Atlanta Chefs Throw Down At Annual ‘Meat Brawl’ This Weekend

Broadcast version of this story as it aired on “Closer Look”

When you think of meatballs, you probably think of the nursery rhyme.

You know, “On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese.”

But Chef Ron Eyester prefers his meatballs “between two slices of bread and eating it fairly quick.” 

Eyester is head chef and owner of Rosebud, a restaurant in the Morningside neighborhood. He’s also, once again, a participant in the second annual Atlanta Meatball Festival coming up this weekend, which is produced by Taste ATL.

Eyester’s recipe is a classic Italian one, passed down through his family in New York. It did well at last year’s event, but Taste ATL also encourages chefs to put their own creative spins on the meatball.

Like last year, two notable submissions were one that used grits as breading and one made with tuna instead of red meat.

“You know, my personal philosophy with cooking is I don’t want to be creative just for the sake of being creative,” Eyester said while mixing together the meat and spices. “Sometimes a meatball should just be a meatball.”

Dale Desena is president and founder of Taste of Atlanta, and she-founded the Atlanta Meatball Festival.

“Like a lot of foods, everybody thinks they have the best meatball,” Desena said. “So we really challenge the Atlanta chefs in the community to say, ‘what makes your meatball the most special?’”

The “meat brawl throwdown” is the event’s competition to see who has the best meatball, with the top three chefs continuing on to compete at the Taste of Atlanta event in September. 

But this isn’t like a cooking competition you’d watch on TV. At the Atlanta Meatball Festival, the festival-goers cast the votes to determine the winner.

“I think that our people all want to be Simon Cowells or Paula Abduls,” Desena said. “And they want to be Bobby Flay or Rachel Ray. I think that’s what really makes it fun. The people get to decide.”

Chef Eyester considers crowd-pleasing a part of his job.

“You get to a point where yes, you have to understand food, but you also have to understand the guests who are eating your food,” Eyester said. “It’s kind of like the analogy if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to see it, did it make a sound? Well, if a chef is making food and there’s nobody around to eat the food, is that person still a chef?”

For Eyester, the meatball festival is an opportunity to hang out with other chefs, and maybe even get some inspiration. But his classic New York-style recipe will likely stay the same: Simple, familiar and delicious.

The Atlanta Meatball Festival, produced by Taste ATL, will be this Sunday in Sandy Springs. Tickets at the gate are $30.