Man Food: Attack of the Killer 1lb Meatball at Happy's Bar + Kitchen
Chef Michael Schlow’s latest venture is Fenway’s Happy’s Bar + Kitchen, a casual cafeteria- meets post-Sox game hangout-meets hipster haven. It’s got an odd combination of graffiti walls and polished tin ceiling tiles. The menu reads a bit silly, with phrases such as “ridiculously delicious,” “the greatest,” and “super creamy” sprinkled throughout the breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings. It’s all tongue-and-cheek I’m sure, even if it is a series of over-promises. The hostesses (all four of them) stared blankly as I walked in, a cold gesture that felt ironic in a place called Happy’s. I got the same treatment on my way out, despite great service from my server during dinner.
Playing off the cafeteria/diner theme, every night of the week features a different blue plate special, and Tuesday’s just so happens to be “The Attack of the Killer 1lb Meatball” night. (If anyone has seen the campy 80’s flick Attack of the Killer Tomatoes you’ll get the reference) The meatball is as gaudy as you might expect, and for $17 it’ll fill you up right. The tightly packed meatball is about the size of a small child. It’s perfectly round, topped with a bright red tomato sauce and a dusting of Parmesan cheese, and shares the platter with a pile of herbed fettuccine (labeled spaghetti on the menu) and big hunk of garlic bread.
It’s not necessarily gourmet, so much as it is classically prepared just like the way mom used to make. The noodles are homemade and more precise than your run-of-the-mill cafeteria pasta, but that’s the Schlow touch for you. The garlic bread, heavily charred to the point of burnt, yields two chewy and salty pieces of thick bread missing the presence of actual garlic. The meatball is cooked consistently throughout, no easy feat for a meatball of any size, but even more impressive with one of this stature. It’s tender and hearty, with some bite from a healthy dose of black pepper, but it’s otherwise one-note—small traces of pork can be detected, but beef is the predominant flavor.
The tomato sauce tastes a little tinny and slightly acidic; the flavors of the canned tomatoes are undeveloped and thus a bit harsh on the palette. The sauce, though, is merely an afterthought, as the spotlight is on the meatball. Of course, there’s only so much meat one can eat in a single sitting, even for me, and I grew increasingly bored as I ate. Maybe, though, that’s the simplicity they are after, and I suppose the interest lies in the size on the plate, not the flavors themselves. At the end of the day, it’s a large meatball as advertised and quite literally a centerpiece of conversation for everyone who orders it. But, unfortunately, it lacked the punch I had anticipated.
Happy’s Bar + Kitchen, 1363 Boylston Street, 857-753-4100, happysbarandkitchen.com