A large red neon sign against the white painted walls announces both the name of the restaurant and what’s inside: Lotsa Balls. You’re either going to smile or roll your eyes. It’s maximum Jersey in its naming, but don’t for a minute think this makes the spherical approach to its menu items any less serious.
Inside the newly renovated, bi-level restaurant (with ample outdoor seating) on the corner on New and Pearl Streets in downtown Metuchen, there’s a heavy retro sports theme coupled with some modern design elements like subway tiled walls, and a little bit of grandma’s kitchen mixed in for good measure.
At first it might seem like a big space for what’s usually a humble dish, but that’s an advantage here. Meatballs (or crab, or veggie, or mac and cheese balls) are usually made for a crowd, and here they can be served individually or family style. The variety available makes it ideal for sharing with others at the table (especially when ordering appetizer portions, known as first base, which come with six 2-ounce balls). Dinner portions are heftier, featuring three 4-ounce meatballs.
The signature dish are the Sicilian balls, made with beef, pignoli nuts, and raisins, topped with big flakes of Parmesan and dollops of ricotta. Each savory bite offers a little chewy sweetness and gentle earthiness and the garlic bread that accompanies the dish is airy enough to soak up the marinara. Home runs are the buffalo chicken balls, which have all the flavor and zing you’d expect without the bones. The veggie risotto balls are a well-blended mix of garden favorites wrapped in panko breadcrumbs. With each and every one style of ball, the main ingredient is the one advertised. Crab cake balls are mostly crab and little filler. Same with the steak balls that come topped with provolone. Sausage and broccoli rabe balls, served with a spicy fra diavolo sauce, offers enough of both to keep the palate happy. And of course, for the traditionalists, there are meatballs made with a blend of veal, pork and beef—the way it should be.
While the balls get most of the attention, the real all stars are the sauces. Each order is accompanied with a generous helping of sauce either as a side or smothered on top. These liquid creations add depth and substance to every dish. The marinara, which comes with a variety of balls, from the traditional to the veggie and the mac and cheese, is appropriately chunky, with bites of tomato mixed in for extra oomph. The tomato scampi sauce that comes with the Spiedini balls (white bread and mozzarella egg-battered and fried) is addictive. A sticky balsamic reduction that comes with the balsamic chicken balls will have you salivating.
Combos come with a variety of pasta options, the salads are a generously sized and leafy oasis from protein-heavy mains, and the quinoa and cucumber salad is especially delicious. Of course, there are also sandwiches and sliders, with most of the balls listed above getting some between-the-bread treatment, including a meatball parm and a cheesesteak melt.
With a creative mocktail menu (it’s BYO or New Jersey wine by the glass) to add even more flavor to the experience, it’ll be clear after the first visit that this isn’t a gimmick or a fad, but a well thought out communal dining experience that shows there’s more to meatballs than the traditional options. Lotsa balls. No strikes.
Lotsa Balls, 25 New Street, Metuchen; 732-662-5999. Open daily. BYO