Brian Jacobson

The Meatball Challenge at Milwaukee County Historical Society

By - Mar 27th, 2012 04:00 am

In the end, everyone was a winner, especially the stomachs of the tasters. On Saturday at the downtown Milwaukee County Historical Society, 15 area chefs strapped on their aprons for bragging rights as to who had the best edible sphere in a contest called “The Milwaukee Meatball Challenge.”  Entrants were judged on qualities of taste, texture, creativity and appearance with a chance at winning a trip to Rome, a day in Sanford’s kitchen, or a certificate to the Milwaukee Public Market.

Folks got a chance to try a variety of old school and new school variations, and we took pictures.  So for the first time ever, ThirdCoast Digest brings you loving photos of meatballs with some background on each one.

DeCristo’s Pizzeria & Restaurant (in Slinger)

Chef Tony Valenti says: “Our meatball is all beef, traditionally made with parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs and other spices. We brown them up in the oven to get a nice carmelization on them and then slow cook them in our sauce.”

The key to DeCristo’s is in the sauce. Made from a stock of pig’s feet, braised shortribs, tomatoes, and other ingredients, they are slow-cooked for a long time before ready. This was probably the biggest meatball in the competition.

Third Ward Caffe

Chef Randy Nelson says: “they are 100 percent veal in a veal stock…mixed with garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, parmesan…dig in there with your hands and mix them up, hand form them, and bake them.”

Since everything is made to order, the time stewing in the veal stock is only about ten minutes. The result is a delicate little meatball with a fine finish.

The Pfister Hotel

Executive Chef Brian Frakes says: “Our meatball is a chorizo and Berkshire pork garlic meatball, and I’m serving it with tiny gnocchi, basil milk, soft-cooked organic egg, little bit of chorizo oil and finished off with micro tuni.”

Frakes made this special for today, noting that you only get one chance to punch something with flavor, looking for contrast and complement. And boy, did it ever.

Filippo’s Italian Restaurant

Chef Steve says: “It’s my Mom and Dad’s recipe from 40 years in the business…brought over from Sicily…we use beef in our Italian Sausage, spices, garlic, onion, parsley, romano…we get the freshest ingredients and chop up everything very finely…we even make our own breadcrumbs in-house for them.”

Apparently, Filippo’s is one of those hidden gems in Milwaukee, located southwest of the metro area on W. Lincoln Avenue. We’ll try the wildly popular pizza and get back to you.


Marketing director Tina Lukowitz, speaking with Executive Chef Alberto says: “It’s homemade all the way…a mix of ground beef and pork, parmesan reggiano, romano, fresh herbs, breadcrumbs, eggs…it’s a fresh tomato sauce, every day…they are baked and thrown in the sauce for about an hour.”

Again, any longer and Alberto notes they lose their consistency. It’s offered every day with pasta but there is a meatball sub available as well.

Tall Guy and a Grill Catering

Founder and Owner Dan Nowak says: “today we have a bourbon barbeque pork meatball, served with some southern onion straws and coleslaw…we do all kinds of meatballs, normally I do a traditional beef meatball as I come from an all Sicilian family…but today I wanted to do a little something different and stand out in this challenge.”

Nowak says he gets the pork shoulder from a local butcher and tries to stay local whenever he can. These are roasted in the oven, but it takes about four hours to make just under 200 meatballs.


SoLo Pizza

The GM Andrew said for Chef Jose: “we start with fresh ground pork and beef, salt, pepper, oregano, marjorim, garlic, bread crumbs, and eggs…ball them up by hand and bake them…[this particular sauce] gets thrown on top at the end with some parmesan and parsley.”

Chef Jose also noted that the traditional recipe is the same at the restaurant, but for the day was spiced up with this cream version of arrabiata sauce.

Calderone Club

Chef Gino Fazzari says: “We blend all the ingredients together by hand…mixed together with tomato sauce, eggs, breadcrumbs, wine, some other ingredients…roll them out, baked just enough to form a pellicle on the outside…then throw them in the sauce on a nice simmer for 45 minutes.”

These meatballs are 100 percent certified angus beef, pork and strauss veal finished in Mama Rosa’s famous pomodoro sauce. For the contest, they loaded them with a mozzarella cheese middle in addition to the standard asiago, parmesan and romano blend. Fazzari knew the competition would be tough so he wanted to win the creativity category.

Fattoni’s Italian/American Deli & Catering

Chef Tony Mondello says: “It’s the classic Italian-American meatball, made with 100 percent beef…Grandmother used pork but we had some people unsure about it so we changed it…we soak bread in milk, sautee the onions, garlic, Italian parsley…sweat it, cool it, add it to the meat, cheese, eggs, soaked bread…we bake it and simmer it in the sauce for about two hours.”

Mondello says that 95 percent of the recipe remains from his grandmother and mother’s recipes, with only changes to the type of cheese and tweaking the mix ratio. He decided for this contest to stick strictly to what is offered at the store, relying on quality ingredients.

Burke’s Lakeside (Oconomowoc)

Chef Shane Valenti says: “It’s a traditional meatball: fresh pork, beef, veal blend…fresh garlic, fresh parsley, bread and milk…the key to our meatball is the sauce, it’s a six-hour sauce made with beef and pork bones cooked real slow.”

This meatball is only placed in the sauce 30 minutes beforehand, but the long cooking of the sauce gets rid of a lot of acid and the marrow from the bones, leaving the sauce creamier.

Gracious Events Catering

Chef Justin Schneider says: “Our meatball is stuffed with taleggio cheese and red sauce…if requested we can make this but its not something normally on the menu — we made it special for today.”

This meatball was bright and poppy, garnished with thin strips of basil and lots more cheese.  Gracious Events is the catering arm of Firefly Bar & Grill.

Zilli Hospitality Group

The Chef says: “We have a meatball that has special ingredients, it’s got parmesan, little bit of garlic, little bit of pepper, salt…but it also has secret ingredients which cannot disclose here…”

This serving tray of meatballs was perhaps the most photogenic of the bunch, with a thick and deep sauce that almost looked toasted.

Bartolotta Restaurants

The Chef says: “We have 1/3 ground pork, 1/3 ground beef, 1/3 sweet Italian sausage…eggs, a lot of garlic, fresh chopped parsley, romano and parmiaggiano cheese, little bit of salt and pepper.”

The chef also noted he doesn’t bake his meatballs, but quick fries them in a cast-iron skillet for a nice crust, making them two days in advance so they can soak in the sauce.

Carini’s La Conca d’Oro Restaurant

Chef Peter Carini says: “this meatball is from my mother’s recipe…just like back home in Sicily. We have ground beef, parmesan, eggs, bread crumbs, spices…we use Carini’s seasoning.”

Carini’s seasoning, like Emeril Lagasse’s “essence” spice, is sold right in the restaurant to take home and is Peter’s personal mix.

Saz’s Catering & Special Events, Inc.

Chef Michael Paris says: “We’ve got a three-meatball, with pork and sausage…a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, and tomato marinara.”

Saz’s also lets the ingredients rest in the fridge for a day or two, browns them and throws them in the sauce for 90 minutes. The secret is not to let them go too long, says Paris, or they would get kind of rubbery.

For more loving shots of meatballs and scenes from the event, visit our TCD flickr set here.

0 thoughts on “The Meatball Challenge at Milwaukee County Historical Society”

  1. Anonymous says:

    And the winners are…..???

  2. Anonymous says:

    Cheryl, according to a posting by MCHS on their facebook page, here are the winners:

    1st Place: Calderone Club
    2nd Place: Tall Guy & A Grill Catering
    3rd Place: The Pfister Hotel
    People’s Choice: Tall Guy & A Grill Catering

    “All the contestants, their displays, and their meatballs were excellent and made the event awesome. Many thanks!!”

    (I think the winners are valid, but my personal favorites came from Carini’s and Fattoni’s. — Brian)

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