There are some people who get into the restaurant business because of its service aspects; they thrive on interacting with customers and fulfilling their desires. Then there are those like Andrew Feinberg, the chef of Franny's in Brooklyn.
The list of what he won't do at a customer's request is far longer than what he will: No extra cheese, no extra sauce, no tomato sauce on the quattro formaggio pie, no cheese on the clam pie, no capers on the salami pie, and no they don't have low-carb pizza for goodness sake.
"It's not that Andrew likes to say no to people," said Francine Stephens, his wife and co-owner of the restaurant. She was leaning against the counter of the couple's kitchen and opening a bottle of barbera. It was Monday evening and the restaurant was closed.
"It's just that we'll only serve what we think will taste good," she explained, giving the wine a quick sniff before pouring it into glasses. "When we opened Franny's, Andrew was so excited to finally be able to cook what he wanted and not what other people want him to cook. And when he's bored with something, it comes off the menu no matter how people love it."
The meatball pizza met that sad fate a few months ago, much to the dismay of the regulars.
"I got tired of making meatballs," said Mr. Feinberg with a shrug, though that was precisely what he was doing at the moment, mixing ground lamb, ground pork and softened bread in a basin-sized bowl balanced somewhat precariously on the narrow counter top of his narrow kitchen. Instead of putting them on a pizza, however, his plan was to braise them in tomato sauce and eat them with crostini for dinner.
If meatballs ever went back on the menu, he'd serve them like this, he said.
Mr. Feinberg was never really happy with the meatball pizza.
"The meatballs would roll off the top of the pizza as you're sliding it into the oven," he said as he sauted an onion in plenty of olive oil. "I tried flattening them into squat disks so they'd stay on," he continued, "but even so they were really heavy on top of the dough. We stretch the dough very thin. So the pies would come out of the oven and sometimes there'd be a giant gaping hole in the middle."
As he spoke, he mixed a vampire-repelling amount of chopped garlic into the onion in the pan and immediately turned off the heat.
"I like the garlic to stay a little raw," he explained, "the meatballs should be assertive, like a wonton filling, but not as dense."
To prove his point, while the onion and garlic mixture cooled, he chopped up huge feathery bunches of parsley and mint and folded those into the meat along with copious amounts of chile flakes and salt. Then he added the cooled onions and garlic, and what seemed like plenty of grated pecorino Romano cheese.
To check the seasonings, he fried a little patty of the mixture in the onion pan, then handed a morsel to Ms. Stephens, who popped it in her mouth.
She said: "It's a little bland. I think it needs more cheese, Drew."
Mr. Feinberg agreed: "Yeah, and more garlic." So he doubled those quantities.
Another patty was fried, tasted, and likewise rejected. More seasonings went into the bowl. Finally, patty number three was accepted.
"It's perfect and I really like the mint," Ms. Stephens said, licking her fingers. For the pizza meatballs, Mr. Feinberg used only parsley, and beef instead of lamb. But never one to rest on the laurels of a proven recipe, he wanted to try them a little differently today.
Mr. Feinberg formed the meatball mixture into Spaulding ball-sized rounds, though, he said, the size doesn't matter as long as they're not going on a pizza (and then they need to be more like large marbles). He browned them in oil and added them to a pot of tomato sauce he'd made earlier in the day. Next, he deglazed the pan with a little of the red wine Ms. Stephens had opened, scraping up the tasty browned bits that stuck to the bottom of the pan. This went into sauce as well, which was set to slowly simmer.
Soon, the windows fogged up with fragrant steam and the scent of garlic and tomatoes filled the air. Mr. Feinberg sliced bread for crostini while Ms. Stephens tried, perhaps, to convince him to think about putting the meatball pizza back on the menu.
"Our dough is much better than it was," she said refilling his wine glass, "I'll bet it wouldn't tear."
Mr. Feinberg shrugged. That may be true. But it wouldn't solve his boredom issue. His attention span for most of the dishes on the menu lasts about six to eight weeks. That's how long it usually takes him to get a dish where he wants it to be. Then, when it's perfect, the boredom sets in and he takes it off the menu.
"I don't understand chefs who say that their customers won't let them take things off the menu," he said as he brought the meatballs to the table, "how do they stand making the same things every day?"
He portioned the meatballs into bowls and passed around the crostini and more grated cheese. The meatballs were heady and richly flavored, but not overpoweringly garlicky. It was easy to see why, like sausage, salami, or olives, their intensity would be perfect on a pizza.
Alas, maybe too perfect.
Lamb Meatballs with Mint
Time: 2 1/2 hours
For the sauce:
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 (28 ounces each) cans peeled plum tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
For the meatballs:
1/2 small baguette (6 ounces), crust trimmed
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large Spanish onion, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds ground lamb
1 pound ground pork
1 1/2 cups grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional for serving
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup dry red wine
For the crostini:
1/2 baguette, sliced on a bias
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. To prepare the sauce, in a pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and saut until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in the tomatoes and salt and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer the sauce, occasionally mashing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, until they break down and the sauce thickens, about 25 minutes. Let cool slightly.
2. Pass the sauce through the coarsest disk of a food mill, or puree it until smooth in a food processor or blender. Return the sauce to the pot.
3. To prepare the meatballs, soak the baguette in water to cover until soft. Squeeze dry.
4. In a very large skillet over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and saut until translucent but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, stir well, and turn off the heat. Let cool.
5. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the lamb, pork, cheese, parsley, mint, pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, onion mixture and bread. Using your hands, mix well, until there are no longer any white spots from the bread. Form the mixture into 1 3/4-inch meatballs.
6. Add the remaining oil to the pan and warm it over medium-high heat. Fry the meatballs, turning on all sides, until well browned. Transfer the meatballs to paper towel-lined platters as they cook.
7. Add the wine to the skillet and let it simmer for a few minutes, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour the wine into the tomato sauce and add the meatballs. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
8. Just before serving, preheat the broiler. Brush the baguette slices with the olive oil. Toast them under the broiler until golden around the edges, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.
9. Serve the meatballs with the sauce, crostini and extra cheese.
Serves 6 to 8