One of my favorite parts of being a food writer is having the opportunity to meet talented chefs. I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with Evan Blomgren, Chef and Owner of the Rocky Hill Inn, located just outside of Princeton, New Jersey, in the quaint borough of Rocky Hill. A graduate of the prestigious French Culinary Institute, Chef Evan has owned the Inn since 2008, earning a following for his creative, sophisticated interpretation of classic pub cuisine. As a treat for Striped Spatula readers, Chef Evan has generously shared the recipe for his popular Buffalo Chicken Meatballs with me. Served atop a crisp apple-celery slaw with creamy homemade blue cheese dressing, these delectable meatballs are sure to become your new favorite buffalo chicken dish. I know they’re mine!
Housed in a historic building that dates to 1745, the Rocky Hill Inn is known for its friendly and gracious hospitality. As soon as I met Chef Evan, the origin of this standard was clear. Greeting me with a warm smile, Chef invited me into his kitchen (where everything is prepared from scratch) to observe him cooking. As we chatted about the meatballs and food in general, Chef Evan’s passion for his craft was as evident as his genuine demeanor. He had been following some of the meatball creations served in New York prior to introducing this dish to the Inn’s menu, and drew, in part, upon his expertise in crafting unique burgers when developing the recipe. The Rocky Hill Inn has received a number of editorial and readers’ choice recognitions for its burger menu; Chef’s signature “RHI Burger,” topped with a sunny side up egg, was rated one of the best in New Jersey Monthly’s “Top Burger Showdown“. (I keep getting wooed by other specials and menu items and haven’t ordered this particular burger yet, but I’m on a mission for my next visit. It sounds incredible.)
Immediately upon plating, I was struck by the dish’s visual appeal. The bright, fresh slaw provided a beautiful backdrop to the golden meatballs, artfully punctuated by a drizzle of hot sauce. It was almost too pretty to eat. (I stress the almost, because you know nothing was stopping me from diving fork first into this plate!) With a juicy, tender texture (owed to the addition of bacon fat to the marinated ground meat and avoiding over-mixing), the meatballs tasted as wonderful as they looked. The addition of apple to the slaw provided a light, sweet-tart contrast to the deeper flavors of the dish, both married and cooled by the blue cheese dressing. I appreciated that Chef didn’t use the hot sauce in excess, allowing it to warm the palate without overpowering the more delicate flavors of the chicken and slaw. With balanced, well-developed layers of flavors and textures, these meatballs are everything that a good buffalo chicken dish should be. Let’s just say that the “to go” meatballs I bought that day didn’t last long at home!
Buffalo Chicken Meatballs are a current menu item at the Rocky Hill Inn, so if you’re in the area, they’re a great dish to share with friends over a beer or cocktail. (Dining options at the Inn include both the main dining room and the more lively tavern, featuring a selection of twenty rotating draft beers; it’s one of my favorite restaurants in town and a great destination for the craft beer connoisseur!) As a restaurant recipe that is quite accessible to making at home, this dish really embodies what draws me to dining at the Rocky Hill Inn: inspired interpretations of classic flavors that beg to be enjoyed with friends. Thank you, Chef Evan, it is an honor to call you a friend of Striped Spatula!
For more information on Chef Evan Blomgren and the Rocky Hill Inn:
137 Washington Street
Rocky Hill, NJ
Note from Amanda: I love that Chef’s recipe calls for freshly-ground marinated chicken breasts. I started grinding my own meats at home with some regularity several years ago and have found that there is a real difference in freshness, taste, and texture over pre-packaged varieties. I love knowing exactly what cuts of meat went into the grind and having the ability to craft blends that aren’t available at the market. Grinding meat at home is not as difficult as one might think. I ended up purchasing a countertop meat grinder at my local kitchen store to handle larger batches, but before that, I used the grinder attachment sold for my stand mixer with good results. My tips for success when using the attachment: cut the meat into cubes before starting and make sure that they’re quite cold before grinding for the best texture. Give at-home grinding a try with these meatballs!