A Meatball’s 100-Mile Odyssey

The journey of Tony Meatball began in 1971
John Jurim, above, explained the Tony Meatball menu to patrons last weekend. Mr. Jurim is the manager of the Bridgehampton store, which was opened by Mark D’Andrea in August. Mark Segal Photos

How did a meatball from Staten Island with a 45-year pedigree wind up with a shrine to itself in Bridgehampton? The journey of Tony Meatball began in 1971, when Anthony and Joanne D’Andrea, first-generation Italians, opened the RoadHouse, a restaurant some three miles west of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Over the years, several items stood out from its huge menu as signature dishes: clam pizza, chicken Parmigiana with baked rigatoni, escarole and beans, and meatballs. Mark D’Andrea took over the restaurant from his parents in 1990, and it is still going strong. “My executive chef, Dina, started at 40,” he said. “She’s 87, and she’s still there.”

Mr. D’Andrea had never heard of the Hamptons until friends from Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Military Academy invited him to visit during the summers. After a few visits, he fell in love with the area and has been coming back ever since, but to this day does not have a house here, although he has been actively looking. “I’ve long thought this would be a wonderful place to retire, but I would need to have a place to get my grandmother’s meatballs and sauce.”

Then, last summer, Mr. D’Andrea found and began construction at a space on Bridgehampton Main Street. At a fund-raiser for the Gimme Shelter Animal Rescue in Southampton, where his meatballs were among the attractions, he met Catalin (John) Jurim, who was working the catering end. By the end of the day, Mr. Jurim had signed on as manager of the new venture.

Tony Meatball opened Aug. 10. “We gave away thousands of meatballs,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “By Labor Day I had complete confidence I had made the right decision coming here.” Early on, Mr. Jurim, who commutes 60 miles to and from Babylon each working day, saw Pierre Weber, owner of the eponymous restaurant next door, driving by in his Citroen. “I flagged him down and thrust a meatball through his open window.” Soon after, Mr. Weber sent a bouquet of flowers to the shop.

The menu is simple, with two kinds of meatballs. The “Tony” meatball is made from pork, beef, and veal; the “skinny” meatball from grass-fed beef and chicken. Either can be served simply, with house-made tomato sauce and the addition of rigatoni or a house salad, or on a hero roll. The meatballs are baked, not fried. Each meatball is seven ounces, and plates are dusted with Pecorino Romano cheese and topped off with a dollop of ricotta.

The narrow, pristine space sparkles with white tile and wainscoting, red walls, an unpainted tin ceiling, and a long counter. The space doesn’t allow for much seating. There are a few stools, a miniature table and four chairs for kids, and a long counter for those willing to stand. Much of the business is takeout.

Mr. D’Andrea is pleased that he is not infringing on anybody else’s business. “I’m not selling steak, I’m not selling pizza. I’m selling my thing.” His thing is a piece of the RoadHouse. His brother Michael, who also worked at the Staten Island restaurant while growing up, now owns Macaluso’s restaurant on Miami’s South Beach, where the clam pizza and meatballs are just as popular as on Staten Island.

Tony Meatball is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m., Sunday from 11 to 8. On Friday evenings, Mr. Jurim said, they are willing to stay open later if telephoned from the road — within reason, that is.