Michael Martensen's Proof + Pantry has barely been open a month, and while I usually avoid restaurants during their infancy, I couldn't resist a deal recently posted to their Facebook page: Nanna's Meatballs and Gravy. I'd be going as quickly as it took to read it. Pasta and red sauce is one thing; throw in meatballs and you've got my kryptonite.
There's a catch, in that the offer is only available on Tuesdays, but that's not a terrible thing -- this is hardly the sort of meal you'd want to eat seven days a week. Consider it an automated agenda item to append any Tuesday evening plans you have in the Arts District, though I'd wager this one is worth a trip downtown on its own.
They certainly have the schtick down. The Italian salad is served in one of those thin, woven-wood salad bowls you probably haven't seen in at least a decade. The salad inside, though, has gotten a modest update. Lively baby greens replace iceberg, and red onions that would usually foul your breath for days exit for crescents that actually provide a little sweetness. Small, halved tomatoes taste better than their gargantuan counterparts, and pepperoncini burst in your mouth with a vinegary bite. It's served with a small vessel of vinaigrette that's tinged with lemon zest, which is an unexpected nice touch.
The pasta itself is fresh and springy, and it's heaped with a tomato sauce I have a hard time calling gravy. (It's not cooked down, nor is it meaty enough). But I don't care. It's loaded with tomato chunks and four or five meatballs that are so delicately held together they could fall apart if you look at them wrong. Cut one in half with your fork and watch the juices squish form every pore.
For dessert, expect not just any cannoli but the best cannoli I've had in years. Each is piped to order, a juxtaposition of sweet and creamy cheese studded with pistachios and a crunchy cookie that explodes when you stab it with a fork. It's a fitting end to a meal that reads like Maggianno's but eats light years ahead.
That all of this costs a mere $24 makes Nanna's Meatballs and Gravy one of the best deals I've seen in a long time. If you have tickets to a show somewhere down Flora Street, this would make as good a pre-game as any. Just be careful: there's a high degree of likelihood you'll be sleeping through the second act.
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