That Meetball Place
206 Main St., Farmingdale
SERVICE: Slow at times
AMBIENCE: Spacious, two-story restaurant wrapped in rustic, reclaimed wood and brick; jovial vibe
ESSENTIALS: Open for lunch and dinner, Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; street parking, full bar, major credit cards accepted, reservations, takeout
Opened in mid-August, the Farmingdale version of That Meetball Place, the Italian-influenced gastropub founded around a menu of creative meatballs, feels just like its namesake spot in Patchogue. The new restaurant has the same overhead garage doors that open to an increasingly walkable Main Street, similar rustic reclaimed wood siding walls, plenty of warm brick and rusty metal ceilings, shared tables and the identical menu.
Corporate Chef John Hesse’s comfort food plays a supporting role to the communal vibe at TMP. There are some smart starter picks. The bruschetta board centers around a flavorful, garden-ripe tomato, resting on a bed of arugula, alongside slabs of crusty ciabatta and a small jar of tangy artichoke spread. It’s simple but has a more pleasing flavor than the more elaborate nachos, which come topped with beef chili balls. The two overly salty chili spheres on a half order clump together, making it hard to spread the wealth over the chips. Another appetizer, billed as Tater Tots, are really croquettes of creamy potatoes, cheddar and bacon, made better with the accompanying horseradish sauce. The best parts of the hummus platter are the three sauces — grassy pesto, sweet red pepper puree, and briny olive tapenade — that come with the bland chickpea dip. An order of wings includes five drumettes with a nice charred flavor, sabotaged by flabby skin. Those at my table quickly used their bread to mop up the wings’ accompanying chunky red sauce of chorizo, jalapeños and onions.
To win your meatball selection, stick with conservative combinations, like the classic meatball. This baked mixture of beef, pork and veal is the restaurant’s most popular, and has a pleasing flavor with a creamy consistency that borders on the over-processed. The lobster risotto ball, with saffron-infused, velvety rice, has a clean lobster flavor best appreciated sauceless. The vegetable ball has a deep, earthy flavor from red Bhutanese rice and lentils and just enough structure to hold together. A couple of balls that didn’t make the cut: the eggplant, so soft that it nearly collapses on itself once you cut into it, and the Buffalo chicken ball, made with Tabasco that doesn’t have the flavor of classic Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
For heat, try the Ball Buster sandwich. It starts with a crusty and yeasty baguette, filled with three fiery chorizo rounds, balanced by silky caramelized onion and tomato jam. While the kitchen was out of polenta during one of my visits, the just bitter enough broccoli rabe was a fine substitute with a clean olive oil and garlic flavor that wasn’t cooked to mush.
When it comes to pasta, stick with the Brooklyn Sunday dinner. This massive bowl of spaghetti is covered by a thick red sauce flavored with sausage, pork ribs and traditional meatballs. The pasta was a tad undercooked and could have benefited with time in the same skillet as the sauce, but the sauce itself is a true classic. (Make sure to ask for more bread.) The ravioli skillet is a filling and standard presentation with a meatball, sauce, ricotta and melted mozzarella. Grittiness stopped my dinner guests from cleaning the side of macaroni and cheese, which otherwise had an intense cheddar flavor.
If after all that cheese and meat, there is room for dessert, opt for the PBNJ sandwich, with peanut butter, jelly and Nutella between sliced bread dipped in waffle batter and then pan fried. It’s everything it should be: crispy, melty, with a timeless chocolate and peanut flavor.
The vibe inside TMP is festive, especially on the nights when live music is playing, and your evening will be even better if you pick familiar dishes and meatball combinations.