Meatballs and more Meatballs

The Meatball Shop is a restaurant that is devoted entirely to serving meatballs – meatballs on pasta, meatballs on buns or just plain meatballs in a bowl. They have two locations, one in the Lower East Side and the other in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had the pleasure of eating in the LES location. The boyfriend and I were in the neighborhood before our driving lessons and decided to pop in for lunch since we’ve heard wonderful reviews about it. We ventured in around 11:30 and were told they don’t open for lunch until 12:00pm. So we went on a short walk, where we ran into a delicious bakery (Sugar Sweet Sunshine). When we returned around 12:15 there was already an almost full restaurant. Luckily, we were seated without much of a wait.

One unique aspect of The Meatball Shop is their menu. The menus are laminated in plastic and placed on your table before you sit. Next to the menus are dry-erase markers for you to mark down what you would like to eat. When you’re ready, a waitress or waiter will be by to collect your menu and put in your order. The menu is only about a page in length, meaning there aren’t a lot of foods on it. But in actuality, there are a variety of options for you to choose from because you can have meatballs served with a variety of sides and pastas. You can also choose from several options of sauces for your meatballs. Not only that, they also offer any meatball with any sauce on a bun.

I ordered their meatballs a la carte. Their a la carte meatballs comes with four meatballs of your choice and in any sauce of your choosing. I chose the classic beef meatballs with their Parmesan Cream sauce. Their classic beef meatballs are made with ground beef, prosciutto, and fresh ricotta. I had never had meatballs that were made without breadcrumbs so this was something new for me. Their meatballs were very chewy and flavorful. When I was eating them, it felt very light and settled nicely in my stomach. When I finished the four meatballs, I was more than full. I couldn’t have possible eaten any more! Even though four meatballs does not look like a lot, it is very filling. Their Parmesan Cream is described on their website as “Alfredo sauce on steroids” and I fully agree with them. The sauce tasted exactly like I was eating fettuccine alfredo but a lot more delicious. The sauce was creamy and cheesy. The grated Parmesan cheese on top of the meatballs had melted by the time I dug into my meal, which made the sauce even cheesier. The meatballs came with a piece of focaccia bread which tasted amazing when dipped in the cream sauce. 

The boyfriend ordered their classic beef meatballs with the classic tomato sauce on il Forno baguette. His sandwich featured three meatballs and melted mozzarella cheese on top of the baguette. The order comes with a small side salad of arugula and apples. The side salad was very simple and delicious. The star of the order would have to be the sandwich. His meatballs, although the same classic beef as mine, tasted completely different with the classic tomato sauce. The meatballs with the classic tomato sauce tasted like homemade Italian meatballs. The meatballs were juicy while the tomato sauce didnt’ overbalance the flavor of the meatball at all.

I really enjoyed my experience at The Meatball Shop. The service was attentive and after I was seated I noticed a small feature by my chair that the ladies would really appreciate. Next to my chair was a built in hook on the wall for ladies to hang their bags on. Usually when I go to a restaurant, I have to hang my bag on the back of my chair, which resulted in the bag falling off whenever someone brushed by. The other option would be to put my bag behind me on the seat, which resulted in very little space for me to park my butt on the chair. This was a nice feature as I just hung my bag right by my chair. No hassle whatsoever.

Overall I would rate The Meatball Shop 4/5 stars. But make sure you try to catch them off lunch/dinner hours or else your wait might be over an hour!

A Walk into Greece

Souvlaki GR first started off selling souvlaki out of a blue truck to the people of Soho, Manhattan. Now, a year later, they have their own restaurant in the Lower East Side while the truck parks regularly at South Street Seaport.

Last year, the Souvlaki truck won Rookie of the Year at the Vendy Awards, which are annual awards that judge food trucks. This year, the Souvlaki truck won People’s Choice of the Year, being voted by the attendants of the Vendy Awards as their favorite.

I first started following Souvlaki GR as a food truck around a year ago. The boyfriend and I stumbled on their truck on their first day out in Manhattan. It was fate. We had already eaten lunch but the moment we walked by and smelled the charcoal grilled souvlaki, we fell in love. Their chicken sticks are sold in singles or in a box of stix. The “box” offers 6 sticks with a side of grilled pita and tzatziki sauce. They also offer pita souvlaki, bifteki sandwiches (Greek version of a burger), Greek fries and salads.

When I found out that Souvlaki GR was opening a restaurant, I was beyond ecstatic! Finally, I wouldn’t have to rely on Facebook and Twitter to check if the truck was nearby and then play treasure hunt to find it. However, life came in between the souvlaki and me. I wasn’t able to go check out the restaurant anytime within its first month of opening. I wasn’t even able to make a visit within the first six months of opening. But finally, I had a free afternoon where I was in the neighborhood and I made my way over to the restaurant that is painted the same blue as the truck.

The first thing I must comment on is the decor. Upon walking into the the restaurant I felt like I had walked into a house from the countryside of Greece. The walls were painted stark white with the beams and windowsills being a startling blue. From the pictures I had seen of the houses on the Greek waterfront, this was exactly what it looked like. We were given the option of sitting in a corner booth with pillows or on a table by the front with chairs. We chose the corner, which turned out to be really cozy and comfortable. We were then given the menu, which had not changed from the truck menu that we were used to.

For our appetizer, we ordered the Greek fries. Their Greek fries are hand-cut french fries that are then covered with feta cheese, oregano, and salt & pepper. The order was huge and definitely large enough for four people. We were a party of two and we had to take about half the order to go. It took a lot of will power to stop eating the fries, because they were just that good. The feta cheese added to the fries made it a lot tastier than any fries I’ve had before. The large order of fries came up to only $5, which I find amazing considering how many fries you get.

We ordered our usual chicken box stix. The boyfriend likes the chicken sticks more but I personally like the grilled pita more. Paired with the tzaziki sauce, the pita could easily be eaten on its own. The chicken sticks tasted exactly like we remember them – grilled to perfection without being charred or bitter. The fact that the chicken sticks are charcoal grilled gave it a very distinct flavor than a regular gas grill. 

If you’re in the area, Souvlaki GR makes a great quick and cheap lunch spot. It’s been more than a year since I’ve been a faithful follower of Souvlaki GR and I will never grow tired of their chicken sticks and pita. For Souvlaki GR, I give them a 5/5 stars so definitely give them a try!

The Best Cupcakes I Have Ever Had

Sugar Sweet Sunshine is a bakery located in the Lower East Side at 126 Rivington Street. Opening in 2003, the bakery has garnered a lot of attention for their cupcakes. But cupcakes aren’t the only dessert they sell. Sugar Sweet Sunshine sells a variety of sweets including layered cakes, cheesecakes, cookies, brownies and trifles. Since discovering Sugar Sweet Sunshine over the summer, I have visited at least 5 times. Eventually, I will have sampled all of their cupcake offerings, but for now, I have tried three and will gladly make the travel just to have those three again.

First up is the cupcake that is named after the bakery- The Sunshine. This cupcake is a yellow cake that is frosted with vanilla buttercream. The Sunshine has a yellow colored frosting that gives a cheery and sunny appearance. There is a perfect cake to frosting ratio in which the frosting is just enough to finish the cake underneath. This cupcake was good, but nothing too remarkable. It tasted a bit like a homemade cupcake, which sometimes, I find, to be the best kind of cupcake because it doesn’t taste like it has been mass-produced in a factory somewhere.

Their Sexy Red Velvet cupcake is perhaps their best seller, despite it not being the cupcake named after the bakery. But what makes this cupcake so spectacular? The frosting. Most red velvet cupcakes are made with a cream cheese frosting, but not this one. Sugar Sweet Sunshine’s Sexy Red Velvet cupcake is made with “The Moose” frosting. “The Moose” is a satin buttercream frosting and is their own creation. The satin buttercream frosting is a lot smoother than the typical cream cheese frosting and almost melts in your mouth when you bite into the cupcake. The frosting is extremely light and fluffy. I really loved the frosting the most because it’s a departure from the typical cream cheese frosting for red velvets. 

Another highlight is their Pumpkin cupcake. This cupcake is created by using a pumpkin cake base with cream cheese icing. The cream cheese icing can be a bit heavy if you eat more than one, but if you are craving something with a pumpkin flavor, this is the one for you. The pumpkin cake base is different from their other cupcake bases. This one has more of a loaf or muffin texture to it, making it a bit stiffer than the other cupcake bases. But it’s exactly this different texture that makes it stand out from the other cupcakes.

These cupcakes might be the best cupcake I’ve ever had. In my opinion, it beats the city’s famous Magnolia’s and Baked by Melissa’s by a long shot. Before I stumbled upon this bakery on my quest to find the Meatball Shop (review to come soon) I was a firm follower of Baked by Melissa’s cupcakes. After my first visit, I swore I would never find another bakery this good when it comes to cupcakes. Even in the price category, Sugar Sweet Sunshine wins by far. Magnolia’s sells their cupcakes at $3.50 each while Baked by Melissa’s sells their minis for $1 each or 3 for $3. Sugar Sweet Sunshine, at $1.75 each, is a super cheap buy!

I would give Sugar Sweet Sunshine a 4/5 only because they would benefit from some more seating. There were only two tables for two and one couch with a coffee table in front of it. I’ve only eaten my cupcake there once because of the lack of space. I wouldn’t suggest coming here for coffee or a long chat. Take your cupcakes to go and explore what else the Lower East Side has to offer!

Madison Square Eats

Madison Square Eats is a month long outdoor event where around 24 restaurants and food vendors gather in Madison Square Park to sell their delicious foods. Madison Square Eats took place between September 23nd and October 21st. They opened daily from 11am to 9pm and gathered a very large crowd around lunchtime and dinnertime.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit this food haven until the second to last day of the event. We arrived around 1:00, which was right smack in the middle of the lunch rush. The line for one vendor was so long that even after you ordered, there was a 30-minute wait for your food! 

Our first stop was Roberta’s Pizza, which was highly recommended by various food blogs. They have a pizzeria in Williamsburg, Brooklyn but moved their stove out to Madison Square Park for this event. They have a mobile wood-fired oven next to their booth and they make all their pizzas the moment you order them. The wait for the pizza was about 15 minutes, because of the large line. The actual time it takes for the pizza to cook is only about 2 minutes because the oven is so hot. We decided to try their Bee String Pizza, which has spicy sopresetta over mozzarella and drizzled with chili oil and honey. The result was a pleasantly spicy pizza that crunched nicely when I bit into it.

Our next stop was The Cannibal. They also have a restaurant, but on the East Side in Manhattan. The Cannibal specializes in meats and sandwiches. The boyfriend decided to go with their Pig’s Head Cuban Sandwich. It sounds somewhat gross, but I can promise that it definitely does not taste gross. The bread was crunchy and easy to bite into. The slow roasted pig’s head meat was tender and worked perfectly with the thinly sliced house-smoked ham. The gruyere cheese was melted until it blended into the bread, holding the entire sandwich together. I would definitely recommend paying a visit to the restaurant to try this sandwich out.

After devouring the sandwich, we walked around and browsed through the various vendors. Cuzin’s Dozen is another vendor that we tried because I was lured in by the idea of freshly fried mini doughnuts. They have this cute little contraption that drops the mini doughnuts into the fryer. The doughnuts then float around in the fryer until they reach the end, where a mechanical sieve pulls the doughnuts out. The freshly fried doughnuts are then put into a bag and shaken with some powdered sugar. I have never had freshly fried doughnuts before, so this was a new experience for me. These doughnuts were soft and tasty!

The highlight of the day came from Red Hook Lobster Pound. They have a food truck that travels throughout Manhattan as well as a restaurant in Red Hook. They specialize in lobster and shrimp rolls, but since I’ve had them before, I decided to try something new. I decided to go with their Lobster Mac and Cheese. Their Mac and Cheese is prepared differently then most and I give them major props for doing it in such a way. First, they put cooked macaroni into a container and add the lobster and cheese sauce. The container is then shaken to mix the ingredients. Afterwards, the mixture is transferred to a cup, where cheese is sprinkled on top and then burnt with a fire-torch. 

When I walked back to our table, the boyfriend and our friend was astonished that such a tiny cup cost $9. But the moment I opened the lid, I discovered exactly why. The presentation of this mac and cheese was perfect. The slightly scorched cheese on the top was a terrific sight to the eyes. When I spooned into the mac and cheese, there was no resistance. Almost every bite of this mac and cheese contained a chunk of lobster. I even found two lobster claws in my cup! The way RHLP prepares dish by separating the macaroni and the sauce made sure that the cheese did not congeal and make the macaroni too heavy to eat. The macaroni also retained texture, instead of becoming too soft as it soaked up cheese sauce. I am very glad that RHLP has a restaurant because I know this mac and cheese is something I will definitely be back for.

All of the vendors that I tried also have restaurants, which make eating all of these foods again very easy. We don’t have to wait for the next Madison Square Eats to pop up to eat them. I definitely recommend giving these restaurants a try – especially the Lobster Mac and Cheese!

123 years in the making

Katz’s Deli, after opening in 1888 in the Lower East Side, has been selling their signature pastrami sandwiches for 123 years. They are famous for their kosher-style cold cuts and foods. Katz’s Deli sells over 10,000 pounds of hot, smoked pastrami every week. They attract hundreds of tourists and locals daily – there is hardly ever a time when there is no line.

We arrived at Katz on a Thursday afternoon and were quickly ushered in and given a ticket. At Katz, they have a ticket system where each customer receives a numbered ticket upon entering the deli. As you receive your food from the various stations, the employees will tally up your total on your ticket. They have separate stations for each item of food – one for sandwiches, one for sides, and one for drinks. At the end of your meal, you pay at the cashier with your ticket. If you lose your ticket, you will have to pay a $50 lost ticket fee. 

Katz’s Deli hand-carves their pastrami and cold cuts. There are six different carvers, which means six different sandwich lines. When you reach the carver, if you order their signature pastrami, he will cut you a piece to nibble on while you wait for your sandwich to be made. All their pastrami is hand-carved the moment you order. Your sandwiches are always steaming hot because their pastrami is kept in a smoking hot boiler until each individual hunk of beef is taken out of the boiler to be carved into slices.

Their signature pastrami on rye is about two inches thick. In order to eat this sandwich without dropping any pastrami pieces, you have to squeeze it hard enough to hold in all the meat. I recommend a squirt of mustard, if that is your preference. All sandwiches come with a side of pickles, which tasted more like salted cucumbers then pickles. 

The pastrami is still steaming when you bite into it. The moment I bit into my pastrami sandwich (with a dab of mustard), I almost cried because it was so delicious. The pastrami melted in my mouth and it felt like it slid down to my stomach. It was mouthful after mouthful of taste bud kicking flavor. The meat is cooked to perfection – it was juicy and tender. But despite the fact that the pastrami was soft and juicy, it did not leak into the bread and make it soggy.

I also ordered an egg cream, something that I had never even heard of before stepping into Katz. I was able to watch the making process for this drink and the ingredients are simple but create such a delicious drink. Egg creams are made using vanilla syrup, milk, and soda water. The vanilla syrup is added first, then the milk and then the soda water. The soda water is added slowly while blending the drink. The result is a foamy vanilla-flavored cream soda. I really enjoyed this drink, but I still prefer ice cream floats.

A pastrami sandwich at Katz can set you back a good $16 without sides or a drink. I wouldn’t call this deli cheap eats by any means, but if you were looking for first class pastrami, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. 

Hawaiian Food Paradise

During the summer I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in several of the Hawaiian Islands. My family and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. During those two weeks, we ate a lot of food – both native Hawaiian and various others. Some of the Hawaiian dishes we tried were the Loco Moco, Poi (a side dish consisting of mashed taro) and Tuna Poke. But many of the other foods we ate were of an Asian influence because the majority of Hawaiian inhabitants are of Asian descent. I wanted to highlight two restaurants and one bakery that we visited on the island of Oahu that served up cheap and delicious foods – Side Street Inn on Da Strip in Honolulu, Shokudo Japanese Restaurant and Leonard’s Bakery.

Side Street Inn opened in 1992 and is a hole-in-the-wall local bar in Honolulu, Hawaii. They serve local comfort food that is a mixture of many cuisines: Japanese, Korean, French and Italian. Our meal was truly a mixture.

Our first dish was the Sautéed Mushrooms, which is mushrooms sautéed with shallots, white wine, garlic butter and topped with parmesan cheese. Not your typical Asian dish but it was very delicious. The mixture of garlic butter and white wine made you feel like you were eating an Italian pasta dish and not mushrooms!

Our second dish was Ahi Tuna Sashimi. This dish came with 18 pieces of tuna sashimi for the low price of $24. The slices were thick and almost melted in your mouth. It was so fresh! You would never find 18 pieces of tuna sashimi priced at $24 in New York City! 

Our third dish was their Side Street Inn Fried Chicken, which is boneless chicken that is dipped in their own sauce and fried. This dish is served with a side of salad. The fried chicken was tasty without being too oily. Their fried chicken is very similar to Korean fried chicken in the sense that there is a sauce on top of the fried dough. Unlike American fried chicken, which has a dry fried crust on the chicken, this fried chicken had a wonderful moist fried crust.

Next up is Shokudo Japanese Restaurant. Shokudo is located by the Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is the biggest shopping center in Honolulu. This restaurant features traditional Japanese cuisine with a modern flair. Their menu and dishes are meant to be served family style – as in dishes are ordered for the entire table and everyone shares.

Our first dish at Shokudo was Garlic Shrimp Rice. Garlic Shrimp is a favorite local dish in Hawaii and is served at most restaurants. This dish is served in a sizzling hot stone bowl. The waiter mixes the rice and the garlic shrimp at your table in front of you. The rice has the flavor of the garlic shrimp because of this method. The rice and shrimp also stay very warm until you eat it because of the hot stone pot. But be careful not to touch the pot because it’s very hot!

Our second dish was Teriyaki Chicken Quesadilla. This dish features a tortilla filled with teriyaki chicken, mozzarella, and mayonnaise. I really enjoyed this dish because it used a very typical Japanese dish, Teriyaki Chicken, and combined it with tortilla, a very Mexican stable. The outcome was delicious as the teriyaki chicken sauce soaked the tortilla.

Another dish that we tried at Shokudo was the Sushi Pizza. Sushi Pizza is a dish that is typically served on the Western side of the United States. You won’t find Sushi Pizza here in New York City! Shokudo’s Sushi Pizza had a toasted seaweed base topped with rice and followed by a layer of salmon, crabmeat and scallops. I had never tried Sushi Pizza before so this was quite the experience for me. The pizza was cut into little bite sized squares, which made it very easy to just pop into your mouth. The seaweed melts in your mouth so all you taste is the salmon and crabmeat combined with the rice.

The star of the night at Shokudo, would be their signature dessert – Honey Toast. Their Honey Toast consists of thick Japanese white toast that is cut out and cubed. Honey is then drizzled on top of the toast, followed by a cube of vanilla ice cream. The uniqueness of the dessert makes it all the tastier. With this dessert, you don’t eat the crust. You fork a bit of vanilla ice cream and then stab a piece of cubed toast. The combination of honey and ice cream brings so many flavors to the otherwise bland taste of white bread. This dessert is a definite must try.

And lastly, we reach Leonard’s Bakery, established in 1952. Leonard’s Bakery is famous for their malasadas, a Portuguese pastry that is sort of a doughnut without the hole. They fry the balls of dough until they are a golden brown color. The fried dough is then rolled in sugar and depending on the type you choose, it might have a cream filling. They offer a different cream filling every month and August’s filling was mango cream. This is another food that you will not find in New York City! Leonard’s malasadas are so famous on the island that when we visited at around 9pm, there was still a line almost out the door. Their malasadas are super fluffy and just the right amount of sweet. The moment you bite into one, the cream filling will start to ooze out and melt in your mouth.

So while this food review contains food that aren’t easily accessible to those of us who do not live in Hawaii, I felt the need to share with all of you the delicious finds that can be found there. All of these restaurants are not touristy restaurants. They are all local restaurants that cater to those who live in the island of Oahu. The only reason why my family was able to find such restaurants is because of our relatives who live there. We were very lucky to experience such good local food and since they shared with me, I felt that I had to share with all of you.

America’s First Pizzeria

Lombardi’s Pizza started off in 1897 as a grocery store but began rolling pizzas in 1905. They have since been crowned the title of America’s First Pizzeria, celebrating more than 100 years in serving pizza. Lombardi’s utilizes a coal oven to bake their pizzas, effectively creating a “New York” pizza. Everyday, Lombardi’s attracts dozens of tourists and locals to their restaurant. Being a native New Yorker, I felt that I had an obligation to try their pizza since it is considered one of the most famous pizzerias in New York City. So the boyfriend and I grabbed a couple of friends and paid Lombardi’s a visit.

Upon entering the pizzeria, I noticed the red and white-checkered tablecloths that are unique to old-school pizzerias. Along the walls were pictures of the owners with various celebrities – including some pretty big names. While waiting to be seated, which was very quick since it was a Thursday afternoon on a rainy day, we used our eyes to explore the décor. Because we were a large party, we were led through the back, past the kitchen and up the stairs to the 2nd floor seating area. It was very quiet, which made conversation easy.

Lombardi’s menu consists of one double-sided page. One side has the pizza options while the other side has the appetizers and drinks. Deciding what size pizza and what toppings proved to be harder than we thought. So we started off with drinks first. I ordered an Italian Soda, which I have never had before. Italian sodas are made with carbonated water, simple syrup and whipped cream on top. I ordered the vanilla syrup, but they have a raspberry option as well. The vanilla syrup made the carbonated water taste like a vanilla ice cream float. I felt like I was drinking an ice cream float without the ice cream!

We ordered their Bruschetta on Rustic Bread as our starter. Their bruschetta is made with chopped vine ripe tomatoes mixed with onion, basil, salt and pepper on seasoned rustic bread. The bruschetta is different then most bruschetta’s. Lombardi’s makes their bruschetta with large chunks of rustic bread instead smaller breads or baguettes. I really loved their bruschetta – especially the bread. It was crunchy, yet soft enough to bite into without much resistance. The bread was also well seasoned, making me want to munch on just the bread alone!

Now we move onto the star of the show – their pizza. Their pizza begins as a simple margarita pizza that is created with fresh mozzarella, their own San Marzano tomato sauce, pecorino romano and fresh basil. You can add any topping you want on it for $3 each or for $2 you can get a topping on half of the pizza. The small pizzas, at 14 inches, offers 6 slices while the large pizzas, at 18 inches, offers 8 slices. We ordered a small margarita pizza with homemade meatballs (beef with pork) on half of the pizza. We left the other half plain, just to try the flavor without any added toppings.

There is much to say about this pizza. First, let’s talk about the sauce. It did not taste like the typical tomato sauce that comes on top of pizzas. Lombardi’s San Marzano tomato sauce is much sweeter. I could barely taste the sauce, which means the dough is not overpowered by the flavor of tomatoes. The sauce is also not as thick as many other pizza parlors. Lombardi’s sauce was light and tasty.

Next, let’s talk about the dough. It had the characteristics of a good New York slice- thinness. The dough was extremely thin – a lot thinner than I have ever tasted before. But what I appreciated about their dough was the fact that no matter how many toppings you put on it, it did not bend or break apart like pizzas from a lot of other pizzerias. The dough was so incredibly thin but it still supported all the toppings. The crust and bottom of the pizza was black and crispy with bitter undertones when you bit into it. You can tell from just looking at the pizza that it was baked in a coal oven. The black, smoky-crust is evidence of the amount of coal and heat that is put into baking the pizza.

Lastly, it’s time to talk about the toppings. The mozzarella cheese was very fresh. I could tell that the mozzarella was very fresh because of the stringiness of the cheese when I bit into the pizza. The cheese would follow me in the form of long strands. But the best part of the pizza was the homemade meatball topping. The meatballs were chewy and juicy. I expected them to be a bit burnt and dry from being in the coal oven but they weren’t at all! The meatballs were definitely my favorite of the day.

I would definitely recommend paying a visit to Lombardi’s to try their coal oven pizza. Nowadays, it is illegal to build new coal ovens, which makes Lombardi’s one of the few coal oven pizzerias still in existence. Although their pizzas aren’t exactly cheap, I think that having a pizza at Lombardi’s is something that every New Yorker needs to do at some point in their lives. I know I won’t be visiting Lombardi’s every time I get a pizza craving (they sell their pizzas by the pie and not by slice), but I know if I ever wanted extremely thin-crusted pizza, this is where I’d go.