Orlando has a new meatball shop. It's called the Meatball Shoppe.
It's located in a small decidedly unattractive strip of businesses at the corner of Lake Underhill Road and Goldenrod Road (the northwest corner, to be precise, just south of the East-West Expressway). Although the Meatball Shoppe's website refers to it as a restaurant, it's really more of a grab a bite or get something to go kind of place. The seating area is limited and not especially comfy or inviting. There appears to be quite a large kitchen behind the ordering counter, but my guess is that the space doubles as the commissary for the Meatball Shoppe's owners' other business, Isabella's Bella Cucina Catering. It seems to me to be a smart thing for a catering company to do: They can promote the (probably) more profitable catering business while generating income through the sales of meatballs.
The Meatball Shoppe is part quick serve, part assemblage concept. You place your order at the counter, then take a seat (or just hang, if you intend to take your food elsewhere to enjoy), and someone will bring it to you when it is ready.
The assemblage part happens at the time of ordering. Instead of an assembly line like you'd find at, say, Italio or JJ's Grille, the Meatball Shoppe offers a menu that requires you to choose options from the various columns. I'd like to say that it's pretty straightforward but it's actually a bit confusing.
For instance, the first thing you must decide is "How would you like them?", the answer to which, apparently, is not "Right now, please." The first choice is "on top" with the instruction to "see sides." Huh? Which is it, on top or on the side? You may also have it "alone" or as a "smash," on a freshly baked roll.
Then you have to choose your meatball, because you can't have just one type of meatball if you call yourself the Meatball Shoppe. There's "Nonna's" traditional Italian; vegetarian, which is also gluten free; Jeffy's sausage; Mediterranean-grass-fed lamb; spicy pork; chicken marsala; and Reuben ball, which I hope an pray means that it is made with the same ingredients as a Reuben sandwich.
You're not done yet. Please choose a sauce now. You may have roasted tomato; Isabella's signature pesto, which does not mean she writes her name on your meatball; creamy provolone; rich marsala mushroom; or spicy pork.
One of the reasons I go to a restaurant is that I expect the chef to make the appropriate combinations for me. And I'd be a lot more annoyed with the system here if the food I chose hadn't been so darned good.
I went with the traditional Italian, which I chose to be served on top of the side of white bean ragout. Other choices include pastas, polenta and salad. I also went with the roasted tomato sauce. Very safe, I figured
The meatballs themselves, three of them, were good-sized and firm-textured and well seasoned. The sauce was thick and had a dominant garlic tang. The beans were al dente and the juices were thick and delicious.
The sectioned container also had a small tossed salad with spicy arugula, corn, feta cheese and tomatoes tossed with a red wine vinaigrette. Another section had a small square of focaccia. In the transport to SJO headquarters, some of the ragout had sloshed over into the focaccia section, so that it had become soggy. That was OK with me because I would have sopped the bread in the liquid anyway, but if you want your bread unsoaked, you might want to ask for it to be packaged separately.
Assemblage decisions notwithstanding, I liked the Meatball Shoppe. The quality of the food is good, and that's the best foundation to build on.
The Meatball Shoppe is at 7325 Lake Underhill Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The website menu does not list prices. My lunch came to $9.32. The phone number is 407-270-6505.