Now here’s a meaty competition we can sink our every-ready-fork into. A meatball throw-down among local Italian restaurants for bragging rights to see which place serves up the best meatballs in town. The Meatball Street Brawl starts at 11 a.m. Oct. 2 on West Mohawk Street between Franklin Street and Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo.
Nick Pitillo, owner of Osteria 166, is the man behind the event that will be the first ever to pit what is essentially family recipe vs. family recipe. Instead of “mano-a-mano,” the competition simmers down, in a pot of Sunday sauce, to nonna-a-nonna.
“Most people think Italian restaurants owners don’t like each other because we are competitors, but it’s the opposite,” said Pitillo who notes owners are friendly even though each guy thinks he has the best meatballs in town. “We decided why not get everyone together and let the city decide which is their favorite meatball? We’ll be giving back to local charities too. We want to make this an annual event that grows each year.”
The way a restaurant serves its meatballs to customers is how it must be served at the festival. “The only limitation is all meatballs must be one ounce, so guests can taste more meatballs,” said Pitillo. (We are totally on board with this rule.)
Everyone who samples the meatballs can vote for his or her favorite. Categories include Best Menu Meatball, Best in Show and a Best Free Style Meatball. The freestyle category allows a restaurant to come up with whatever creative meatball it wants. (Maybe even one Nonna never envisioned?)
Buffalo’s own brawler Baby Joe Mesi will be one of the celebrity judges. Winner of the meatball competition will receive bragging rights for the year and a meatball trophy, and frankly, who wouldn’t want that?
Challengers include the heavy-hitters of the area restaurant scene: Amici Ristorante, Bada Bing, Chef’s, Frankie Primo’s +39, Ilio DiPaolo’s, Ristorante Lombardo, Marco’s Restaurant, MidTown Kitchen, Mulberry Italian Ristorante, Osteria 166, Providence Social, Siena, Sinatra’s Restaurant, Snooty Fox, and Tappo Restaurant.
Cost is $10 advance, $15 at the event. A ticket includes a chance to try all the meatballs, beer samples from five local breweries, a tie-in to the last day of Buffalo Beer Week.) There will also be wine samples and, courtesy of Zamir Gotta of "No Reservations" fame, vodka samples.
Response to the event has been so strong, from restaurants and private cooks alike, that Pitillo is already making plans for next year. He expects to add a division for amateur cooks next year, as well as space for more restaurants.
Tickets are available at participating restaurants or online at the Osteria 166 website. Charities include Buffalo City Mission, The Michael Donald Perry St. Francis Scholarship Fund, Meals on Wheels and St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy.