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Saucy, spicy tastes star in second annual Meatball Street Brawl

There were classic meatballs made with secret combinations of meats and spices and simmered in a rich red sauce.

There were "freestyle" meatballs made of smoked pork and bacon in a Carolina barbecue sauce, from This Little Pig, and chicken wing meatballs from Bada Bing.

There was laughter and some dancing in the jovial crowd that filled the closed block of West Mohawk Street between Delaware Avenue and Franklin Street, where 18 restaurants set up tables and tents in the second annual Meatball Street Brawl organized by Nick Pitillo of Osteria 166.

There was even a vegetarian.

Nicholas Reid of Buffalo enjoyed the vegetarian meatball offered by Pizza Plant, the only one he and Rachel Larkin found in their initial canvass of the event.

"I dragged him," Larkin confessed, although Reid seemed to be enjoying himself. "I've been to steakhouses before," said the amiable young man, shrugging.

"It's a beautiful day, getting some sun and hanging out," said Larkin.

Gary Held and Beth Gross of Williamsville, co-owners of Gertie's Restaurant in Clarence Center, boldly wore white shirts to the meatball festival.

"I have more guts than brains," quipped Gross. They serve meatballs in their restaurant, and we "always like to see what's out there," she said.

Gary Held, left, and Beth Gross of Williamsville try meatballs from Panaro's at the second annual Meatball Street Brawl. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Participating restaurants in the meatball throw-down were Amici, Bada Bing, Belsito, Frankie Primo's, Ristorante Lombardo, Linguine's, Marco's, Molinaro's, MidTown Kitchen, Mulberry, Osteria 166, Panaro's, Pizza Plant, Share, Siena, Sinatra's, Tempo and This Little Pig.

A panel of celebrity judges picked the the top meatballs in the traditional and freestyle categories, with Sinatra's taking the traditional crown and newcomer This Little Pig claiming the best freestyle award.

The fan favorite, selected by tickets handed out to eager eaters who arrived before kickoff of the Bills game, was This Little Pig, with Tempo taking second place and Marco's in third.

The stand at This Little Pig was staffed by Mary Cooke, stepmother of Jeff Cooke, who owns the restaurant in Clarence with his wife, Mandy, and by Sorren Cooke, Jeff and Mandy's daughter. Jeff Cooke was executive chef at Osteria 166 before opening This Little Pig. "We're the team here today because Jeff and Mandy are serving brunch right now," said Mary Cooke.

The event, which cost $15 in advance and $20 at the door, was packed with families on both sides of the serving counters. Panaro's cook Steve Concialdi served up the classic meatballs with his co-owner brothers, Tony and Mike Concialdi.

Arianna Seaborn, 17 of Williamsville with her brother Ayden, 14, and mother Lisa as they try meatballs from Bada Bing. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

While guarding the family recipe, Tony Concialdi did reveal that the meatballs are made of veal, pork and ground chuck.

"That's the holy trinity, as Tony likes to say," said Mike. The sauce is their mother's recipe, with a few tweaks.

In the crowd, Lisa Seaborn of Williamsville was enjoying meatballs from Bada Bing with her children, Arianna, 17, and Ayden, 14. While meatball-lover Arianna lobbied for the visit, Lisa Seaborn said she liked that the event benefited Meals on Wheels, Make-a-Wish and the Michael Donald Perry St. Francis Scholarship Fund. "I love that it's for charities," she said.

Gregory "Booker" Wells of Snyder, taking a minute out from greeting friends in the crowd, made a beeline for Frankie Primo's stand and was headed to Bada Bing next. "I love the food, and as you can see, I have a lot of Italian friends," said Wells, stopping to embrace another friend.

Marco Sciortino, owner and chef at Marco's, served a stuffed hot pepper meatball made with banana peppers stuffed with a fennel sausage blend and Galbani ricotta and mozzarella. "People are loving it," he said. "It has the right amount of spice, not overpowering."

Although Marco, who said, "I have tomato sauce running through my veins," enjoyed the friendly competition, he said, "We are all good friends, all the Italian restaurants. We're like family."

The beneficiaries, he said, made all the work worthwhile. "We do it for the charities and for the community," he said.



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