CP photo: Maggie Weaver
Before last year, I never concerned myself with meatballs. They always seemed to be more of a nuisance than anything, standing in the way of my pasta and cheese.
And then, last January, I had the meatball at LeoGreta for the first time. My advice to diners then was, “whatever you do, order the meatball”; out of my multi-course meal, the simple dish was a standout. The meatball, which I ordered in a bowl with the restaurant’s other house meats, was one of my first Pittsburgh balls, and it stuck with me.
Since then, every so often, the meatball crosses my mind. I think of the sun-ripened, red sauce that smothered the cheese-topped ball, the spice that spiked through it, and how with the slightest nudge from a fork, it broke apart.
My meatball dreams, usually blocked by the issue of distance — it’s a long drive from Bloomfield to Carnegie — were fulfilled last week, when I found myself with the time to make the trek. Thanks to curbside pickup, I was soon set with a Friday night meatball.
Though it wasn’t quite the meatball I remembered — I created unrealistic expectations, dreaming about it for a year — it was still exceptional.
The meat was a bit dry on the edges, while the middle gave that cuts-like-butter, light-as-air texture I remember. (A takeout disclaimer is necessary: I had to cart my meatball 20 minutes back to my house before actually breaking into it. With a bit of reheating, it was back to a normal, tender texture.)
The blend of spices was well-balanced, not too saturated that it overwhelmed the meat, but enough that there were subtle, herby tones to the dish, boosted by a salty dusting of parmesan. Red tomato sauce, bright with acid, was light enough to let the meatball shine while still cutting through its natural heartiness. My biggest issue was the lack of sauce — another ladle or two would not be missed.
I found it strangely comforting to order one, single meatball for takeout. (To make it a complete meal, I paired it with a glass of red wine and tiramisu.) There’s nothing fancy about a meatball, which made it the perfect pairing for a cozy blanket and a trashy show on a dreary winter night.
But part of the magic of LeoGreta, as with many city restaurants, is its cozy, informal atmosphere. While the item is still a menu treasure in and out of the dining room, I’m excited for the next time I’ll get to have the house meatball inside the restaurant. Until then, I’ll let it star in my dreams.
LeoGreta. 301 West Main St., Carnegie. leogreta.com