If you haven’t visited Short Vine in Corryville recently, you might confuse it for that other revitalized part of Vine Street everyone’s been talking about down the hill in Over-the-Rhine’s Gateway Quarter.
In just a couple years, Short Vine has come a long way from its tattoo-parlors-and-bars days to include several new restaurants and eateries, effectively rebranding the neighborhood as a place the in-crowd wants to visit.
On a chilly January afternoon, my co-worker Bonnie and I stopped into one of these cool new establishments called Meatball Kitchen, a brick-and-mortar restaurant that recently evolved from a local pop-up dining experience. We had not tried it before and I was pretty excited to eat my first vegetarian meatball that didn’t come out of a grocery store freezer.
The menu is small, which made it easy to walk up to the counter and place an order without standing in front of the cashier for too long, mouth agape, trying to decide what to eat. My co-worker and I ordered, chatting with the friendly cashier for a bit. He explained how the menu works: Start out with a type of meatball — beef, turkey, spicy pork or gluten-free vegetarian — and decide if you want it on a sandwich, pasta or salad. Select a sauce (meat, tomato or béchamel) and add some sides — $2 each or $3 for two. Sides include onion-and-garlic bread pudding, smoky coleslaw, Sriracha sweet potato mash, spicy kale, seasonal roasted veggies or a side salad. I opted for a veggie meatball sandwich ($6) and two sides. Bonnie chose spicy pork balls over pasta ($7) and two sides.
The dining area is small but cozy, with industrial touches like exposed ductwork and concrete floors. There aren’t a lot of frills, but it’s clean and modern with that brand-new feel. When we arrived around opening (11 a.m.), there were plenty of places to sit, but closer to noon the room came alive with lunchtime diners and the tables filled quickly.
After only a few minutes of catching up, lunchroom-style trays arrived at our table with our food in little paper trays. My veggie sandwich came on a sizable piece of soft, warm focaccia bread with marinara sauce and a slice of melty provolone. It was too messy to eat with my hands in front of polite company, so I dug in with a fork. The moist, lightly seasoned meatballs had an overall flavor of black beans and were covered in a sweet marina. The ingredients weren’t masquerading as meat, just real beans, rice and veggies packed into one tasty little sphere. I would have liked a little more kick to the sauce, but that’s where the side of spicy sautéed kale came in.
Non-vegetarians might tend to shy away from kale, thinking of it as a dated garnish, but anyone would agree this kale is seriously tasty. The tray of the curly green stuff was topped with onions and had a quite a bit of heat to it without being overwhelming. If you want to take your sandwich to the next level, I highly recommend slapping some kale under your bread and treating it like zippy lettuce.
The best part of the meal, for me, was the side of onion-and-garlic bread pudding. Bread pudding is typically a dessert — sweet and filled with dry fruit and vanilla. This dish was more akin to something you’d see on a Thanksgiving table, like a hearty slab of dense stuffing with an oniony flavor. Not to say that the sandwich wasn’t delicious, because it was, but I was so distracted by how amazing the bread pudding was that I practically went back up to the counter to ask for another order to go.
My co-worker expressed the same sentiment about the bread pudding, which was one of the sides she chose, along with the Sriracha sweet potato mash. The potato dish wasn’t spicy, but it had that unmistakable Sriracha flavor, which played off of the delicate sweetness of the mashed sweet potatoes. Her spicy pork meatballs packed a serious kick, though, and were balanced out by a slightly sweet meat sauce over a heaping bowl of rigatoni. Needing to head back to the office, we didn’t have time to sample one of the ever-changing cupcakes ($2) teasing us from the counter, or a slice of pie ($3).
Meatball Kitchen is also open for dinner for one of the most inexpensive and filling nighttime meals you’ll be able to find on either side of Vine. They also have a handful of beers, and a glass or carafe of red or white wine will only set you back $5 or $10, respectively.
The Meatball Kitchen
Go: 2912 Vine St., Corryville
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday