Last week a generous soul gave me tickets to the opening event of NYC’s Wine and Food Festival: San Pellegrino’s Meatball Madness, hosted by Giada De Laurentis and presented by one of my favorite foodie blogs EaterNY. Considering my general love of food, the Food Network and all things Italian (my middle name is Pellegrino, after all), I happily put on an outfit with an elastic waistband and headed to the Chelsea event venue. The tickets for this event ran at $200 face value, but it is important to note that 100 percent of the net proceeds from the weekend go to NYC-based hunger relief organizations, specifically Food Bank for New York and Share Our Strength. As of last week the festival raised close to $1 million!
As I walked in, I put my “Eat for Charity” game face on (it looks similar to my “Run for Charity” or “Drink for Charity” game face). Immediately my friend and I grew overwhelmed. There were over 44 meatballs vendors competing for glory, enthusiastically supplemented by dessert stands, wine tastings, beer tables and flavored waters. We grabbed a map to plot our eating adventure but realized the massive crowds would prevent execution of any strategy we devised so we opted for the shortest-line tables and any table that a celebrity chef was nearby so we could get our creep on.
One of our first stops was Giada’s table. Though she wasn’t eligible for winning, she put on a good show with a carefully crafted meatball that boasted mozzarella as its not-so-secret ingredient.
We also hit up the Porter House New York, a classic, respectable joint that gave us a Sicilian meatball with pine nuts and raisins on a potato roll. Though the roll was delicious, it was completely unnecessary for this treat.
We were told that the Locanda Verde was a must hit station, given that chef Andrew Carmellini won last year for his fabulous Lamb Meatball Sliders and was back to defend his honor. Holy meatball was this thing good. The detail was impeccable- an artisian cheese bun with the lamb meatball, caprino cheese and pickled cucumber. This easily won my vote for non-traditional meatball.
What about traditional meatball, say you! My favorite traditional Italian Meatball award (and my voting token) went to Motorino. This baby was a combination of veal and pork with 10-year-aged Pecorino-Romano and their front-man Tim was tactfully enthusiastic about the meatballs. Yummo!
As to be expected, our visual hunger was no match for our stomach capacity. We had to take a time out to mentally prepare for the dessert portion of the evening. Thus, we stopped by a wine table or two.
Finally, after allowing the savory portions to digest, we tackled the sweet. L’Artusi wowed us with an olive oil cake, topped with crème fraiche mousse and raisin marmalade. Then in a separate dessert category (I made two because we couldn’t choose our favorite) Led Zeppole’s Peanut Butter and Jelly gelato made my eyes bulge. This scoop of decadence is where childhood meets adulthood.
In the 30 minutes leading up to voting time, chefs began some desperate vote begging by asking, “Do you still have your token?!” as they threw a meatball in your hands. Valiant efforts abound, but alas there was only one winner: Donatella Arpaia from Mia Dona. She had a rockin’ meatball for sure, and also presented a spread of her products, including cookbooks, handouts on her new restaurant Donatella and an unexpected Donatella magazine. The competition here was pretty stiff, but I’m confident that some of the meatballs could have easily been taken down by my Nonna Pellegrino’s recipe. Though we didn’t get around to all 44 meatballs, a food coma inevitably ensued. We grabbed some Illy coffee drinks and San Pellegrino and rolled ourselves home.