The Meatball Rolls Uptown

| 16 Feb 2015 | 10:56

The team that shined a culinary spotlight on the lowly meatball brings their wares to the Upper East Side, where it all began Ramen, cupcakes, pork belly - here in the city, there's a new trendy food popping up every New York minute, only to exit stage right a couple New York seconds later. But for co-owners Michael Chernow and Daniel Holzman of the ascendant Meatball Shop, the cultural tide they're riding is one that's been marinating in them since childhood. Chernow and Holzman are New York entrepeneurs; they've opened five Meatball Shops in three and a half years, the most recent one last week at 1462 Second Avenue, between East 76th and East 77th Street on the Upper East Side. By 7 p.m. Friday night, the wait for a table was over two hours. According to them, it's their biggest opening yet. For the two restaurateurs, both originally from the Upper East Side, it's a thrill. They've been friends since their early teens, having worked their way up the restaurant ladder from delivery boys. Chernow, beaming, humbly calls it 50 percent luck, but says that, "The other 50 percent is passion, experience, and authenticity. Little babies love meatballs, little old ladies love meatballs, and everyone in between loves meatballs too." It's not hard to understand why the restaurant is so popular: the ambiance is elegant but unpretentious, and the food is fresh and cheap. An order of four meatballs, sauce, and bread is $7; for small upticks in price, the meatballs can be redressed over pasta ($12), in a sandwich with a salad ($10) or in a variety of other configurations. "We have always thought that the Meatball Shop would be great on the Upper East Side," says Holzman, co-owner and executive chef. "There are so many mainstay restaurants up there, but a lot haven't evolved to the idea that most people are eating out more. They're not cooking at home, and a lot of these restaurants are special occasion places. It's an underserved neighborhood for wholesome, good, inexpensive food cooked by someone else." That's the mission that Holzman and Chernow have taken on with the Meatball Shop, and while they aren't the first ones to come up with the idea of good food at affordable prices, they do seem to have a knack for the execution. Chernow and Holzman met as young teens on the Upper East Side. According to Holzman, Chernow was the "cool" one, a charge that his co-owner gracefully deflects. "I'm the idea guy and Dan's the executioner," Chernow explains. "My number one passion of them all is making the connection. I love to connect with people, and he loves to connect with people through food. So between my people skills and his engineering and functional skills, we have the bases covered." "We really complement each other," Holzman explains. "I was always more responsible and conservative, and he was less so, but he was always really successful. The takeaway for me was that you can have a good time, and still accomplish. You can laugh and still be serious about what you're doing." And that's the takeaway at the Meatball Shop, too. Like the owners, the restaurant reflects a blend of light-heartedness and hard work that is eminently charismatic. For the two owners, the East side location is the equivalent of home, allowing them to further carve out their legacy in their old stomping grounds. "I remember going to Wagner High School, and going to the pizza place on 3rd Ave or the Chinese spot across the street. For P.S. 158, we're gonna be that place that kids go to for lunch," Chernow excitedly says. Adds Holzman: "Also, as busy as I am, I don't spend as much time with my mom. It'll be great to see my mom."