ordered, but we decided that would take too long and frankly, these did the trick.
You get five golfball-sized balls per order (with bread) for $8 or $9 depending on the ball, which isn't a bad deal. One of them was definitely the Old School with marinara, which was really good. The marinara was great, a deep red with a sweet pinch of basil, and the few other sauces we got to try were also excellent. I liked the Shroom sauce with thyme and cream (as did everyone else), and the Hells Bells Vodka sauce with tomatoes and cream had a little kick to it. I want to say that one of the other meatballs we received was the Turducken, because it was pale, very tender, slightly sweet and a bit on the fatty side (in a good way), though it was covered in the Shroom cream sauce, so it was a little hard to decipher. Then we had a debate over the last group of meatballs, which were sauceless. No one knew. But I know they went well with the spicy salsa verde. Moving on.
Sadly, we never got to try the poutine, but we did get the mac and cheese which was awesome. Chef Dave's "world-famous black truffle mac and cheese" is a single good enough reason to go back and give this place a second shot. Creamy, cheesy, piping hot and truffle-flecked pasta topped with breadcrumbs. Yum. We cleaned that plate real quick. Did we burn our tongues again? Maybe…
Things seemed to finally be calming down a bit around this time, and Chef Dave came out to apologize and said that things were "just insane". No kidding, Dave! I actually felt a little bad at that point, because you could see it in his face just how stressed out he was. Still, he proceeded to hand-deliver both of our desserts (also complimentary) and explained what everything was. Thanks, Dave! Finally. Wild Cherrywood bacon served with Dave's malted hot fudge and sea salt caramel sauce for dipping, and two (yes, two!) Hot Tin Roof Sundaes.
The bacon was so crispy, but it was very greasy; it could have used an extra second or two on a paper towel. The sauces were delicious though – the malted hot fudge had a Nutella-esque texture, so naturally, I took a bite with just my spoon. No accoutrements necessary. And sea salt caramel? Grand. Now if only we knew what meatballs we ate…
As you can imagine, a good portion of our meal was spent discussing what an epic disaster the service and the kitchen was, but we all agreed on one thing: good food. Despite the aforementioned clusterf&%k, the waitstaff remained very friendly (no matter how discombobulated) and the bottom line is, they knew they messed up. Case in point: they didn't charge us for 90% of the food we got. For all that food (see above), the bill came to $27, or the equivalent of three orders of meatballs. At least they did what they could to make up for it.
Welcome to New York, Meatball Factory! The food was great, but waiting over an hour and not getting what you ordered is unacceptable. And you have to make sure your waiters know the menu. And where the tables are. And what you ordered. And the Chef shouldn't be picking up the slack for the rest of his team. It's opening night in NYC and you have to be prepared! Considering they're not exactly owning an original idea here (ahem, Meatball Shop), they need to iron out all these service kinks before a comparison can even be considered. If they can handle that, I think The Meatball Factory could be a great addition to the East Village. For me, I'm going to give it a few weeks before I revisit.
The Meatball Factory
231 2nd Ave (corner of 14th st)