As you may have noticed, I love food. I do some of my best writing when sitting in a cafe or bar, and over the course of two years I’ve accumulated a list of favorite places- some are great to write in, some have great music. Some have amazing food, others their drinks are the stars. Socialize in some, hide in others.
I’ve also got more than a few opinions on what good food and drinks ARE, and I don;t mind telling anyone that’ll listen.
So, at Emily’s urging, I’m gonna use this space maybe once a week to review the places I’ve been!
No totally negative reviews- every restaurant deserves a shot and your own opinion- but it will always be the honest truth. I’ll tell you not only where to go, but when and WHY.
So let’s talk balls.
WHERE:24th and Meatballs, NE 24th + NE Glisan St.
A few weeks back, the planets once again aligned in a felicitous manner, and I had a day of beautiful weather off. Donning my favorite aloha shirt (they are always in fashion and I will friggin’ fight you), I took to the streets for a bit of a wander around parts of the city I don’t often get to see.
As I walked and soaked up the sun before the inevitable days of rain, I found myself around NE Glisan. Before picking up my current job, I’d had an (obviously) unsuccessful job interview at a restaurant nearby, and found myself with some time to kill. If memory served, there was an interesting meatball place around here….
So it was. 24th and Meatballs clings to the end of an unassuming string of restaurants, with indoor and outdoor seating. The placement is perfect for people-watching on the busy street, with food well-bent toward the mid-afternoon doldrums.
Even before you walk in, the elephant in the room comes out and greets you. There are a LOT of testicle jokes everywhere- and yes, you ARE there to eat balls. Their phone number (50-EATBALLS), their menu, their advertising all make it quite clear that the dining experience will not include high-brow humor.
Next comes ordering, done off a chalkboard. It’s a simple progression if there ever was one:
1. How do you want your balls? 24th and Meatballs offers their wares in various platings and numbers, including pasta and sandwiches, ranging from the humble slider (one ball on a bun for $3) to the Hero (three balls, sauce, cheese, on a hoagie roll for $10)
2. Pick your balls! (Choice of Classic Italian, Pork Piccante, Chicken, or Vegan)
3. What Sauce? (Classic Marinara, Creamy Cheesy similar to an alfredo, a pork bolognese, or an arugula pesto.)
All balls apparently work with all sauces, but I go with the Classic Italian and the Marinara- just three on a plate, with foccacia, referred to on the menu as “Balls, Balls, Balls” for $7. If you need extra balls, it’s $2 a pop. Much easier than getting surgery. (Crap, they’ve got me doing the jokes now. Sorry about that one.)
The meatballs are VERY good- very meaty, with not much filler. Most of the meatballs I’d had use bread crumbs or eggs as a binder. The ingredients are locally sourced, and the texture is firm and satisfying. The sauce, however…. oh good God that SAUCE.
This might be a nitpick that’ll earn me a beating in some circles, but I can’t stand sweet tomato sauce. I want fresh, spicy, zesty- but not sweet. Pizza, pasta, it doesn’t matter- if the sauce is noticeably sweet, it’s an instant turn-off to me.
24th and Meatballs’ classic marinara is exactly what I want out of a tomato sauce. When I think of “the gravy” in Italian-American cooking, this is what I come up with now. Take a look at that plate again. When I’d finished the balls and had run out of bread, I was sitting there scooping up with sauce with a fork. If I wasn’t sitting in public, I probably would have gone ahead and lapped at the bowl like a dog.
I’m sorry about that one too.
Why: Because you need a simple, delicious, meaty lunch and a good drink to wash it down with on a lazy afternoon.
How: Visit them, or their other location on 87th and N Lombard St here in Portland (appropriately named “87th and Meatballs.”) If you’re stuck at home, they deliver! Order through their website at 24thandmeatballs.com, or call in at 50-EATBALLS.
P.S. Maybe you’re a purist who needs to have wine with your Italian. In yet another cosmic alignment of convenience, directly across the street from 24th and Meatballs is Pairings, “Portland’s Weirdest Wine Bar.” This guy sells wine the way I pick restaurants. Need a wine based on your zodiac? They got you. Pairings based on movies and tv, and even a wall of choices based on which awkward social situation you feel compelled to bring a bottle to. Eat your meatballs, then slip across the street for a glass of something red and weird. You might even see my wife there- it’s her new favorite spot.