How’s a Midwestern sports town to pass the time between the Indy 500 and Allstate 400 and the impending football season? How ’bout some sporting chow-downs? Thusly, I present to you for your eating and judging pleasure: my list of Indy’s best balls. You may agree with the choices presented or you might burp and smash a beer can on your forehead in protest. Either way, you gotta be proud to live in a city with so many tasty balls.
A word on methodology: Ball-shaped foods that weren’t deemed as such by name weren’t considered. Otherwise one enters the slippery slope of mashed potato scoops, watermelon balls, lentils, grapes, etc.
I wrote German balls off as too sour long ago. I first tasted their kind at a pub in downtown Covington, Ky., in an area known for its German influence. Talk about ball cheese: Five of these small balls and their sauerkraut-crammed, cream-cheese chalked innards left me feeling violated. Ironically, there was little meat to be had.
The things I do in the name of my craft.
I tried The Rath’s version sans beer on a Monday following a Sunday filled with the results of too many Bells Two Hearted. Thankfully, these Brat ’n’ Kraut Balls ($9.95) were 180 degrees from what I had tried in Kentucky. Rath’s balls are dense, with a blend of juicy brats, sausage and beef, lightened by just the right amount of sour delivered via modest amounts of kraut. Served with three homemade sauces — including a brilliant beer-infused cream sauce — I couldn’t stop putting these in my mouth.
Proof that bigger can be better. The rice ball ($6.99) is a baseball-sized concoction of rice, peas and bits of meat held together with mozzarella and wet, creamy strands of what has to be ricotta cheese. The thing is dusted with an herbed breading and lightly fried, which allows it to keep its shape if you want to stick your fork through the middle for halving.
It’s served up with some marinara that’s nothing to write home about. But the sweet, doughy sensation you get when teeth mash ricotta and carb-rich rice is addictive.
The balls are some of Amore’s claim to fame, but they’re not fringe food — they built on the tradition of Sicilian arancini, a popular snack food from the streets of the motherland. Loose vegetarians can try it with spinach instead of meat.
Connor’s Pub cheese balls ($4) are so little they look like tater tots. Their addictively crunchy exterior gives way to a sharp, Velveeta-like blend. While I’d like to try them with a better tasting cheese — mozzarella would be trite, but nice — I understand the cost-benefit for such a recommendation would be nil. Why spend money on the good cheese when drunkards will munch on these?
There isn’t a ball on this list that isn’t decadent, and Banura’s concoction follows suit. Think of them as ball-shaped funnel cakes, ’cause that’s what they taste like, although they are more pillowy than dry. The deep-fried dough balls ($2.75) are doused with cinnamon and plunged in sugar water before they reach you. A word of caution: They come in two sizes, and you will eat as much as you’re given.
Woe be unto the food critic who exalts a meatball where there are so many viable vittles in this category. I will offer one of my favorites, however: The meatballs from Tomato Pie tend to be a bit dry, which allows their perfect spicing to shine through.