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Head to Southern Italy and you'll find meatballs made with everything from turkey to tripe, but they'll be lighter on the spices and seasonings than American versions, and bread crumbs can make up as much as 50% of the meatball's mass.
Meatballs are inexpensive, hearty fare, and for Italian immigrants in America, they were an easy way to get a taste of home. While more wealthy northern Italians tended to move out to central and western states, southern Italians made landfall in downtown Manhattan within proximity of Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany—an enclave of German transplants settled in the Lower East Side, who ran many butcher shops that sold beef and pork. Soon enough, Italians bought meat from Germans, made meatballs for themselves (with a lot less bready filler), and—when they realized they could make a profit along the way—sold them to other Italians.
Meatball slingers quickly found themselves in possession of new financial and social capital, both among their fellow immigrants and with other New Yorkers, and before long, Italian pork stores started popping up all over the city. George has been working at this Cobble Hill institution since the first grade, and he's proud to say he made his first mozzarella when he was 10 years old. The meatball-as-convenience-food concept grew steadily through the turn of the century, as more and more of New York and the country settled into a standardized eight-hour workday.
The 20th century also saw Italians integrating more and more into the general population, and as they did so, they left New York for other pastures—taking their meatballs with them. To George Esposito, the family mission of feeding convenience food to busy New Yorkers hasn't changed since the industrial revolution.
NYC is hardly bereft of good Greek restaurants, but the new Nerai is easily the best to have opened since Anthos back in 2007 (since closed).
There are co-executive chefs here -- Chris Christou (formerly at Per Se, Corton, and Ai Fiori) and Ioannis Markadakis (from Vezene in Athens) -- and while they don't take the high leaps Psilakis did at Anthos, their cuisine adapts the finest traditions of Hellenic cuisine and refines them in ways no other Greek restaurant in NYC is currently attempting. On the night I dined at the elegantly appointed bi-level restaurant, it was with an interior designer friend who pronounced the marine-like decor exceptionally beautiful, especially the aqua-green lighting that played softly from the ceiling onto folds of white drapery-like fabric.
The 137-label wine list is 40 percent Greek, with some unusual selections like the Assyrtiko de Milos 2004 from Santorini, a charmingly aromatic white wine.


The starters, as is so often the case in Greek restaurants, were wonderfully savory, like the superb duck moussaka with roasted potato and eggplant and creamy bechamel -- the kind of dish that respects tradition while utilizing unexpected ground duck meat. A Greek restaurant must be judged largely on its seafood -- which, believe me, in Greece still tends to be overcooked, but Nerai did an impeccable job of grilling a lavraki (sea bass), given a benediction of olive oil and capers. At meal's end one expects the usual flaky baklava and yogurt but Markadakis gives as much attention to desserts as to everything else, rendering a delicious lavender mousse made with yogurt and honey, set on pineapple carpaccio with caramelized pecans. Apres une superbe collection St Valentin, la team de Gifty nous gratifie d’une nouvelle collection tendance Deco, vaisselles et accessoires de cuisine intitulee New York City.
But nine times out of ten, when we talk about meatballs in New York, we're only referring to one. While ground meat ragus cling well to thick, hearty pasta, a fat meatball does nothing for the noodles beneath it. But as meatballs rolled on in America they transformed from delicate to soup fodder into the fat, richly spiced, red sauce-cloaked items we now so identify with Italian food.
In Italy, those meats were hard to come by in the south, and usually were accompanied by high prices, so a ready supply of more affordable red meat became a gold mine for the growing Italian population. But meatballs weren't a meal in and of themselves—even cheap meat need stretching out—so cooks turned to spaghetti, the cheapest noodle around, to fill out their plates, Italian tradition be damned. They sold all manner of cured meats alongside prepared food, like meatballs, that the rest of New York was still discovering.
The store's facade is emblazoned with a large pig that advertises the allure of capicola, fresh sausage, and, of course, meatballs made daily on the premises, which come in three styles: fried, saucy, and what George described as "home meatballs," which, he said, "were the ones your grandma made"—big, round, and meaty.
Esposito, which opened its doors in 1922, is one of the oldest pork stores of its kind in Brooklyn, and it's seemingly immune to the changing neighborhood around it.
With a greater percentage of the workforce—male and female—conforming to a 9 to 5 schedule, pre-made dishes like meatballs functioned as a kind of fast food, especially when loaded into a crusty hero loaf.
But his clientele has—Cobble Hill is no longer the tight-knit, closed-off Italian-American community it used to be.


At his acclaimed restaurant Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto in Manhattan's Upper East Side, he serves his meatballs over polenta. His reporting has been seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. Et pour ne pas nous deplaire, Gifty a revu aussi ses frais de livraison, puisque le port est gratuit a partir de 29E . This is the city where Italian-American became American, and where the meatball as we know it began. Yet the phrase 'spaghetti and meatballs' is as foreign to the Italians as General Tso's Chicken is to the Chinese. And an Italo-Teutonic fusion food of necessity became, for New Yorkers, an "Old World" delicacy.
New Brooklyn twentysomethings still come in for a container of pesto and a fried prosciutto ball—convenience foods that, like the meatballs, remain popular.
Reliable, recognizable, and reasonably priced, they made for an easy meal with few strings attached. But no modern restaurant has seen more success from New Yorkers' meatball love than the Meatball Shop, a rapidly expanding mini-chain devoted entirely to the humble meatball. The gluten-free meatballs are made with pork and beef, with added pork and beef fats for flavor. Think of yesterday's meatballs like today's Whole Foods salad bar—a time-saving meal for busy eaters that's homemade-tasting enough to count as comfort food. Owners Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow told me, "we love simple comfort food here in New York City that is nostalgic and accessible.




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