Round & Round

They’ve Got Balls!: Savory Edition

Why do so many of Houston's most delicious dishes come in one shape?

By Joanna O'Leary April 15, 2016

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Spaghetti and meatballs at Damian's Cucina Italiana.

Image: Mai Pham

Successful chefs are creative and confident, with just a little bit of swagger at best, out-of-control egos at worst. It's no surprise, then, that their food can in some cases become a manifestation of that demeanor, which is perhaps why it’s so common to find so many delicious, globular delights at Houston restaurants. To put it bluntly, those chefs have got balls.

Lucky for us, we do, too. As we mentally parsed out all of our favorite, orb-shaped dishes in the city, we realized there were simply too many to fit into one blog post. Next week, look for the sweet ball. Today, here’s a rundown of where you can sink your teeth into some of our savory spheres.

Damian’s Cucina Italiana offers a most traditional manifestation, i.e., the meatball. It's prepared according to Mama Mandola’s recipe, which calls for ground beef and pork, plus a smattering of herbs and spices including garlic, basil, scallions and parsley. Another terrific global representation of Italian cuisine comes in the form of arancini, deep-fried orbs of risotto usually mixed with cheese or protein. Many Houston restaurants vend respectable versions; at Coppa Osteria a piece of burrata is within each breaded ball. Its cream flows freely into your mouth with each bite. At Sud Italia, the arancini, laced with saffron, provide a less visceral experience but are more subtle and exotic in flavor.

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Matzoh ball soup at Kenny & Ziggy's.

If you like your balls immersed in warm, soothing broth, look to the always soft, never mushy knaidlach in Kenny & Ziggy’s signature matzoh ball soup. The marriage of schmaltz and unleavened bread spheres is a most happy union, guaranteed to the edge off even the roughest of days.

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El Tiempo Cantina's Cannonball.

What’s more supple than the unctuous fall-off-the-bone lamb shank at Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine? The “Lebanese Mashed Potatoes,” a starchy softball of spuds and cream cheese coated in buttery bread crumbs, then baked until crisp. It’s delicious but too delicate to handle by hand so have your fork at the ready. Another delectable ball requiring utensils for efficient consumption can be found at El Tiempo Cantina, whose Cannonball, a deep-fried avocado stuffed with white cheese, does appropriately explode with vegetal-dairy decadence.

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Crispy shrimp étouffée balls at Harold's in the Heights.

From south of the border we proceed on our baller journey to the Deep South, specifically Creole country. Harold’s in the Heights pays homage to this region’s cuisine with their shrimp étouffée balls resting on a bed of spicy tomato sauce, while Louisiana Fish House and BB’s Cajun Cafe win raves for their boudain balls.

Finally, we shift from occident to orient, specifically China, home of a mind-blowingly diverse array of regional and ethnic cuisines, many of which count edible balls among their delicacies. Our favorites (and those most readily available in H-town) are those in the dim sum family. The bird’s nest shrimp balls at Hong Kong Dim Sum are robust in shellfish flavor and give rise to a satisfying crack with each large nibble of the errant, deep-fried ‘twigs’ coating the exterior. Also highly recommended are Dim Sum King’ steamed beef balls, whose heavy fat and salt are tempered via a pairing with white rice.

Now that you’ve got your list, the ball is in your court to seek out some savory spheres. And stay tuned for the sweet edition of our edible balls exposé.

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