Everything is a thing now.
Come to Minneapolis and you can find gourmet cupcakes, gourmet donuts, gourmet sliders, gourmet cheeseburgers, you name it. Slap the word gourmet in front of anything; it’s a wide-open meta now. So when Smooth sent me a text last week about a reservation she had made for us at a restaurant called Devil’s Advocate (DA), I was only gently surprised to discover their claim to fame was gourmet … ready for this?
Up until last Friday, meatballs were below an hors d’oeuvre. They weren’t the entrée; they were the extra two bucks on top of your entrée. And now a restaurant was making it the signature dish. Again, only gently surprised.
So can you make a meal out of meatballs? Technically, yes. The experience of dinner at Devil’s Advocate leaves much to be desired, however, most notably an experience.
The Basics: If the idea of serving gourmet meatballs makes you think they’re trying too hard, wait until you see their website. DA is located just off Nicollet Mall on 10th Street downtown. We made a reservation on the website, but came to find the restaurant half-empty.
The menu at the restaurant is piecemeal and puzzling. When Smooth asked about the side of noodles, the waitress told her they could be worked into one dish with the meatballs and sauce. That would be handy information to put on the menu! Also handy would be a description of the sauces. “The Sunday Gravy isn’t what you’d think it is,” the waitress says. Then tell us what it is on the menu! Meanwhile, the 40 craft beers on their drink roster were described in exhausting detail.
Meatballs dominate the appetizer and entree selections, and the remaining selection is weak – predominantly meatless wonders meant to satisfy vegetarians. Smooth and I got started right away, calling up the buffalo balls for me and the Asian balls for Smooth.
An Aside that Matters: Surely you know the 182 in Blink 182 represents the number of times Al Pacino said the F-word in “Scarface.” Change that to the number of times Smooth said “Balls” and chuckled Friday night and their name becomes Blink 3,477.
The presentation of the appetizer plates was unique in that wooden sticks were served with a fondue-type sauce recepticle. You dip your stick in the sauce, plunge the tip into the ball, eat the ball, and nothing spectacular happens. I thought the buffalo balls were pretty good, and the Asian balls were virtually tasteless. Smooth concurred on the Asian balls and reacted to a sample of the buffalo like she had just eaten a detergent capsule. She’s not exactly following buffalo sauce on Facebook to begin with, but the face she made …
I will give the Devil’s Advocate its due on the drink menu. Widespread claims of a multifarious craft selection proved true. We novice-level beer connoisseurs had only tried a handful of them previously. I tabbed a Clown Shoes Brown Angel (did not taste heavenly) and a Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (more proof you can trust Lagunitas). Smooth had two Leffe Blondes, which disgusted her.
Most of the Asian balls festered on the table as we stumbled through our entree orders. We were fortunate to have a very friendly, very patient waitress … who was pretty to boot, aside from her Macklemore hair. She took great care of us until her final trip to our table.
Back to the food: You can have your balls on various buns, or in a “Bowl of Balls.” We both opted for bowls – four balls, all of which must be the same, and one side. For Smooth, chicken balls with pesto sauce atop noodles. For me, Sunday Gravy on beef balls with mashed potatoes.
Have you noticed I haven’t mentioned DA’s decor yet? That was by design. Brick walls, maroon ceiling, unlit candles poking out from the walls, the end. The tubes snaking across the ceiling would be more striking if I hadn’t already seen it in 20 other Minneapolis restaurants. One hundred percent of their creativity comes on the menu; the restaurant itself looks like a Green Mill that opened before the interior was finished.
The bowl of balls might not have been the best route to take. Smooth’s bowl was smothered in pesto, and mine just looked like a pasta dish missing the noodles. It’s hard to make a big deal of my first bite of a meatball. It’s also difficult to make a big deal out of the taste – because, frankly, it didn’t taste any different than what I order with my mostaccioli at Mama’s. Smooth couldn’t get halfway through hers, overwhelmed by sticky tufts of pesto that could have re-roofed the Hobbit house.
The night was capped off by our waitress spilling water on my pants while pouring a glass of water, and dropped a pesto-coated fork on the center of the table. Once I finished picking pesto off my face and shirt, I offered our Living Social voucher.
Maybe we did it wrong by showing up for dinner at Devil’s Advocate when we should have shown up for a new beer adventure with some neat nibbles to occupy the space between sips, but no matter who’s to blame – be it us, them, or the devil himself – the gourmet meatball revolution is but a quacking nuisance.
Hey, we’ve got to draw the line somewhere.