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Meatball madness has swept the city. But not every ball is created equal. In an effort to gauge the full spectrum of offerings—from old standbys to new jack meatballs—I sampled 10 tough customers in a single sitting. OK, I had some help. But still, that’s a lot of meatballs. We went to the mattresses on this one, and walked away with the indigestion to prove it. Better take it one order at a time.
The Wise Guy | Enoteca Emilia
A beef and pork blend that is reminiscent of a good ol’ sweet Italian sausage, these balls are served primarily as sliders with tomato sauce and garlic salsa verde. $9. 2038 Madison Rd., Hyde Park, (513) 834-5773, enotecaemilia.com
The Veggin’ Mary | Packhouse Meats
A virtuous veggie ball? Yeah, we know. But these quinoa-based balls with minced vegetables are deep-fried and served with a choice of six sauces (marinara here) and taste more pub grub than super-food. $3–$9.
1004 Monmouth St., Newport, (859) 415-2312, packhousemeats.com
The Consigliere | Buona Vita Pizzeria
Owned by Matthew and Joseph Frommeyer, whose other brother Mark runs Blue Oven Bakery, the Buona Vita boys learned meatballs at the feet of their Grandma Bonavita. A smooth grind of pork and beef is combined with rustic crumbs from Blue Oven’s Italian baguette and served with a slightly fruity tomato sauce over spaghetti, $10.99.
441 Sixth St., Dayton, (859) 261-6792, buonavitapizzeria.com
The Boss | Pitrelli’s
One hundred percent beef and flavor-balanced to precision, Mama Pitrelli’s meatballs still reign supreme. Served with the family’s private label tomato sauce, $4 per order.
404 Second Ave., Mason, (513) 770-0122, pitrellis.com
The Goomah | Via Vite
She was the one that almost got away. Chef Cristian Pietoso has re-created the recipe from Florentine restaurant Cibreo, where he worked in his youth. This silky-smooth blend of veal, lemon zest, and ricotta is served with a lush tomato sauce on a panini, $9.
520 Vine St., downtown, (513) 721-8483, viaviterestaurant.com
The Sure Shot | A Tavola
These are undoubtedly the boldest-flavored balls in the city. Cinghiale, also known as wild boar, is subtly spiced with caraway and served with a chunky tomato sauce, an agrodolce gastrique, grated pecorino, and grilled Blue Oven bread. We defy you to eat just one. $10.
1220 Vine St., Over the Rhine, (513) 246-0192, atavolapizza.com
The Enforcer | Hyde Park Meats
Chef John Ness guards the secret to this small but mighty east side butcher shop’s recipe. A mild blend of beef and pork, they are sold by the pound with a classic tomato sauce. $7.
3645 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 321-4328
The Associate | Meatball Kitchen
Yes, the word “meat” is central to the restaurant’s name. Still, they do an impressively hearty vegetarian version, comprised of black beans, brown rice, mushrooms, and walnuts, served with a choice of tomato, béchamel, or—believe or not—meat sauce, $6–$9.
2912 Vine St., Clifton, (513) 407-7405, meatballkitchenusa.com
The Fence | Gramma Debbie’s Kitchen
This unexpected, but seriously savory mash-up of chicken and basmati rice ($7.99 per pound) is sold un-sauced, which only adds to its versatility. Choose between marinara, puttanesca, and roasted butternut squash sauce from fellow Findlay vendor Bouchard’s, priced at $5 each.
1801 Race St., Findlay Market, (513) 421-4726
The Godfather | Padrino
Beef and pork are mixed with ricotta cheese to form the biggest guys on the block, served with the house marinara sauce over spaghetti, $13.
111 Main St., Milford, (513) 965-0100, 20brix.com/padrino
Originally published in the May 2014 issue.