“The meal is over when you hate yourself, “says comedian Louis C.K. Fortunately the Macari wine dinner at That Meetball Place, in the heart of downtown Patchogue, did not leave me hating myself. The dinner, prepared by Chef John Hesse, started off as all good meals involving meatballs should. When Gibson Campbell, the tasting room manager at Macari Vineyards, who I knew from my days of working at neighboring vineyards, saw I was attending the event alone, he arranged his table so that I could sit with his group. This was not the sort of meal one should enjoy alone, and I instantly sensed the welcoming feeling one would get approaching any Italian nonna’s table. “Sit! Mangia!”
Coming from a half Italian family, I must admit I was a little jaded. That Meetball Place. Oh really. These aren’t going to be MY mother’s meatballs. But it all started perfectly with the atmosphere. The back room where the event was held was made up of red brick walls, exposed beams, and diffused lighting; comfortable, not formal. Throughout the dinner, in-between Gibson’s introductions of the wine and courses, conversations flowed among the tables, to the point where the food, wine, and discussion all blended into a beautiful tapestry: that’s a real Italian meal.
The first wine poured was Macari’s 2014 Early Wine, a steel-fermented chardonnay harvested early and bottled soon after fermentation, a perfect start to the meal because it smelled like the promise of spring. We could certainly all use that after the bear of a winter we’d just trudged through. I kept swirling and smelling before I finally sipped it because it kept singing “Spring!” in my nose, and I couldn’t get enough. Now, I’d tasted earlier vintages of this wine many times before, but lemme tell ya: it had never tasted so good. Perhaps it was the vintage, but I think the fact that I was itching to ditch my winter parka had a lot to do with it as well. Quickly after came its pairing: Spicy Shrimp Pot stickers with an Asian Vegetable Slaw. Not meatballs? Hey, whatever, it sounded good, tasted even better, and turned out to be both comforting and refreshing.
Next up was the 2010 Cabernet Franc, the grape that’s turning into the darling of Long Island (or turned, depending on who you ask). The earthiness of it went hand-in-hand with its accompanying course, the Black Bean Soup with Mini Pork Meatballs. Now THAT was an interesting direction to take a meatball. As I dipped my spoon into it and sampled the interesting but perfectly balanced concoction, all I could think of was, “Mama Mia, that’s-a spicy meatball!” Old commercial references die hard. I was enjoying the restaurant’s sense of adventure with their menu: taking an Italian staple and having fun with it. I managed to restrain myself from slurping the remaining liquid from the bowl because I suppose that’s rather indelicate outside your family’s home.
The final savory dish was Brooklyn Sunday Dinner Classic Meatball, Sausage, & Rib slowly simmered in a Tomato Sauce over Fresh Spaghetti. Now, this is a dish my family has made many times, and I liked it to a point where I felt that my enjoyment was a sign of disloyalty. The Sette was paired with this course, and it absolutely shined. I’ve enjoyed it in their tasting room many times, but this meal really drove home the point about what a difference it makes to enjoy wine WITH food.
Finally came the dessert, in the form of the 2010 Block E Dessert Wine paired with a Butterscotch Cookie Sandwich with salted caramel Gelato. I’m not much of a dessert person, but the entire thing, from the wine to the gelato, was like sticky sweet perfection. Everything was plated beautifully, too (thanks to my dinner companions who accommodated my constant picture taking. I was really on a mission to get “the perfect shot” of everything throughout the meal).
Too often I find restaurants underserve or overserve when it comes to food or wine. I left pleasantly full, and not feeling “overpoured”. The company, food, wine, timing of the service, portions – everything hit just the right notes. I believe a good meal is 50 percent mood, 50 percent food, and the mood for this sort of dinner was exactly as it should have been. It went beyond being an enjoyable meal and became an enjoyable experience.