Spaghetti and meatballs are as American as apple pie, a comfort food we all grew up with.
But what happens when you take away the pasta and the meatball stands alone?
At Three Vines Bistro in Saratoga Springs, the first meatball bar in the Capital Region, they call their creations “meet balls” because you can eat them at a extra-long tables near the bar in a casual atmosphere that encourages mingling and casual conversation.
Three Vines Bistro
WHERE: 32 Congress St., Saratoga Springs. 306-5881, www.threevinesbistro.com
WHEN: 4:30-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu. and Sunday; 4:30-10 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
HOW MUCH: $36 before tax and drinks
MORE INFO: All credit cards accepted, handicapped accessible
On a recent Tuesday night, a musician with some kind of electronic woodwind was singing jazz tunes as my brother Eric and I strolled into the homey restaurant.
Tucked unobtrusively in the Congress Plaza, next door to Purdy’s Liquors and in the shadow of the new Embassy Suites Hotel, the place is run by three brothers-in-law, which explains the name.
The restaurant reminds me of those old family neighborhood pizza parlors from my childhood, where you watched a guy toss the pizza dough, but here the chef wears a white coat and massages your pie in front of a big wood-fired oven.
On the walls are vintage Italian travel posters and a large-screen TV that silently flashes luscious images of dishes from their menu.
Personal-sized pizzas (gluten-free and whole-wheat available), pork porterhouse with peppers and mushrooms, rib eyes and osso bucco, are all made in the big oven, but we had a hankering for meatballs and headed to the bar area, which is separated from the dining area by a low wall.
Special of the day
“The meatball today is veal short rib,” our server in a Hawaiian shirt announced as he handed us the menus.
“Bread from the oven,” he said a few minutes later, as he set down a warm loaf of six to eight full slices, a tiny dish of grated parmesan and saucers of olive oil flecked with cracked black pepper and rosemary.
And then the good times really started to roll, as Eric and I decided to try five different meatballs for $10.
We picked vegetarian, lobster, sausage/broccoli rabe, Buffalo chicken and today’s special from the list of 10.
“How will we tell which one is which?” Eric wondered.
When the plates appeared, and we started sampling, it was easy to tell them apart by their textures and sizes.
The veggie ball was the biggest, bready and a bit bland.
Lobster, creamy and light-colored, was bathed in a lovely lemon sauce.
Buffalo chicken, topped with blue cheese sprinkles, nested in a pool of hot sauce.
I loved the lobster, Eric went gaga for the veal ball, with its garnish of marinara, red peppers and fresh mushrooms.
Every one was moist and tender.
“They are filling, too,” he said.
It was a perfect dish for two, as we took turns forking small chunks on to our individual plates.
“That’s the fun part — sharing,” said Eric.
But let’s not forget the salads.
My salad of the day was meal-sized, Boston lettuce topped with whole toasted hazelnuts and slices of beets.
Eric’s Twisted Wedge, a mound of iceberg, was stuffed with blue cheese dressing, bits of crispy pork belly and small yellow tomatoes.
Family issues, problems with our jobs — at the Meatball Bar, my brother and I were so absorbed in our food, we forgot to talk about them.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]