Did you ever pick a restaurant for its fireplace(s)? That’s how we ended up at Martell’s in Kalamazoo last night (1), where I’ve dragged Kathy for basketball homecoming at Vicksburg tonight. This month’s Encore conveniently just arrived and featured an article on the 5 best fireplaces in the Kalamazoo area (2). Readers of this blog know how much Kathy and I love a good fireplace (3), so Mr. Cunningham was a big help for us picking our dinner spots. Tonight, we’ll dine at the Cove Lakeside Bistro (4) in Portage, on West Lake, right on the way to Vicksburg, just 7.2 miles to the high school. The big fireplace at the Cove backs up a view of the sunset over West Lake. Unfortunately, the patio is closed for the season.
Even though Martell’s seems to be a local institution, I didn’t recall it from my high school and college days living in Kalamazoo County in the 60s and early 70s. Then, thanks to Dr. Google, I learned it used to be called the Black Swan, which I certainly do recall as one of the places to eat (5). Not only did they have great food, but the location and atmosphere were outstanding. Still are. It sits right in the middle of Kalamazoo’s toniest neighborhood – Parkview – which grew up after WWII around Parkwyn Village, a neighborhood built around the four lakeside homes that a group of Upjohn scientists commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design (6). Although Wright designed only 4 of the 40 homes, he did design the whole community. The Village celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. You can see the neighborhood here (7).
But back to food. One of Martell’s/Black Swan’s legendary dishes is their meatballs, served as an appetizer. Mildly and subtly spiced, barely holding together, they were superb. The Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino 2019 washed them down like it was made for the task. Their Brasato followed (Italian style boneless short rib in a red wine reduction sauce) which stood up even better to that wine than the meatballs did.
So it got me thinking a little more about meatballs. They have kind of a mundane reputation. “Spaghetti and meatballs” is so simple, especially out of a Chef Boyardee can. But they’re kind of fussy to make, and not real easy to get right, like the chef at Martell’s clearly did. Just the right amount of bread crumbs, egg, meat, and cheese. You don’t want ‘em so hard you have to use a steak knife to cut ‘em in two. “Fork tender” is the standard. Not too big. Not too small. But oh the potential. Different meats and combinations, different spices, different alliums. And you don’t necessarily have to whip up a plate of spaghetti for them to rest on. I’ve taken a few stabs at making them over the last several years, and include the recipes below. You’re on your own for the wine pairings but red is a good place to start. Make sure you make enough, so you don’t end up singing the blues like little Josh White, Jr. (8)
Here are the recipes
This one’s the first I tried, using meats from little ungulates who never grew up:
Next, these are some spicy, spicy meatballs. Must be the harissa. Oh, and the paprika. A great appetizer with the green goddess dip:
And you don’t have to drive some place and look at cheap furniture to enjoy these:
Finally, here, the referenced Grandma is Jessica Gavin’s, not my much missed long departed Dutch and German ladies. I’m sure they made meatballs too, but I haven’t dug into their old recipe boxes or cookbooks to find out how. This one I found today looking for something like the Martell’s chef made. I think it’s close. Can’t wait to try it when I get home.
1. Martell’s. https://www.martellsparkviewhills.com/
2. Cunningham D. Five Faves. The area’s coziest fireplaces to cuddle by. Encore February 2022. pp 7-9. https://issuu.com/issuuencore/docs/encore_feb2022_final_links
3. Ike B. burn on. WordPress December 14, 2021. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2021/12/14/burn-on/
4. Cove Lakeside Bistro. https://www.covewestlake.com/
5. Bugnaski M. Martell’s, formerly known as the Black Swan, will offer casual dining with a strong Italian accent. Kalamzoo Gazette. September 8, 2009. https://www.mlive.com/living/kalamazoo/2009/09/martells_formerly_known_as_the.html
6. Parkwyn Village. https://www.parkwynvillage.com/
7. A unique community with the “Wright touch”. Eight West. August 3, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjqctyGqQyo
8. White J. One meatball. YouTube. Posted July 13, 2016. Recorded 1944. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHRhPcVarbE