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Pro ballers: Top Brooklyn meatball-makers on their secret ingredients

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Do you have the balls for this challenge?

The Takedown — a Brooklyn-based event series that now puts on cooking competitions around the country — is once again hosting its annual “Brooklyn Meatball Takedown.” On Feb. 9, amateur cooks from around the borough will prepare mounds of meatballs for hungry judges. Participating costs nothing, but those who simply want to tuck into the spoils can do so for $15.

So what does it take to produce a mouthwatering meatball? We spoke to some local chefs known for their delicious balls about how to roll a winner.

Caputo’s Fine Foods

This Italian deli in Carroll Gardens knows meatballs — it turns out about 200 of them every single day.

Owner Frank Caputo said his recipe for success is a family tradition, brought to Brooklyn from the motherland and made the same way since the store opened in 1973.

“It’s my mom’s recipe,” said Caputo. “She was born in Italy and passed away years ago.”

In Caputo’s opinion, the ratio of meat to spices is the key to a great meatball — you cannot let the filling overwhelm the dish’s namesake ingredient.

“A lot of places I know use a lot of breading,” he said. “They use twice as much breadcrumbs as meat!”

Caputo’s Fine Foods [460 Court St, between Third and Fourth places in Carroll Gardens, (718) 855–8852, www.facebook.com/caputosfinefoods].

La Palina

Chef Oscar of Bensonhurst’s La Palina believes that the secret to a good meatball isn’t in the ball at all — but rather in the sauce.

“Specifical­ly, tomato sauce,” said Oscar, who declined to give his last name. “We mainly sell meatballs on Sunday served with spaghetti and Sunday sauce, which also contains ribs and sausage.”

Oscar, who has been cooking at La Palina for 35 years, revealed that the 84-year-old Italian restaurant’s recipe for meatballs is not standardized. Instead, it has evolved as chefs have come and gone.

“The recipe is from a combination of chefs who have worked here,” he said. “I don’t even know if the meatball recipe is printed. Everything’s memorized.”

La Palina [159 Ave. O between W. Fourth and W. Fifth Streets in Bensonhurst, (718) 236–9764 , www.lapalinarestaurant.com].

BKLYN Larder

At this high-end Park Slope deli, the ingredients of a great ball is a very meaty topic.

Chef Kristin Koziara said she uses a mix of both beef and pork for the store’s meatballs, which come pressed between crisp panini slices and smothered with provolone.

“Using more than one meat makes for a more delicious and more complex meatball, as opposed to using just beef or just pork,” said Koziara.

The five-year-old deli takes great pride in working closely with local meat purveyors to source its meat, using heritage pork, and beef from farms in Lancaster county, Penn.

“Our meat is never frozen,” she said. “It’s ground and cut to order.”

BKLYN Larder [228 Flatbush Ave. between St. Mark’s Place and Bergen Street, (718) 783–1250, www.bklynlarder.com].

“2014 Brooklyn Meatball Takedown” at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus,(718) 643-6510, www.thetakedowns.com] Feb. 9 at 2 pm. $15.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Nello Lorenzo from Bensonhurst says:
From the neighborhood where on Sunday the smell of gravy and meatballs was the norm. We go down to Cotto Bene on Carroll and Third. Not only are the meatballs the best in Brooklyn, but I would put there food up against any fine dining Italian restaurant in the city.
And I'm not alone in my thinking. We know food.
Feb. 7, 2014, 9:54 am
Bruce from Midwood says:
Red Rose on Smith street makes a very nice meatball too
Feb. 7, 2014, 11:36 am
jack from long island says:
Great afternoon at the Bell House. Love those
"Great Balls of Fire" . Spent this morning on the hopper but it was worth it.
Feb. 10, 2014, 10:42 am
brooklyn schmooklyn from food town says:
This article fails to mention that chef Kristin Koziara is also super hot!
Dec. 5, 2015, 12:37 pm

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