Meatballs Spice Up Canadian Menus

As a new school year gets into gear and temperatures outside slowly start to drop, consumer cravings for heartier comfort foods begin to ramp up. And few items suggest classic comfort fare more so than meatballs do, as Canadian restaurant operators are realizing.

The incidence of meatballs on Canadian chain restaurant menus in Technomic’s MenuMonitor database rose nearly 12% from the second quarter of 2012 to the same period this year. Meatballs are gaining ground especially on appetizer menus, where they present a savoury, nostalgic and easily shareable way for guests to start a meal.

Independent restaurants, too, are showcasing fresh interpretations of this old-school favourite; establishments incorporate out-of-the-ordinary proteins (such as duck, as at Vancouver’s Fable) and flavourings (the Southeast Asian condiment sambal at Meat & Bread) into their meatball offerings.

With all of this—and the shifting seasons—in mind, here’s a look at the myriad ways in which Canadian restaurants are featuring meatballs on their menus. And yes, there is poutine.

Chains

  • Spaghetti and Smoked Meatballs, Canyon Creek Chophouse: Hickory-smoked house-made meatballs, balsamic tomato sauce and shaved Parmesan over spaghetti (entrée, $13.95)
  • Meatball Sliders, White Spot Restaurant: Two house-made meatball sliders topped with provolone cheese, arrabbiata sauce and pesto, served on pretzel buns (appetizer, $8.99)
  • Buffalo Chicken Meatball Skewers, D’Arcy McGee’s: Chicken meatballs tossed in a medium wing sauce with a blue-cheese drizzle, served with celery sticks (appetizer, $10)
  • Mamma’s Meatball Pizza, Mamma’s Pizza: Topped with meatballs, fresh plum tomato sauce, onions and Parmesan ($16.45/medium)
  • Smashed Meatball Sub, Denny’s: Two hand-pressed and seasoned meatballs in a rich tomato sauce over melted mozzarella cheese, topped with shredded Parmesan and served on ciabatta with a zesty garlic spread ($12.29)
  • Steak Meatballs Pho, Pho Hoa: Steak meatballs in a choice of signature beef or chicken broth, accompanied by assorted cuts of meat and a side dish of fresh basil, bean sprouts, chili peppers and lemon wedges ($7.29/small)

Independents

  • Meatball Sandwich, Meat & Bread (Vancouver): Topped with Grana Padano cheese, sambal and gremolata ($8)
  • Spaghetti and Meat Balls, Fable (Vancouver): Duck meatball, tagliatelle, mushrooms (appetizer, $11)
  • Meatball Poutine, The Meatball Shoppe (food truck, Hamilton, ON): Fries topped with two classic meatballs, shredded cheese and poutine gravy, drizzled with Sweet Basil & Garlic sauce and sprinkled with fresh cilantro ($9)

A focus on quality ingredients and detailed descriptions of the dish’s components—such as Canyon Creek Chop House’s “hickory-smoked house-made meatballs” or Mamma’s Pizza’s “fresh plum tomato sauce”—can go a long way in building appeal for an item that some consumers may remember as lacking any notable inspiration. With meatballs’ familiar format on their side, operators can explore a range of bold and globally inspired flavours, all nicely rolled into an easily accessible dish.

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Christine LaFave Grace

Christine LaFave Grace writes for and produces Technomic's Trends & Directions e-newsletters. She joined Technomic in 2013 as an associate editor. Her previous roles include assistant digital editor for Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare magazine and associate editor at Reed Business Information’s Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

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