Practically a hole in the wall, “Meatball Obsession” has a tiny nook between some large office buildings along fifth avenue. The snackbar is purely a storefront, no seating since there is no inside – it’s just a counter and the sidewalk. Owner Daniel Mancini opened the place out of nostalgia for his grandmother, who used to cook Sunday dinner for the family and would give him a meatball in a cup with some bread to soak up the sauce. Passing down the tradition since 2008 to New Yorker’s getting off the 14th St. F-Stop train, it was time for me to taste some of Nonni’s old-country cooking and see how this meatball stacked up.
For four bucks ($4.36 with tax), you can get the original Meatball in a Cup with their signature “Sunday Sauce” and Parmesan dipping bread (seen above protruding out of the cup like a Unicorn’s horn). Meatballs come in turkey, chicken, pork sausage, or beef, which is what I got on this visit. You can also order a wide array of toppings with your meatball (or balls, which you can mix or match), such as different cheeses, peas and onions, red peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, or regional toppings including smoked scamorza, pinenuts, and basil pressed olive oil to name a few. Toppings will cost you 50 cents to a dollar more each, depending on what you order. Since this was my first visit, I kept things very simple and opted for just some romano cheese so I could really gauge the taste of their meat.
The beef meatballs, which are made with 100% beef (what grade, we may never know, but at least it is from a cow) and seasoned with the traditional Italian ingredients like parsley, onion, bread crumbs, and romano cheese. It’s nothing special by any means, the best I could say about it is that it tastes average for an underwhelming lump of protein. The tomato sauce is overly sweet and reminded me of a pizza sauce more than a marinara – pizza that you would order from a place with “hut” in it’s name.
Speaking of that “hut”, the parmesan dipping bread tastes exactly like the breadsticks you would get from one of those pizza franchises. It’s soft and salty, and does not hold up well to the sauce if you dip it for more than a second. Ultimately, this is your average meatball with a gimmick of being in a cup. It’s nothing special, and from the looks of the toppings list, it is probably more palatable when covered in other things.
“Meatball Obsession” is a decent and quick snack that seems to share many things in common with pizza chains, especially speed. I waited about ten seconds to get served, which was great. The downside was the quality of the food, but you get what you pay for. As with all places that I do not like as much as others, I am willing to give it a second try and ordering something different to let them redeem themselves. “Meatball Obsession” has some potential and a fun concept, and is worth a try if you want a quick nibble in the neighborhood, but it is nothing worth going out of your way for.
Meatball Obsession is located at 510 Sixth Avenue, between 13th and 14th street in downtown Manhattan, NYC.