Battle of the Dishes: Meatball Heros

Left: Crosby Connection's meatball hero; Right: Gus and Gabriel's version

A good meatball hero is hard to find. For this week's Battle of the Dishes, two very different takes on the Italian-American classic go head-to-head. Frankly, the platonic ideal of a meatball hero still eludes Fork in the Road. Nevertheless, these are two very serious contenders for the heroic crown.

A good meatball hero features juicy, well-seasoned meat; bread that holds up, but doesn't get in the way; and a slick of excellent, homemade tomato sauce--but not too much, or the hero gets soggy. Cheese is optional, but desirable.

In this corner: Crosby Connection This hero is well-regarded for good reason, but on first glace, the pale orbs of meat look a bit sickly. Why no browning? But the bread is ideal: Springy and chewy, unassuming. Inside, find a smear of ricotta and just enough tomato sauce--fresh and sweet, with hunks of stewed garlic. The meatballs themselves are juicy, tender, and well seasoned, about the size of a golf ball. (They'd be better if they had that depth of flavor which browning lends.) Finally, the sandwich is augmented with slices of mozzarella and a sprinkle of basil.

In the corner: Gus and Gabriel Gastropub This is Michael Psilakis's take on a meatball hero--a massive torpedo of meat and cheese. Oddly, the highly seasoned ground beef inside the hero isn't actually formed into meatballs, but is loose like a sloppy joe, and mixed with red peppers and onions. It's topped with a thick drape of mozzarella and basil. The bread is too crusty, but any other bread would probably disintegrate under the weight of this sucker. There's no doubt that it's delicious, but it also seems unreasonable--impossible to pick up and eat. And why take the "ball" out of "meatball?"

It's been a rough, messy match, but Crosby Connection's hero has pinned Gus and Gabriel's rendition to the mat, leaving only a gigantic pile of ground beef and cheese. Long live the Crosby Connection.

Any nominations for the best meatball hero in the city?

Crosby Connection 45 Bleecker Street (inside the 45 Bleecker Street Theater) 212-677-8444

Gus and Gabriel Gastropub 222 West 79th Street 212-362-7470

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