On Monday Slate published an interactive graphic called the "United Steaks of America", a sort of meat heatmap, a meatmap if you will, of all the 50 states and their respective official meats. It's not a very scientific group of findings. They basically picked the meat or dish or novelty protein (i.e. gator in Florida and Spam in Hawaii) most closely associated with that state and its food culture. For example the official meat of our North Dakotan neighbors is summer sausage and to the immediate east of us -- and this should come as no surprise -- is bratwurst country. Though Minnesota is sandwiched between two sausages on the map, our official meat has a more spherical shape. Give up? It's the meatball.
Slate cites our state's Nordic roots as the inspiration behind their choice and while it's true that every blue-blooded Ikea shopper enjoys the occasional Swedish version, the Twin Cities actually boasts all kinds of tasty meatballs, from classic Italian to boldly Asian-influenced. Here are our top 10 favorites.
10. Crab balls at Devil's Advocate 89 S. 10th St., Minneapolis
We're kicking off this list with a rather controversial meatball, as it isn't meat at all. In fact the crab ball at Devil's Advocate is really a crab cake in ball form, loaded with shreds of sweet crab meat, a smattering of herbs, onions, egg, and very little else, except for some Old Bay Seasoning. They serve these fabulous little happy hour snacks with creamy remoulade and a few pickled green beans.
9. Lamb meatballs at Burch Pizza Bar 1933 Colfax Ave. S., Minneapolis
Strung on a skewer and cooked in the wood fire oven, along with the rest of the menu at Burch's underground pizza-focused kitchen, the lamb meatballs here balance Middle Eastern spice with a carrot, cabbage, and cilantro slaw. Try to get a little bit of everything in one bite: bitter char, slightly gamey lamb, and all the cool crunch and acidity of the salad. You'll be well-primed for your pizza course.
8. Italian meatballs at Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza 512 N. Robert St., St Paul
You can get these fennel seed-sprinkled, majorly meaty, red-sauce soaked meatballs as an appetizer at Black Sheep, but they truly fulfill their special purpose when placed atop a piping hot pizza. Try them on a pie with ricotta and garlic or pair them with the bolder flavors of smoked mozzarella and roasted red peppers. Either way, you're getting a meal that features both pizza and meatballs, so you're in pretty good shape.
7. Swedish meatballs at Hazel's NE 2859 Johnson Ave. NE, Minneapolis
These are just like the ones your Scandi grandmother makes, with the right ratio of milk-soaked breacrumbs to keep the texture soft, but not fall-apart crumbly. Hazel's serves these meatballs with the traditional accoutrement of whipped potatoes, creamy mustard-tinged gravy, and a spoonful of lingonberry jam. If you're in the mood for something lighter but still craving meatballs, try adding their Thai meatballs to the bowl of yellow curry mussels.
6. Italian meatballs at Saucy Burt's Roaming near 5th & Nicollet, Minneapolis
Food cart owner and exacting chef Sarah Burt of Saucy Burt's makes superlative meatballs for her Italian saucy subs with a blend of pork, veal, and beef -- ground especially for her by Hackenmueller Meats in Robbinsdale.
5. Rotating meatball special at Ward 6 858 Payne Ave., St. Paul
It might be a sweet-and-sour pork ball, a warmly spiced Swedish meatball, or a BBQ-slathered number made with lean ground turkey, but the meatball special at Ward 6 rarely misses the comfort food mark. Check the chalk board at the front of the restaurant for the weekly offering.[page]
4. Swedish meatballs at Fika 2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis
Just slightly larger than bite-sized and flavored with a faint hint of cardamom, a very Scandinavian ingredient, Fika's Swedish meatballs are about 1,000 notches above the Ikea ones people are always talking about. Bonus: The portion is such that you satiate your cream gravy cravings, but have enough room for something from the pastry case at the end of your meal.
3. World Street Kitchen's lemongrass meatballs 2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Luscious, lemony, a little crusty, and absolutely packed with flavor, the Asian-inspired lemongrass and beef meatballs at World Street Kitchen are the best part of the lettuce wrap starter they come with. But be forewarned that the garlic and spices linger for hours. Bring gum, or better yet, just lean in and get a Mickey's Grenade to wash it down.
2. Meatballs and mother sauce at Al Vento 5001 34th Ave. S., Minneapolis
Simple and classic pork and beef blend meatballs are made even more flavorful after soaking up the fresh and light "mother sauce" Al Vento is famous for. Get the behind-the-scenes scoop on exactly how they are made in Al Vento's kitchen by watching this video.
1. Foie gras meatballs at 112 Eatery
Isaac Becker's cozy late-night hotspot has taken a lot of heat for serving foie gras, but if you don't have any moral objections or general uneasiness about eating duck liver, the tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs is a must-order. Never has a meatball been so successfully a meatball on the outside and so rich and elegant once you bite into it. It's like the Cadbury creme egg of meatballs.