Meatball Madness

At first glance, The Blackstone Meatball – West looks much like any hip west Omaha establishment: intriguing wallpaper, contemporary furnishings, dark, jewel-toned paint, and a cozy wood bar lined with copper mule mugs.

The vibe is playful and a bit nostalgic—from the kitschy aeronautical theme (a nod to the founder’s fondness for things that fly) to diners at the adjacent table impulsively playing a competitive game of name that tune to the classic rock pouring from the speakers. Relax and smile—you are in a welcoming place.

The menu follows a “build-your-own” philosophy, entreating diners to first select a style (bowl, sub, or slider), ball (beef, pork, chicken, mushroom/white bean, or chef’s special), and finally sauce (Bolognese, marinara, pesto, garlic alfredo, el diablo, or chef’s special).

An expansive chalkboard lining the south wall describes the daily special under simple headings: Ball, Sauce, and Side. Bowls are served over sides such as risotto, pasta, creamy cauliflower, or zoodles, and the slider is served on a sweet Hawaiian roll.

Simple, solid recipes highlighting classic techniques and fresh ingredients beget dishes redolent with familiar, homey flavors. Owner and Executive Chef Joe Rensch credits his mom for his love of food, and it shines through in the cozy plates that feature fresh quality ingredients.

An Omaha native classically trained in San Francisco, Rensch spent several years in Maui under the tutelage of famed chef James McDonald, where he honed his skills in the kitchen but also learned to navigate the ins and outs of running a restaurant. After a brief stint in Denver, the magnetic pull of the Midwest beckoned, and Rensch returned home to helm the Meatball kitchen. “Hospitality is in my blood,” he shared, “I love to make people happy.”

The Meatball Flight features five fluffy, tender meatballs (the standard four plus the special) paired with complementary sauces on a divided wooden lazy susan. Like a classic black dress, this dish can be dressed up with a classy floral cocktail like the violet-hued Water Lily or dressed down with a crisp draught lager.

On the other end of the cocktail spectrum is the irreverent and witty Blackstone Jam, a shot of Fernet (an Italian amaro) with a Busch Light back. Pair this homage to the industry with the TBM grilled cheese with the classic trio of Havarti, provolone, and mozzarella cheeses, topped with your choice of two meatballs and sauce. 

Vibrant, herbaceous pesto tops the chicken meatballs on a bed of risotto, which can be paired with white wine on tap. Gluten free? Enjoy your meatballs atop luscious cauliflower.

Not in the mood for meat? The vegetarian option is a mushroom and white bean wonder—earthy aromas with a zingy chili kick. Bar staff takes pride in the spectacular Bloody Mary, and if you’re feeling adventurous, shell out the extra couple of bucks to add a meatball. To top off the meal, consider the fried cookie dough ball served with ice cream and caramel sauce, topped with whipped cream.

Founder Philip Schaffart, local musician and entrepreneur, is fond of saying, “you can’t spell meatball without team!” Staff members don crisp tees emblazoned with simple iron-on block letters that read “Meatball Crew”. The efficient, tidy kitchen is open to the dining room, contributing to the casual feel.

Despite pandemic restrictions of the past few months, Creative Director Michaela Favara is finding unique ways to promote the restaurant such as the upcoming March Meatball Madness. Easy online ordering for take away is readily available for patrons not yet ready to dine in, and reservations are accepted to ensure safe in-house dining.

Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, but why not surprise your friend, partner, or family with an evening out the day after? Monday’s feature is meatball subs and Manhattan cocktails (served appropriately “up” in a coupe glass), 6 dollars each.

Community support is important to the team, making charitable giving a priority through “10% Tuesdays”, coat drives, and vocal support of neighboring establishments. Once a month, they donate 10 percent of sales to local nonprofits including Youth Emergency Services and the Ronald McDonald House. 

When the weather warms, an expansive patio beckons through accordion doors, ideal for enjoying appetizers with one of the beers or wines on tap. But don’t wait until then, inject some fun into your 2021 at The Blackstone Meatball!

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