There’s nothing fancy about a ball of meat. But — when done well — the meatball is one of the most soulful, satisfying dishes we've found.
Anyone searching for the perfect balls this week (National Meatball Day is Wednesday, March 9) has no shortage of options in South Florida, with restaurants from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale claiming to have some of the best meatballs around.
This week, we're using this guide to help you roll through this culinary calendar highlight with a number of specials and deals (and a basic list of some really good meatballs). So go ahead and have a ball — or two.
10. Farmer's Table
1901 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Call 561-417-5836, or visit farmerstableboca.com.
Meat-free but still want to take part in National Meatball Day? Even if it's not a holiday, the chefs at Farmer’s Table in Boca Raton have the perfect way to celebrate. This Wednesday, the restaurant will be featuring its "Spasta & Meatballs." It comes with your choice of chicken or (if you're vegetarian or vegan) quinoa meatballs served with spaghetti squash "pasta," organic spinach, and a rich San Marzano tomato sauce. No matter what time of year, it's a Meatless Monday dish worth delving into every week.
9. Lynora's Osteria
207 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-899-3117, or visit lynoras.com.
At Lynora's in downtown West Palm Beach, you'll find plenty of homemade Italian specialties. Over the past year, the family-owned restaurant has become especially well-known for its meatballs, a proprietary secret recipe that has been passed down for several generations. Here, "Mama Maria's" meatballs are a combination of beef, pork, and veal mixed with a blend of savory spices. A trio of balls is served with a heaping topping of classic marinara (also Maria's recipe) and a side of ricotta cheese. Meatballs are always on the menu at Lynora's for $4 a plate, but you can also find them on special during Meatball Monday, when meatballs are $2 all day long.
8. Cafe Vico
125 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-565-9681, or visit cafevicorestaurant.com.
Like many old-school Italian joints, Cafe Vico's dinner menu has all the signposts of a traditional Italian restaurant: hot and cold appetizers, handmade pasta, risotto, and — of course — meatballs. Despite his South American upbringing, chef-owner Marco Rodriguez has developed a hearty Italian meatball appetizer worthy of any Nonna's approval: two giant meatballs topped with marinara sauce and Fontina cheese.
7. Anthony's Runway 84
330 W. State Road 84, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-467-8484, or visit runway-84.com.
Anthony's Runway is the full Italian eatery created by owner Anthony Bruno (probably better-known now for his chain of pizza joints, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza). But here, instead of pizza, "It's All About the Meatballs." The lunch and dinner appetizer arrives with two baseball-sized meatballs, each as pillowy soft as the creamed ricotta that comes on the side. Order them on Thursdays, when the restaurant offers $6 martinis for happy hour and single meatballs served as a complimentary side dish.
6. The Meatball Room
3011 Yamato Road, Boca Raton. Call 561-409-4111, or visit meatballroom.com.
How do you like your meatballs? Drowned in a pool of gravy? Layered with melted mozzarella? Or how about stuffed with a blend of three cheeses and fusilli pasta? That's one way you can order them at the Meatball Room in Boca Raton. The restaurant offers meatballs several ways, including an all-brisket or vegetable-based meatball — even a Reuben take made with corned beef and topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. Then pick your sauce: creamy marinara, spicy fra diavolo, or a meaty ragu. If you can't decide, the sampler lets you try two varieties at once.
5. Louie Bossi's Ristorante
1032 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-356-6699, or visit louiebossi.com.
Chef Louie Bossi of the new Fort Lauderdale haunt Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, Bar & Pizzeria knows how to make a damned fine meatball. His high-energy Italian eatery is inspired by the traditions of the classic neighborhood Italian American restaurants in New York and Chicago, and the dishes use family recipes via homemade pastas, pizza, and Sicilian comfort food. That includes the chef's own meatball sliders — two of his signature homemade meatballs smothered in San Marzano tomato sauce and stuffed between fresh-baked Italian bread — served every Monday during happy hour for just $2.50 each.
4. Pie-Zan's Home of Frankie Meatballs
1103 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-9222, or visit pie-zans.com.
This popular New York-style pizza joint is best known for its thin-crust pies, but it turns out the restaurant is also beloved for something else: its meatballs. The ingredients are fairly standard, a combination of eggs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, fresh bread crumbs, salt, pepper, garlic, and equal parts pork and beef. It makes for a remarkably balanced, well-seasoned meatball — one that is incredibly tender with a texture that verges on fluffy with just a touch of sweetness. Order two for $5.45, and you'll get them doused in the house gravy with a knot of fresh garlic bread served on the side.
3. Cafe Martorano
3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-561-2554, or visit cafemartorano.com.
There was a time when Steve Martorano didn't like his nickname as the "Meatball Mogul." There were so many other things he made well, it seemed a shame to focus on just the balls. But then Gourmet magazine named his meatballs some of the best in the world in 2012. At the chef's Fort Lauderdale restaurant, you'll want to head straight to the "Old School" section of the menu, where you'll find the self-taught chef's signature ball made with a delicately ground blend of beef, veal, and pork. The secret ingredient just might be Martorano's use of vegetable oil — not olive oil — to fry each up fat and juicy. If you're feeling the need for something a little lighter, go for his mini chicken meatballs instead, which somehow manage to taste just as rich as the original.
2. Noodles Panini
821 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-1514, or visit noodlespanini.com.
At Noodles Panini, they use only extra virgin olive oil and imported Italian pasta, they make their own mozzarella, they roast their own meats for panini sandwiches, and they bake all of the desserts in-house.
That same attention to detail goes into Aunt Marion's meatballs, a recipe owner and executive chef Brent Lahaye adapted from his maternal aunt's favorite dish. At the restaurant, Lahaye serves his pork, beef, and veal meatballs three ways: as an appetizer with a side salad, on a panini, or over spaghetti with marinara sauce.
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1. Fork & Balls
1301 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-771-2257, or visit forkandballs.com.
You can find some of the best meatballs in South Florida all year round by visiting the Fort Lauderdale restaurant named for them: Fork & Balls. In honor of National Meatball Day, however, the restaurant is inviting the public to celebrate its signature dish by taking part in its second-annual Meatball Eating Contest taking place on Wednesday, March 9. The event is free and open to the public, while contest participants must pay a $20 entry fee. Whoever eats the most balls during the timed competition will be crowned the official 2016 Ball Master — and a $500 cash prize — while second-place winner will receive a complimentary Brew Bus Brewery Tour and giveaways courtesy of the Brew Bus South Florida. In addition to the contest, Fork & Balls is offering patrons $1 balls all day long and two-for-one drinks from 4 to 7 p.m. on March 9. Onsite registration begins at 7 p.m. Call the restaurant to register in advance.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.