“I said I’d never make meatballs,” said Sandro Romagnoli, founder of Figo Pasta. “Even though they were requested on the second day I opened my restaurant, they aren’t that common in Italy.” But not only did he make them, he created a whole new concept — the Meatball Bar.
Last night a group of us media types were lucky enough to experience the new concept. Naive and laughing, enjoying our refreshing sangria, we had no idea what we were up against. We were about to OD on meatballs.
Sandro did warn us. Kind of. He said, “I’ve had so many meatballs the past seven months. I have been eating and dreaming about meatballs. Now it’s your turn.” He just didn’t warn us how many meatballs we were up against.
So in we dug to the platters and platters of the small round orbs of various ingredients that Sandro has introduced at the Meatball Bar at the Howell Mill Road location. The bar is separated from the main dining room by a row of metal streamers, which the waitstaff jokingly refers to as the iron curtain. The Meatball Bar has its own menu, which includes five types of meatballs with five sauces. You can choose three meatballs for $3.95 and seven for $6.95.
Ingredients ranged from lamb to wild boar with chianti to chicken and artichokes. Our favorite was the Y’all, a pork and bacon sausage with corn, barbecue sauce and collard greens. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t find a Y’all meatball anywhere in Italy, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
The brightly colored sauces ranged from a yellow pepper sauce to barbecue to black olives to picante. We each got our own platter of all the sauces so we could delightedly double dip.
While chowing down on these, we enjoyed a few of the signature drinks. I tried the Strawberry Capiroska, made with sake and vodka with fresh strawberries. It was so refreshing and not as heavy as a daquiri, which meant I had room to try another drink. I also loved the Figo Mojito, with a slight flavor of melon from the melon liqueur. These signature drinks are a great value at just $6.
But here is where the problem started. We all thought the eating portion of the meal was over. And in addition to the meatballs, I’d pretty much cleared the table of the crunchy, addictive cenci. These long crinkled pieces of rosemary and chile pepper-flavored fried dough (two of my favorite words) are set down at the table when you first come in. And in my case, disappear shortly after landing.
(Tip: If you ever go to the Meatball Bar and see me sitting there, sit at another table if you want to get your hands on some.)
Next up? The larger meatballs that are available at all Figo locations. These meatballs come in three varieties, are four ounces rather than two, and are baked rather than fried.
Then there was misto salad, penne pasta, bruschettina, and skewers of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and olives. And of course, dessert. Two kinds. Although the mango pie was delicious, my heart belonged to the Torta Della Nonna, a creamy lemon pie with pine nuts and sugar on top.
Sandro, who is from Florence, was a charming and enthusiastic host, who says he treats each guest like his own mamma. He opened the first Figo as a take-out only place on Collier Road in 2002, and now has seven locations.
“I kind of had a mid-life crisis,” he said. “Some men buy a Porsche, or a Mercedes. But me, I bought a restaurant.”
We’ve been fans ever since he opened that first Figo, just around the corner from our house. We always know we can get a good, fresh, affordable meal at Figo. And now we have another reason to visit. As soon as we recover from our meatball hangover.