Photos by Danielle Carson.
Long Beach’s push for Meatless Monday has officially been beaten out of its stake on just one Monday a month, by a torrent of saucy, savory meatballs.
Michael’s on Naples now offers Meatball Mondays, a dressed-down version of their otherwise elegant Italian venue, to beef up visitors once a month on their slowest day of the week.
March 9 is celebrated in meatball-focused restaurants as National Meatball day, which coincidentally fell on the same month that Michael’s bar manager Kevin Chisam set to make something of the inspiration he gained from visiting one of New York's famous Meatball Shops: rustic venues that bump underground hip-hop and dish up sweet or savory balls in many forms.
After presenting the idea to management about five months ago, Michael's premiered the event that showcases two of the things they believe they do best: meatballs and cocktails.
On the last Monday of August, the rooftop of Michael's on Naples was already packed with people dressed from casual to business attire. Musicians played soft jazz on stand-up bass and guitar, and waiters hastily brought baskets of slightly burned baguette with oil and vinegar as the bar began cranking out cocktails.
This month’s featured drink is an Italian aperitif called the Negroni. If you had never had a Negroni before, it's because Chisam believes that nowhere else does it right.
The reddish-colored drinks were delivered garnished with orange peel and chilled around one huge ice cube, which dilutes the drink to a taste that graciously allows sipping.
"We under-dilute our Negronis on purpose, so the first sip is boozy," Chisam said, commenting on their special blend of sweet vermouth, gin and campari. The menu showcased two other drinks of slight variation, one of which was a smokier bourbon blend that kicked from within a dainty goblet.
What some may call “cough-syrupy” is hailed by others as the manliest of the cocktails, a strong drink that didn’t necessarily complement the savory entrees, but that wasn't the point: The point was to show off the fact that Michael's can fix a pretty mean cocktail. Last month, it was the Manhattan with 100 percent chance of meatballs.
That’s all there is to it- this monthly meal of alcohol and meat. It’s interesting to think that a chunk of meat would have ever been accepted as meal in itself. At Michael’s, however, where the hunky masses can, for an extra price, be served with house-made, al dente-prepared thick spaghetti noodles or topped with a crispy-edged fried egg, this dish of hearty meat and sauce is a meal enough.
Meatballs are served by the threes—because all good things happen in threes, right? The savory blend of beef, veal and pork that is the monthly featured traditional meatball is peppered lightly and twice-soaked in white wine tomato sauce—nothing more, nothing less. For a taste of the fatty side, August featured pork meatballs in a succulent, sweet eggplant sauce that, topped with a salty egg, are a gourmet cross between breakfast and juicy ribs.
Chisam said they can’t promise the pork balls for next month, however, because every month’s mini menu is a surprise.
“It’s pretty hard to mess up,” Chisam said of the balls of meat, made of the excess parts that are usually tossed aside when the prime cuts are butchered. Chisam said Michael’s works with Working Class Kitchen in the heart of Long Beach, where the cows are grass-fed and slaughtered right there at the shop. “We cut out the middle man.”
For those set on honoring meatless Monday, another monthly fixture is a modest arugula salad and Arancinis, Italian fried balls of bread crumbs, rice, mozzarella and cheese sauce that, like the meatballs, are more delicate and melt-in-your mouth than expected.
Chisam said it was never Michael’s intention to bring a meat-centric event to the holiest of meatless days, and the venue might even explore truly meatless balls for the future.
Photo courtesy of Michaels' Matt Kovaks.