On a recent day, there are 32,628 posts hashtagged thus on Instagram, found from raman in San Francisco to Bangalore curry. They’re being subjected to air fryers, pressed into keto service, desecrated with teriyaki sauce and so forth. But it is bowls of pasta that are the chicken meatball's natural habitat, which is one reason why Butera’s balls are sold at more than 250 supermarkets in the tristate area, as well as its own Italian restaurants in Sayville, Woodbury, and now Bay Shore.
“You want to hear the chicken meatball story?” asks Martin Butera. Definitely.
“It goes back about 25 years,” says the man who cofounded the eponymous eatery in 1991. “Our original menu was very chicken-oriented, so there was a lot of byproduct produced, and chicken breast does not make a good chicken stock. It gets very chalky.” And so, meatballs. People loved them, and they quickly became more than an afterthought. These days, there’s nowhere near enough byproduct to meet the demand, forcing Butera’s to truck in tons more chicken every year.
“Hold on,” says Butera, speaking from a table on the Bay Shore location’s attractive and sizable porch. It seems that a woman has just toppled a water pitcher and drenched herself. Meantime, let's talk about the new place’s design. An easy indoor-outdoor effect is achieved by large garage doors on two sides, one leading to the porch, which has a pandemic-limited capacity of 16, and the other to four deuces along Third Ave. Inside, a large bar sits surrounded by tables seating 65, half of what the Butera’s clan envisioned when they began the space’s build out last year.
If every Butera’s has a subtly different demo, Bay Shore is for millennials, that vibe evident in everything from its bowls and plates to the menu — devised by Butera’s brother Gary — which ups the burrata quotient, privileges broccolini over broccoli, makes room for seared tuna, and employs much faro. What’s that? The chicken meatballs? They’re not going anywhere.
“I’m back,” says Martin Butera. “Keeping the menu current while still being true to who you are” was top of mind when Bay Shore was in the planning stages, he says. “We’re not trying to be slick or trendy, but to do something that’s fresh.” It’s a tricky thing to update a restaurant when your entire concept is built around the simple recipes of “peasant Italians,” as Butera puts it. But that simplicity is still everywhere in evidence — in the ricotta gnocchi in pink sauce bubbling just beneath ribbons of mozzarella on the surface, in the expertly crafted tiramisu.
And in the rigatoni topped by cannellini beans topped by broccoli rabe topped by chicken meatballs. They’re composed of just 11 ingredients, all of which may well be in your kitchen right now. They are also juicy, flavorful, and satisfying beyond words.
“It’s traditional Italian. It’s not polished, we are not fine dining,” says Butera.
Butera’s is at 8 Third Ave. in Bay Shore, 631-328-4948, buteras.com. Opening hours for lunch and dinner are Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (brunch) and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.