I love getting dressed up, heading downtown, and trying trendy new restaurants. That doesn't happen too often anymore though as these days, I'd really prefer to seek out cozy neighborhood spots with great food and a relaxed atmosphere where Alex and I can kick back, drink wine, and catch up. And I was pleasantly surprised when this was exactly what we found at Mondo Meatball on Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park.
When I was on my way to meet Alex at Mondo Meatball, I was expecting to walk into a quick fast casual spot. Instead, I found a great little restaurant with an outdoor patio, a variety of seating options, and a cozy bar where Alex was already seated and enjoying a Half Acre Daisy Cutter while talking hockey with the bartender. It's the kind of place where you could pop in for a quick meal on the go (as the food comes out quickly), bring your kids for a family dinner, meet up with friends for a hearty meal before a night out, or have a casual weeknight dinner date with your husband like I did that night. Oh, and that bartender? He was great-- super attentive, helpful with the menu, and with some great food and drink recommendations.
The menu at Mondo Meatball is designed so that you can create your own perfect meal with a combination of meatballs and components. You begin by picking your "style:" Meatballs on a sandwich, a salad, or over mashed potatoes, for example. And then you select your meatballs-- and there is a variety for everyone: traditional varieties like ground beef or pork sausage or leaner options like ground turkey or a vegetarian-friendly falafel-like chickpea ball. Finally, you finish off your meal by selecting one of their diverse and flavorful sauce options.
Alex went traditional with his selection: a big bowl of pasta paired with Mrs. C's Classic Beef meatballs and classic red sauce. The portion was generous, the flavor combination a classic, and Alex devoured his entire meal.
Always one to have a tough time making decisions when presented with a "build your own" menu concept, I was so relieved when the bartender pointed out the Mini-Mondo Sampler Platter. This entree options features three sliders topped with three of Mondo's most popular meatball combinations. This was the perfect way to try a little bit of everything, just like I was hoping to do! First up was a classic slider similar to Alex's pasta dish: a giant beef meatball topped with classic red sauce and grated Parmesan. I can be picky about ground beef, but this meatball was lean, had great texture, and was really flavorful-- a difficult combination to achieve! There was also a spicy pork meatball slider topped with Korean BBQ sauce. This Asian-inspired meatball slider had a slight kick of heat and really nice sweetness from the BBQ sauce. My favorite, however, was the turkey meatball slider with a generous slather of guac-acado sauce. This was a very California-inspired slider with a moist turkey meatball and a tangy and cool avocado-based sauce. It was not your typical meatball sandwich and it will likely be my entree choice when we return! These three sliders were paired with a simple salad dressed in a citrus vinaigrette, which rounded out this entree nicely and brought a little balance to the rich mini meatball sandwiches.
Mondo Meatball also features a few a la carte side dishes that piqued my interest. One of which was their "one pot" risotto of the day. On the evening that we visited they were serving a special lemon thyme asparagus risotto that seemed like a perfect option for a warm spring night. The portion was hearty and could have easily served as a meatless entree. I really enjoyed the al dente rice and the pops of bright lemony flavor in this risotto.
While at the bar we saw a dish filling with something orange and crunchy placed in front of another patron and got really curious about it. We asked our trusty bartender and he mentioned that the kitchen staff at Mondo Meatball sometimes gets creative and sends out off-menu items like these shaved sweet potato chips. They were paper-thin and so crispy without much grease and with a touch of sumac flavor. Even Alex-- who hates all things sweet potato-- was digging into these.
We were too full for dessert, but I would mention that Mondo Meatball serves Black Dog gelato if you need a little something sweet after your meatball meal. The bartender did convince us to stick around for some after dinner cocktails though. I sipped on a little limoncello while Alex enjoyed an Americano: a refreshing combination of Campari, sweet vermouth, and a little club soda.
And that limoncello was delicious! Made from sweet Meyer lemons, CelloVia is produced locally here in Chicagoland and has a really nice bright flavor. I liked it so much that I picked up a bottle at Binny's that weekend and found that they also make a few other delicious flavors like coconut lime and blood orange vanilla.
We had such a nice evening at Mondo Meatball and I love this fresh concept. In a neighborhood that's filled with fast casual spots and trendy restaurants, it was great to sit back, relax, and enjoy a few drinks and a really great meal in a fun low key spot. And it's the perfect place to get your meatball fix!
Editor's Note: While my meal at Mondo Meatball was complimentary, all opinions expressed herein are my own.