Meatballs, located in the Penn Quarter/Chinatown district, is Michel Richard’s latest stab at the casual dining field. You heard me right – Michel Richard, the owner of Citronelle, has opened a meatball shop. Hard to believe, right? While he is known for his intellectually stunning food at his flagship restaurant, Michel Richard has always had a soft spot for meatballs. According to an article on eater.com, meatballs are his “ultimate happy food.”
From the street, Meatballs will grab your attention, to say the least. A large glass window reads “meat” in small, fancy letters. Directly underneath is the word “BALLS” in large, bolded, all-capitalized letters. I admit that the immature self inside of me found this absolutely hilarious. I can just imagine telling a friend, “I’m going to eat Michel Richard’s balls…meat balls that is.”
Meatballs calls itself “purveyors of rounded meats.” I found this hilarious as well. Just say it out loud. As I entered the shop, I had to wonder if Michel Richard was responsible for this silliness.
The menu is simple – order at the counter, pick your meatball and pick a landing pad (grinder sub, spaghetti or salad greens) and sauce. You can choose from traditional beef, lamb, chicken and vegetarian lentil meatballs. There is an interesting array of sauces from which to choose – classic Marinara, roasted red pepper, tandoori sauce, mushroom sauce and more. The sides include collard greens, creamy polenta and “spuddies,” or tater tots. I recognized this, called “Michel’s Spuddies,” on the menu at Citronelle.
I ordered the mini meatball sandwich, a half-portion of the standard four-meatball sandwich. For my topping, I chose the roasted red pepper sauce and a little Parmesan cheese on top. On the side, I decided on collard greens. The presentation was pretty cool – the food comes on a quarter sheet tray (like we use in culinary school) covered with a sheet of parchment.
My meatballs were hot, juicy and delicious. The sweetness of the pepper in the sauce was a nice accompaniment to the savory flavors of the meat. The bread was crusty and crumbled whenever I took a bite. Napkins were essential, as this was one messy sandwich.
The collard greens on the side were also very good – I tasted what I thought was a little bacon. Overall, a satisfying, flavorful lunch.
Meatballs is an appealing concept that I foresee catching on in D.C. Although I found the menu to be a bit expensive for what it offers, the quality of the food is high. I’ve read that Michel Richard’s involvement with the shop is small, but as long as the food is good (and it is), that does not bother me. There is definitely something to be said about a chef who can serve you Escargot, Porcupine or Penguin Caviar in one place, and classic meatballs at another.