DARIEN, Conn. – Joe Criscuolo has a varied culinary background, ranging from work at a community pizza shop to time with a popular television chef. But for his new Darien restaurant, he’s honed in on one dish: the meatball.
Criscuolo opened Meatball & Co. on Center Street in Darien earlier this summer. The restaurant offers plates, sandwiches and salads, all based around different varieties of its namesake food. Criscuolo has taken on the challenge of inventing more and more spins on the meatball as a dish.
“You can create any dish and put it into a ball,” he says. “There’s no limit.”
Criscuolo’s family owns and runs Greenwich’s Cos Cob Pizza Post, and he grew up working in the restaurant business. He attended the Culinary Institute of America, and from there he worked with Lidia Bastianich, owner of many restaurants and host of “Lidia’s Italy” and “Lidia’s Family Table.”
He had seen restaurants with similar concepts in New York, Criscuolo says. So when he found a spot in Darien to open his own restaurant he said, “Why not meatballs?”
The Meatball and Co. menu includes four types of meatball: beef, chicken, spicy pork and an eggplant-based veggie ball. Each can be topped with one of his five standard sauces: tomato marinara, “cheesy goodness,” pesto, mushroom gravy and a spicy meat sauce.
For first-timers he recommends the standard beef with tomato, but he says you shouldn’t avoid the veggie.
“You don’t expect it [to be good,]” Criscuolo says. “Because when you hear veggie, you think lentils and soy. And then you get this little bit that’s like an eggplant parm in a ball, and it’s delicious.”
Each day Criscuolo also comes up with a special, where he gets truly creative. Some of the varieties he’s tried in the past include an Asian-style pork ball with a hoisin glaze, a bacon cheeseburger ball with a cheddar-based sauce and a “Cubano ball” with all the ingredients of the sandwich: pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles.
Criscuolo posts the meatball of the day on his Facebook page each day. He also uses the page to take suggestions. For example, he recently made balls of curried lamb and a version of the Vietnamese dish banh mi based on suggestions from fans.
“When we try to come up with new ones, we’re like, ‘What dishes can we do?’” he says. “Chicken and waffles? Let see if we can figure that one out.”
Meatball and Co. is located at 20 Center St., Darien, with a secondary entrance along Tokeneke Road. For more information, visit the restaurant’s website.