Meatballs have found a new life in the last few years as a comfort food that could be “elevated” and in some larger cities there are full restaurants that focus exclusively on the meatball arts. Here in Rochester, Jesse Hanus recently wrote a meatball Round Up for the City Newspaper that highlighted six places that serve up some of the best balls in town which included the Skylark Lounge. They have been open since 2011 in the East End off of Union Street with a menu that is completely focused on the meatball with only a few sides that diverge from the core.
Before I dive into the details about the food, I’d like to comment on the atmosphere of Skylark. My previous visit was during the Best Busker event last summer and it was so packed that the wait to sit down for food was too long to handle. Definitely overloaded from the influx of people and it seemed like a tough place to get good service, but our recent trip completely turned around any misconceptions I might have had. We sat at the bar and were treated really well by the bartender and ended up having some good conversation with a couple of the other people there. I don’t end up frequenting bar-centric places often, but I can totally see this as a neighborhood hangout spot due to the pleasant music selection, the stage for live performers and the cheap prices.
On to the balls! I visited the bar for dinner (before the City Paper article came out coincidentally) and sampled the entire menu that evening in the form of sliders and even got a side of the potato balls for the sake of completeness. The bread used for all the sliders was a perfect cross between a ciabatta and a traditional slider roll and they were heavily toasted adding a strong textural crunch to the affair.
Overall, the balls were successful across a wide spectrum of flavor profiles. The traditional stayed right with the Italian style with a beef forward flavor including some fresh herbs and we chose to pair it with the tangy, chunky marinara sauce and some mozzarella cheese. It hit a lot of the classic meatball sandwich notes with the acidity from the sauce, the well melted cheese and the tenderness of the ball itself. The Asian special struck me a perfect replication of the inside of a steamed pork dumpling flavored with the sweet, tangy dipping sauce that typically accompanies them. There was enough scallion to cut through the sweet and salt and with the bread successfully substituting for the dumpling wrapper, it was my favorite of the night.
The BBQ pork ball was the biggest surprise because it wasn’t just a sweet BBQ sauce and the sandwich struck a balance between the sweet and tangy parts of the sauce and the crunchy, creamy cole slaw. I typically dislike cole slaw due to the influx of mayo involved (I hate mayo in general) but it worked in this context. The black bean topped with a lightly spicy remoulade was the better of the two vegetarian options even though it was more of a patty than a ball. The patty itself had good seasoning and the remoulade was potently acidic in a way that made the sandwich pop. The eggplant ball was a fried affair that wasn’t bad by any means but the dominant elements was the spinach instead of the eggplant itself. The red pepper sauce was creamy and had some chunks in it as well to accent the milder base.
The only real failure for me was the chicken ball that we paired with the pesto sauce. The hot sauce inside of the ball pushed around the white meat base that didn’t offer much taste on it’s own. By itself I wasn’t a fan. The overly creamy pesto sauce was also a bit of a disappointment since we could barely taste the basil or garlic and it didn’t offer any of the boldness from the other sauces that we tried. Not the best pairing either, but that is completely our fault and I can’t blame them for our bad ideas!
The side of deep fried potato balls were the equivalent of a large potato croquette with a crunchy breading and a filling of creamy, well flavored mashed potatoes. The smooth mashed potatoes complete with skins, fresh herbs would have been well worth eating on their own and the accompanying parmesan sauce was lightly cheesy and just damn tasty. Highly recommended especially if you have a larger group to split them up since they are a bit on the heavy side.
Value wise, each of the sliders were $2 each (cheese was a 50¢ adder on the traditional) and between the six sandwiches and the potato balls we were plenty full with a total bill with tip around $20. This is some of the best straight up bar food I’ve found in Rochester and at a very reasonable price to boot. I’d put it right up there with the food at Acme when it comes to places that are bars first and I’m looking forward to visiting for some more balls soon!
P.S. I think that was enough “balls” references, eh?