Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 Downtown Albany Food Fight: MeatBall Edition

The Downtown Albany BID hosted a Meatball Food Fight competition featuring 15 local restaurants. Each establishment had their own spin on a meatball. Some bites were great, some were atrocious but overall a fun outing. Here's a rundown of our picks vs. the judge's picks

The Hollow Bar + Kitchen (Best in Show; Best Vegetarian; Most Unique): The best bite of the afternoon goes to a non-meat entry. As major carnivores, this mozzarella stuffed veggie quinoa ball surprised us. It was the most flavorful and well-executed dish of the afternoon. The quinoa ball had a crisp exterior and the shavings of nutty asiago, tangy and garlicky marinara, and swirl of olive oil complemented the "meatball" very well. It was also the only vegetarian entry but the most flavorful and one of few "meatballs" we'd go back for second helpings of. 

Jack's Oyster House (Best in Show 2nd): It it weren't for the quinoa ball, this chicken and veal parmigiana meatball would be a top pick. Not only was it deep fried to crispy perfection but oozing with stuffed mozzarella. Topped with a generous spoonful of pomodoro sauce and parmesan, it was a great twist on a traditional meatball. Jack's Oyster House was overall People's Choice winner.

(Best in Show 3rd): This bite was definitely in our top 3. While Asian-fusion can be a real hit or miss, this hoisin-glazed pork and beef meatball with scallion and sesame was the only one to successfully balance sweet with savory.

Cider Belly (Best Dessert): One of only two establishments to make a dessert ball, Cider Belly won us over with two sweet options--chocolate caramel and strawberry shortcake a la mode. The strawberry topping had a very distinct fresh berry flavor and topped with a quality vanilla ice cream. So what if it looked more like a mini doughnut than doughnut hole, it was delicious.

V&R Italian Ristorante (Best Traditional): The texture of this meatball was a bit coarse but the flavor was there and the tomato sauce was one of J's favorites. 3rd Place Winner of People's Choice Award.

Jack's Oyster House (Best Use of Fish): Jack's wins this category by default as the only seafood entry. They made a lobster, shrimp, crab and crawfish meatball with a creamy oyster sauce. I would've have preferred a firmer meatball like the consistency of a good Vietnamese chao tom grilled shrimp on sugarcane. The generous chunks of seafood was appreciated but the oyster sauce didn't add much.

Here's a breakdown of the rest of the meatballs:

Jack's Oyster House went all out entering three meatball options including a dessert one with cheesecake layered with chocolate, oreo crumble, and strawberry coulis. Judges picked this one as Best Dessert. 

Olde English Pub: We stopped by for a palette cleanser to chase the lamb meatball. We really wanted to like this but the gaminess could have been tamed with another meat. We noticed the better meatballs had a mix of two meats or more. At least the whiskey glaze was good.

The Merry Monk: This spicy duck seemed really promising and had the best presentation but the sweetness overpowered the gaminess I was looking for. It tasted more like duck sauce glazed meatball. Judges picked this one as Most Unique or Creative and 2nd Place Winner of People's Choice. 
Yono's also entered a broccoli and cheddar arancini ball. The fry job was spot on but the flavor combo not our favorite. A classic risotto ball with marinara would have hit the spot.

Dali Mamma: J loves a good Reuben but this meatball version fell flat. The sauerkraut and russian dressing overwhelmed the brisket meatball and didn't have much flavor.

The Capital American Eatery and Lounge: This was the judge's pick for Best Traditional meatball but the greasy tomato sauce was such a turn-off for us. Not to mention it had an underlying note of what tasted like sherry. It was not what we were looking for in terms of traditional flavors and textures.

Subway: For s**ts and giggles we even tried the Subway meatballs and surprisingly wasn't the worst meatball of the whole competition. It was your typical frozen meatball consistency and the marinara wasn't half bad. But I'm afraid to look at the ingredients list.

Pearl Street Pub: Not all things made with bacon are good. These bacon cheddar meatballs were a salty mess and the plastic-like consistency of the cheese did not help.

Wolf's 1-11 Arena Grill: Another promising dish were these Harvest Balls--pork tenderloin with brown sugar and maple syrup with a Granny Smith Apple and Sweet Onion Chutney. Sadly, this was a poor execution of sweet and savory. The meatball was overwhelmingly sweet and overpowering with cinnamon.

Blue 82: Neither the Honey Apple Garlic Meatball nor Cajun Bacon Meatball had flavor. Both were very disappointing. 

Buddha Tea House: Talk about a mess. These meatballs were presented as Bhudda and Cheeri balls, one spicy and one sweet. They attempted Asian flavor profiles with sambal and hoisin but failed miserably with a flavorless, greasy meatballs, an Italian marinara sauce that didn't belong, and worst of all, a raw innard.

Public House 42: Another Reuben meatball! How did it compare? We couldn't get past the super sweet Russian dressing and the greasy corned beef seemed straight out of can. No flavor whatsoever. Sad face. 

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