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New York magazine, in its recent “Where to Eat” issue, blithely dismissed meatballs as “the latest faux-comfort-food fad (that) has mercifully fallen flat.”  Tell that to the lively, hungry crowd at Above Restaurant in South Orange last night.  They came to celebrate the meatball – in particular, the debut of MamaMancini’s Kitchen, a hot meatball bar at Eden Marketplace.

Daniel Mancini (pictured left to right here Carl Wolf, Matthew Brown, Daniel Mancini, Paul Bartick), head meatball whisperer and South Orange resident, launched MamaMancini’s a few years ago.  Armed with his grandmother’s famous recipe, he started selling frozen meatballs online and at grocery stores across the country.

Eden Marketplace was one of the first places to carry them, and they proved so popular that the company chose Eden to be the spot of its first flagship hot meatball bar.  Meatballs in Sunday Sauce, Turkey Meatballs, and Sausage with Peppers and Onions are some of the dishes available.

Last night’s event was Mancini’s way of showing some love for his hometown – and what better way than by feeding them meatballs?  So, you might ask: how are the meatballs?  Let me start by saying I am not easy to please when it comes to certain iconic foods from my culture.  Growing up in an Italian-American household, I naturally believe that I make the best meatballs and Sunday gravy – as my mother and grandmothers did before me. 

Daniel Mancini agrees.  “I always say, our meatballs are the second best you’ve ever had.”  But I tried Mama Mancini’s meatballs with an open mind.  And you know what?  They are very, very good.  The turkey and the spicy versions were quite fine, but I was really impressed with the classic beef meatballs in Sunday sauce.  They are surprisingly tender (tough, overworked meatballs make me mad) and gently suffused with – not overpowered by – onion and cheese.

It seems as though Mancini is on to something.  MamaMancini’s is the fastest growing meatball company in the country, Mancini has appeared on the Today Show and the Martha Stewart Show, and even Rachael Ray is a fan.  Take that, New York magazine!    

Want to know the secret to MamaMancini’s meatballs and Sunday sauce?  Watch the video.