Singularly focused New York chain the Meatball Shop plans to open its first restaurant outside the five boroughs this summer along D.C.’s thriving 14th Street corridor.
The nearly decade-old neighborhood restaurant, which debuted its build-your-own-meatball-based meals in 2010 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and has since sprinkled five additional outposts across the city, is taking over the space formerly occupied by recently relocated Cork (1720 14th Street NW).
Meatball Shop CEO Adam Rosenbaum tells Eater the burgeoning restaurant group is excited about introducing its brand of “choose-your-own-adventure”-style dining — his recommendation for a can’t-miss-meal: spicy pork meatballs with spicy meat sauce served over polenta — to the District this June, but remains mindful of not going overboard.
“For us it’s important not to be this New York institution that comes in and says, ‘We’re gonna show you how to make meatballs the right way,’” Rosenbaum notes.
D.C. has had some experience with the saucy spheres; fast-casual Penn Quarter restaurant Meatballs flamed out after just a few short months back in 2012.
While the core menu at D.C.’s inaugural Meatball Shop is expected to mimic its siblings — Meatball Shop offers the same food at lunch and dinner, but did roll out additional brunch selections in late 2017 — Rosenbaum says the team is working on incorporating locally produced beer, wine, and spirits into its bar here. He adds that regional specialties such as blue crab could join the dining rotation. “There will be something,” Rosenbaum says. The culinary team is already working on a new black bean-based meatball option as well; the vegetarian meatball currently offered is made with lentils.
Rosenbaum says he looked all around the District for Meatball Shop’s new home. He ultimately chose trendy 14th Street NW both because of its vibrant nightlife and the limited lunch options. He said Meatball Shop plans to fill that void by providing sit-down lunch service — along with happy hour, dinner, late-night dining, and weekend brunch — that can be as quick or as leisurely as a visiting diner wants it to be. “We feel like there’s a need for something like that in that area” he says.
Rosenbaum’s hunt led him to potential spots in Georgetown, Penn Quarter, Adams Morgan, and the evolving area surrounding Union Market — landing pads he’s keeping in his mental Rolodex.
“Obviously the D.C. market could support more than one Meatball Shop,” he says, leaving the door open to future growth opportunities. “But for us, it’s not footprint and expansion. That’s not our model.”
The D.C. Meatball Shop is projected to operate seven days a week.