I’VE been wrestling with the concept of this column for over a year. But as publisher of BostonMan Magazine -and all that comes with it- do I really need to delegate another writing assignment to myself?
For something dedicated to “Meatballs & Martinis,” the answer, for anyone that even remotely knows me, is an emphatic “YES!”
So what makes me qualified for such an exposition? On any given night you can find me posted up in the North End, Seaport, or elsewhere around the city indulging my cocktail of choice; almost exclusively a martini. And for as long as I can remember, meatballs have been on my “Mount Rushmore” of favorite foods.
As fate would have it, this passion (and experience) led to my being one of the three judges in 2019 for the “Best Meatball in Boston” competition at the annual Fisherman’s Feast in the North End, a contest I now have the honor of emceeing and hosting.
For better or worse, meatballs and martinis truly are part of who I am.
IRONICALLY, this inaugural column is not about a martini or meatball currently being offered in Boston, although the Bean plays a vital part in the latter’s success. Let me explain. The measuring stick for me -and where I have on many nights inspired myself developing this concept- has been at my friend Steve Martorano’s restaurant, “Martorano’s,” in Atlantic City.
Steve, a South Philly native, opened his original “Café Martorano” in Fort Lauderdale in 1990 (he currently also stakes a third location in Pittsburgh.)
With this in mind, along with paying homage to our sister brands PhillyMan and MiamiMan Magazine(s), “Martorano’s,” to me, is the perfect debut for “Meatballs & Martini’s.”
I’m not alone in considering Steve’s meatball among the best. “Gourmet Magazine” has regularly recognized “Martorano’s” as having “the best meatball in the world” and he has been featured on numerous television segments including “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the “Today” show, “The View,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” and the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” receiving similar accolades along the way at each stop.
Despite all of this, Steve refuses to be acknowledged as a world-class chef, preferring instead the more blue collar title of “the neighborhood cook.”
Whatever you choose to call him, there is no denying Steve’s meatball is a masterpiece. It includes a triad of veal, beef and pork, with a new batch hand rolled and pan fried every afternoon. Smothered in his mother’s original recipe Sunday gravy it comes with homemade ricotta -and a salad, if you order it the way I do, filled with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and an Italian long hot to boot.
The secret, Steve will tell you, is in the gravy, which includes San Marzano tomatoes, beef and pork braciole, pigs’ feet and most importantly, what he believes to be the world’s best sausage -and here comes that Boston connection- flown in weekly from Bianco & Sons in Medford.
My martini pairing of choice at “Martorano’s” in undoubtedly the Lemon Water Ice Martini. Philly Water Ice (not the same thing, but a close cousin to Italian Ice) is derived from granita brought to Philadelphia by Italian immigrants, and is a staple in both the Philly and South Jersey regions. Mixing it with a martini, in my opinion, is how it is best served.
AS famous as “Martorano’s” is for their mouthwatering delicacies, this only begins to tap into the overall dining and entertainment experience Steve has created.
Whether cooking in Fort Lauderdale or AC, Steve welcomes his guests, friends, and diners alike with his iconic “YO CUZ!” greeting when they come to say hello.
A talented DJ who once upon a time was a pioneer in the underground mixtape circuit, Steve himself many nights will blend a harmonic vibe of classic disco, Motown, big band, and hip hop records at the restaurant. That “feel good music with soul” as he describes it.
For BostonMan, there is nothing better than heading over to “Martorano’s” around 8pm on a Saturday night, freshly cleaned up and dressed for the evening following an afternoon at Bungalow Beach Bar (see ad below.) My group and I typically pull up to some open bar seats near the disco themed dance floor salivating as we order our Meatball Salads and Lemon Water Ice Martinis.
“The Godfather,” “A Bronx Tale,” and “Scarface” play on the numerous tv sets in the background as that evening’s DJ is preparing his set. Around half past eight, he’ll look over to us, smile and nod. Then the lights dim, a video montage begins, and Dion’s “Runaround Sue” starts oozing through the sound system, lighting up the restaurant and all of its patrons.
Everyone is happy. Everyone is having a blast. It’s the perfect marriage of food, beverages, music and perhaps the biggest testament of all to Steve… PEOPLE.
Steve Martorano has undoubtedly created something special in South Jersey and South Florida. And that’s not too shabby for a “neighborhood cook.”
Matt Ribaudo has loved meatballs all of his life. And at this point, he has loved martinis for almost half of his life. If you would like to have your restaurant featured in “Meatballs & Martinis” please reach out to Matt at: email@example.com.