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Introducing: Hey Meatball!, Rodney Bowers’s new Little Italy mix ’n’ match meatball joint

Kyle Brown and Rodney Bowers outside Hey Meatball!’s College Street storefront (Image: Caroline Aksich)

On a wall in Rodney Bowers’s new College Street venture Hey Meatball!, there’s a photo of a bandana-clad Bowers holding up a sign that reads “You’ll love the taste of our balls.” Bowers’s name is usually associated with more elevated dining—he worked at Mistura, opened The Citizen and The Rosebud and consulted for The Gabardine—but after getting married and having a daughter, he wanted a break from the high-stress world of $45 entrées.

The inspiration comes from a kofta (Turkish meatball) shop Bowers and his wife Natalie saw in Istanbul. The premise was simple: customers picked their meatball (beef, lamb or chicken) and paired it with a side dish like salad or roast potatoes. “I was just so in love, I knew I wanted to open a kofta shop,” Bowers tells us. In the end, he’s opted for a more multicultural approach to the meatball. Expect to see daily specials like butter chicken meatballs, chicken wing meatballs in a blue cheese sauce or, come Christmas, a Newfie-inspired salt cod invention. There are also more than enough Italian-inspired dishes on the menu for this new kid to fit in on the Little Italy block. The Rodfather, for example, is three pork-and-beef meatballs with a spicy veal bolognese sauce, garnished with fresh basil, grana padano and, according to kitchen manager Kyle Brown, “attitude.”

Bowers is trying to source all his ingredients from a 100-mile radius, but because of the shop’s late opening they only managed to catch the tail end of pepper season. Still, the Hey Meatball team did manage to can 1,200 litres of roma tomatoes this year. The meat is mostly from Rowe Farms. The mix ’n’ match menu allows customers to choose a protein (veal, beef, turkey, chicken, pork or vegetarian balls), a sauce (pesto, tomato, bolognese or alfredo) and a side (risotto, polenta, pasta, seasonal veggies or salad), all for about $11 (the prices are still in flux). There are also extra sides like a roast beet salad with feta and balsamic for $5 and epic meatball subs offered in three sizes: the hero with four balls ($9–$10), the crusher with two balls ($5–$6) and a single-ball slider ($3–$4). Two more items you don’t normally expect to see served with your meatball sub: organic soft serve ice cream ($3) from a giant mid-century machine and homemade sodas prepared with Q water and fresh produce like Ontario field strawberries ($3).

Hey Meatball!, 719 College St., 416-546-1483, heymeatball.ca

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This is not a review.
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  • Culinerd

    Sounds Dope show, Gonna check this out.

  • childofthestorm

    I’d say the inspiration is more from NY’s uber-successful The Meatball Shop, which is the EXACT SAME BUSINESS, but the Istanbul story is nice. Looking forward to checking this spot out.

  • Bebe Lizardo

    Chef Rodney rocks, and whatever he touches tastes good.
    Tender, tasty, and timely. Balls to the wall!

  • carlos

    So different from NY’s meatball shop. Have you even been to both? Hey Meatball off the wall taste. Farm fresh, not Jersey sourced dry balls mixed with postal service anthems.

  • Portia

    Rodney Bowers is a culinary genius. I can’t wait to try his balls.

  • not a ginger lover

    RODNEYS FOOD IS AT BEST MEDIOCRE,,,,, BORING DISHES COPIED FROM FOOD MAGAZINE…..A LAZY DIRTY COOK WHO BACKSTABS HIS WAY AROUND THE INDUSTRY,…..KEEP IT UP FATSO.

  • michele

    Hey Meatball had a stand at the TNT Waterfront Festival — it was the one stand that had no line-up because the Asian community was going mad for stinky tofu and other traditional Asian street food fare. Too bad because the Asian-inspired meatball slider and blended watermelon drink ($5 all in) was just super. I’ll be by their shop anytime I’m in the area.

  • Culinerd

    Man Toronto- The Haters will prevail. Now I know why everyone elected Ford for Mayor just to hate.

    Fuck have any of you done to have so much hate on Food and what people are doing in the industry?

  • Amy

    Negativity = LAME!

  • mada

    This is def a copy cat of the Meatball Shop in NYC in LES, been to that one and I hope its as good as the one down south, as its a hell of alot closer.

  • Davedigger

    Balls in your mouth, balls in your mouth! – Jimmy Fallon w/Eddie Vedder

  • Culinerd

    So this is a copy, like that pizza place doing Napolitano style is pizza what a biter, and that guy who did the sausage/beer house what a biter of a german thing. That guy baking bread out of a wood oven holy shit what was he thinking.

  • roncesvaller

    If someone does it in New York and it’s done anywhere else then it’s automatically a copy.

  • Culinerd

    Exactly Roncesvaller, Is that why no body hates on the poutine? its only made its way to america, Do you think on the blogs there they are Web Hating bc its from Canada?

  • mada

    haha whatever its a copy u losers…didnt say it wont be good. and ur comparison is ridiculous about a pizza place u idiot….a meatball shop is a little more niche than pizza places.

  • wine

    Mada, a copy would be him replicating the exact menu and recipes from the one in New York. This is a restaurant concept and there is no reason why more than one person can do it. If this is a success I can guarantee you will see more than one of these meatball shops in toronto. Do you also think that the meatball shop in NYC was the first one to ever open in the world? I wonder who they copied? Pretty sure the Meatball Sub has been around for a long time, this is just a chef expanding the idea and showing there is more than one way to make a meatball sub. Also the Pizza place comparison is not stupid. There has been 3 more Napolitano pizza places that have opened since Libretto has in Toronto. Would you think that Libretto copied a Napolitano pizza place in NYC or was it one from Italy? Its also like saying every restaurant who uses local seasonal fare is copying another restaurant, these are all concepts where each individual chef puts his/her personal spin on it. I could go on for days with more examples but I feel it would be wasted on your ignorance. You make no sense and you are the loser.

  • Culinerd

    Wine-Thank you, the last thing I wanted to do today was explain myself to some person who lives in Toronto, whom I don’t know, Who probably is a sandwich artist at Subway and is now sad bc they may lose their job.

    I am going to open a Fried Chicken place, Are those in New York? I wouldn’t want to not be original….

  • Wine

    Speaking of Subway, don’t they have a meatball sub? Maybe Hey Meatball copied them.

  • Culinerd

    ^^ My point exactly…

  • mattagascar

    Holy crap! It’s only meatballs people!

  • Without Kitchen

    Why doesn’t everyone just calm down and have a meatball sandwich.

  • Jacob

    Meatball sandwiches at Hey Fatso! are delicious, and Chef Bowers courteous. Add in late night action and liquor license, sounds like a home run to me.

  • monroe stahr

    No one can argue that this place is strikingly similar to the 2 year old NYC Meatball Shop concept. (Did chicken wing meatballs in bleu cheese sauce originate in a Kofta in Istambul? Cuz they’ve been on the menu at the Meatball Shop for a couple of years now).

    There’s no shame in appropriating a concept (improving it or otherwise). And there’s not even a law that says you can’t make up a story about where you got an idea.

    But for a reporter writing a story about it to overlook something so glaring is simply shoddy journalism.

    Shame on you, Toronto Life, your readers deserve better informed coverage.

  • chops

    @mada: I’m pretty sure a pizza place had to start at some point in time…

  • finny

    studies show that haters that use CAPLOCKS on weird forums like this are 120% nerds. i haven’t eaten there, but it’s a meatball at the end of the day. It’s pretty obvious you have something against your target. Maybe you should swing by, try his offering, and work it out in person. CAPLOCKS = a ton of things, but mispelled CAPS = hilarious! Thanks for the comedy brah! Put down the haterade!

  • Taly

    You can always get the fast food version of something at a cheaper price and much less quality. Getting quality food that you enjoy in your neighbour hood always a bonus. Even your grandmother’s recipes have been passed on and copied which is a good thing otherwise we may have lost a lot them along with the knowlegede and wisdom. We may have the recipes but I wonder about the wisdom…

    Love it

  • Bill Gates

    Worst meal I have had in a long time. $11 for food was truly horrible. I have had better pasta at my High School cafeteria and better meatballs from Metro’s frozen section. If your going to call the place “HEY MEATBALL” make sure the meatballs are GOOD, AND THE MEATBALLS are the center piece of the dish. I got 3 on my pasta that were the size of my thumb nail and had hardly any flavor. The pasta was the size of a kids menu.

    Not to mention that the owner is a complete “A HOLE” and acted like I should have known who he was and praised his hospital food when he asked us how our meal was.

    THIS PLACE IS A JOKE.

  • thegreatrichard

    So there was another meatball shop in NYC? Who cares?
    Rodney Bowers is bringing farm-to-table, real naturally-raised meat and local fresh ingredients, in a fast service restaurant and that’s a FIRST around here.
    The food is spectacular.
    To the previous commenter who usually gets his meatballs in the frozen food section at Metro- you clearly don’t have a clue.

  • jimi

    place seems a bit ‘messy’ so does chef. balls not a big deal, very sweet sauce. People who don’t know meatballs will like it. a little better than pizza pizza ‘same sauce?’

  • April

    Cannot wait to try!! In fact, I’m going tomorrow night. Love The Citizen and Rosebud. And I’m glad that he is bringing NY style meatballs to Toronto – that way I don’t have to go to NYC just to have a decent meatball!! God, some of you make us Torontonians look like asses. Just enjoy good food and stop your complaining!!
    Go Rod Bowers!

  • Tom

    Eat a DICK April. Kiss ass.

  • Tony 2 times

    Please turn down your shit music, I’m trying to eat here.

  • dig

    Anyone how has been to the LES meatball joint will be displeased with this place. the girl who took my order had the IQ of my keyboard. Portion sizes were small, and the place smelled like shit.

  • ehh

    the meatballs seemed fine, but that sauce they’re using is way, way, way too sweet – kind of ruined the sandwich for me.

    portion sizes were a bit small for 11 dollars. the service was brusk, which i would have been okay with if the food had made with a little more care.

    there are much better sandwich options in the neighbourhood (san francesco’s, california, fish store and porchetta and co, to name a few,) so i can’t imagine ever coming back, except maybe to try some of their novelty meatballs (the chicken wing meatball they brought from the NYC shop, for instance.)

  • Giancarlo

    We walked in and the place smelled horribly. It may have had to do with the burlap sacs filled with garlic cloves. It was chilly outside and you’d expect a meatball restaurant to warm you up with convivial atmosphere and comfort food. Instead, it was freezing inside. The lighting sucks, the space is terribly used (the mini day care centre by the cashier is lame) and there was no beer to be had (no licence after 3 months?). The girl who took our orders really took that blase hipster attitude too far and a slight confusion with our order numbers led to the bearded overweight chef (note that his beard was not contained in one of those meshes) flat out yelling at us and swearing under his breath. Hey Meatball! is a pathetic excuse for a restaurant.

  • aaaw

    So cute, the Rodney guy even looks like a meatball!

  • aaaw

    @chops, in case you haven’t noticed, Toronto is not exactly at the forefront of inventive cuisine or in the foodie world much compared to NY and such so to make the comparison that there is something similar out there esp in a place like NYC is just plain dumb.

    Oh, I suppose you thought the burger and Neapolitan pizza craze started ablaze here in the T-dot? Please, we are so behind already! Just look around you, for that matter, get outside now and then~ I think the last time I heard of any local chefs trying to come up with something new, it had to do with a cheese made from his wife’s breast milk! How disgusting is THAT? Thank goodness THAT didn’t take off!

    On a side note, there may be other foodie developments happening here in which case, I mean no discredit to those but just sayin’ as far as I know, that’s all I noticed (or remember for it’s outrageousness!).

 

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