A Deliciously Unconventional Approach To An Italian Standard

Nestled on Stanton Street, this Lower East Side dining local is upgrading the notion of customizable cuisine with a selection of meatballs and sauces that are anything but traditional. On laminated menus, choose from five different types of meatballs, six sauces, and check off how you'd like them prepared with dry erase markers — atop greenmarket veggies and salad, on focaccia bread, as sliders, in a hero, or smashed on a toasted brioche bun with cheese. While the venue is small — with limited indoor and outdoor seating, and a no-reservations policy, the crammed communal table is where the fun is at, as seatmates chat and comment on their neighbor's orders.

The Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink salad is a refreshing take on the usually heavy Italian treat; the classic beef with tomato sauce's flavor was enhanced amongst the arugula, chickpeas, sautéed spinach, and steamed broccoli vegetable mix. But if you're looking for convention with a twist, the spicy pork hero with mozzarella had just the right amount of bite. Save room for dessert, where the customization continues with a pick and mix ice cream sandwich. Mismatch the bottom and top cookie, and fill it with refreshingly light ice cream — the mint is especially fresh, a welcome surprise from the unnaturally green coloring you'd find in the standard ice cream shop's tub.

The Meatball Shop's boisterous environment rounds out the dining experience, with good music and lively chatter, a feature that cancels out the sometimes-frenetic service. Go early to avoid the wait, or hang out and grab a drink by the bar while you wait for your table.