Taste of the LES: The Meatball Shop

Meatball Shop owners Michael Chernow & Daniel Holzman shortly after setting up shop last spring.

Meatball Shop owners Michael Chernow & Daniel Holzman.

Our series profiling the participants in next week’s Taste of the Lower East Side continues this morning with the neighborhood’s hottest restaurant of the moment — the Meatball Shop. Childhood pals Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow are living a dream. Since the day they opened three months ago on Stanton Street, the place was a hit.  Yet in spite of the huge crowds and great reviews, these guys are keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground.

When I stopped by on a recent Friday afternoon, Daniel was sitting at the bar, pounding away on his laptop. During a rare lull in the madness, we sat down at a table to talk about the Meatball Shop’s early success, and what’s in store for the future.

Daniel and Michael are restaurant vets with serious credentials. Daniel started cooking at 15 at Le Bernardin and was co-owner and executive chef at SPQR, the highly regarded San Francisco restaurant. Michael got his start at the nightclub Life (Bleecker Street), opened Punch & Judy and has managed the bar at Frank for the past 7 years. They’ve been around long enough to know their business is a fickle one. This is why they’re trying hard to ignore the hype — and stay focused on delivering quality food and good service day after day.

There’s a lot to be said for doing one thing and doing it very well. Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice recently raved, “The world has never known a more perfect meatball hero.”  Not surprisingly, Daniel says the offers are beginning to pour in from would-be investors salivating at the idea of taking the Meatball Shop global. His response — give me a break! Those might not have been Daniel’s exact words. But it’s pretty clear he and Michael are not getting swept up in the hysteria. “I was just on the floor in the kitchen fixing the refrigerator,” he said. “We put this floor in ourselves,” he added.

There was never any question the Meatball Shop was going to be on the Lower East Side. People are descending on the restaurant from all over the city (and beyond). Daniel says their clientele has been amazingly diverse. The idea seems to appeal to just about everyone.  There’s not much doubt, however, that the Meatball Shop has become a mecca for the throngs exiting the neighborhood’s bars and clubs at 2am on Saturday night.

While there are no immediate plans for expansion, there is one addition Michael and Daniel are envisioning. Tonight, they’ll appear before Community Board 3, seeking support for a sidewalk cafe license.  They had always intended to add outdoor seating, but decided to put their application on the back burner until the new-restaurant kinks were worked out. They’ll also have a presence at the Hester Street Fair. Having conquered one retro concept, they’re experimenting with another: snow cones!

Daniel and Michael are excited to be taking part in the 10th Annual Taste of the LES, a benefit for the Grand street Settlement. For more information about the event, or to purchase tickets, check out Grand Street Settlement’s web site.