Restaurant Review: Polpettina in Eastchester, NY

Like most truly endearing things, Polpettina comes with a few flaws. This 15-seat Eastchester restaurant can get cramped, and the bathroom—which also holds a mop sink—is accessed via a walk through the kitchen. Food is banged down whenever it’s ready (rather than in staged courses), and, on the table, paper plates might appear right alongside ceramic bowls. But who cares?

Polpettina offers a spontaneity lacking in more pretentious restaurants; one night its welcome included unlimited sangria pours simply because it was hot outside. It’s a pizzeria that uses local and natural ingredients, the kind of place where you might find pasta dressed in sea-urchin miso butter (just because they have some), and where you’ll find 64-ounce growlers of craft beer for the price you might pay for two pints. Sadly, the secret is getting out.

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During peak hours, there’s often a wait for Polpettina’s few tables, though corner seats at the black granite bar also offer face-to-face dining. In keeping with its modest aims (and prices), Polpettina’s décor is bare-bones: walls are simply lined in recycled wood planks and adorned with the occasional cookbook or vintage lard can. Food arrives all at once, so meals are paced briskly—which is unfortunate, because Polpettina has taken care with its drinks list. The aforementioned three taps (one usually featuring Captain Lawrence), approximately 15 beers in bottles and cans, and succinct wine list tempt those who might like to linger through a few drinks. Owner Michael Abruzese is doubling Polpettina’s seating with a next-door expansion—here’s hoping that in the future, our empathy for those waiting won’t have us capping our growler to go.

Polpettina’s interior, like its menu, isn’t fussy.

The restaurant is named after—and famous for—its meatballs.

Polpettina’s menu is the definition of democratic, offering generous (and delicious) salads like one of arugula, walnuts, and burrata for $8. Sure, the dish could have offered another ball of burrata, but it was still a huge and satisfying salad, and it arrived with tiny, roasted beets that were almost fleshly in their intense, earthy flavor. Don’t skip the specials board, where Polpettina’s far most interesting dishes lie. On it we found paper-thin, salty, potato-chip-crisp fried eggplant slices drizzled with locally gathered honey. While these were delicious—that is, if you found the perfectly dressed chip with the ideally balanced salty/sweet bite—some skewed too sweet (but the odd pairing was ultimately rewarding). Another special—a square pizza slice with pancetta, figs, goat cheese, and honey—was still more successful, and perfectly poised among salt, sweet, tang, and pork.

The restaurant’s namesake meatballs come in three varieties (beef, pork, and chicken) and were as light and succulent as those of newsier restaurants. A trio of fluffy, one-inch pork spheres were energetically spiked with pepperoncino and arrived with welcome leaves of palate-washing broccoli rabe. It seems like a bonus that this $7 snack can be turned into a sandwich for an additional $3. Polpettina’s six varieties of French fries, given equal menu status as the meatballs, cruelly target human pleasure centers and are nearly irresistible. While a bowl of perfectly cooked (crisp-crusted outside, fluffy inside) fries were unevenly seasoned with garlic chips and herbs, the same fries under a sunny-side-up egg and bacon were deliriously tasty, and good to the last potatoey/yolky swipe.

Meaty sandwiches offer gourmet spins of homey standards, and include mortadella with escarole and fontina on brioche, or old-school chicken parm on seeded bastone. We were enamored of a hearty steak sandwich (on bastone) with broccoli rabe and provolone, which arrived with an adorable miniature jar of homemade pickles. Good thing, too, because this bready sandwich (and the chicken Milanesa) were under-seasoned without their addition.

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Menu pizzas are available in three styles: thin-crusted Neapolitan, fat-crusted Grandma, and hybrid Brooklyn. These are offered with classic (such as pepperoni) and trendy (sunny-side-up egg) toppings. We found that the crisp Neapolitan crust was far superior to the cardboard-y Grandma version, but that none of the menu pies were as compelling as those on the specials board. One night, we found a small-shell clam pie with white, feathery boquerones; while the clams would have been better left in their shells (some were a bit mushy, and a couple were gritty), the whole was a briny, bready treat.

As with the menu pizzas, Polpettina’s menu pastas (Bolognese, tomato/basil, and vodka) are nowhere near as interesting as the ephemeral offerings appearing on the specials board. We found a sea urchin–miso-butter-dressed spaghetti (whose subtle flavor might have been sacrificed to the brawnier ocean-flavor of the dish’s clams) that was exciting simply because it was so improbable in this modestly aimed pizzeria. Desserts can be another surprise, and include compelling brown-paper sacks of cinnamon-sugar-dusted zeppole, and a divine (and simple) butterscotch pudding sprinkled with salt.

Wisely, Polpettina offers the element of surprise. You might choose Polpettina for its meatballs, pizza, and fries, but, once there, encounter sea urchin, honeyed eggplant, figs, and boquerones. How much smarter is it for a pizzeria to surprise with gourmet values than to declare them? We know that we’re not alone in wanting to check Polpettina’s specials board regularly.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

102 Fisher Ave,
(914) 961-0061

Tues to Sat, 11 am – 10 pm;
Sun, 11 am – 8 pm

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Salads: $8;
sandwiches: $10;
pizza: $13–$18;
pasta: $14;
desserts: $5–$7.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦—Outstanding           ♦ ♦ ♦ —Very Good  
♦ ♦ —Good                          ♦ —Fair

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