The Observer Oct. 2007
When it comes to the best meatballs in the land, look no further than Woodbine Avenue in Northport Village.
At least that is according to the Food Network.
Bobby Flay is one of the Food Network’s top chefs, hosting a variety of culinary programs, including “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” When he decided recently to have a meatball throwdown, Mr. Flay and the Food Network picked Michael Maroni, of Maroni Cuisine in Northport to challenge in a meatball cook-off—otherwise known as the throwdown.
“Throwdown With Bobby Flay, The Meatball Challenge,” a competition between Mr. Flay and Mr. Maroni will air on the Food Network Tuesday, October 23 at 9 p.m. and again Wednesday, October 24 at midnight.
During an interview this week, Mr. Maroni and his restaurant partner and wife Maria Maroni explained the process that led to the show, and the thrill involved in being part of the throwdown.
Mrs. Maroni said that the Food Network contacted them in May but said nothing about Bobby Flay, a throwdown or meatballs. Instead, the Food Network producers told Mr. and Mrs. Maroni that their restaurant was being considered for a show called The Family Table.
“They asked us to send in an audition tape,” Mrs. Maroni said. They prepared an eight-minute tape of Michael making his acclaimed meatballs, and sent it in. The tape included a little bit of background about Michael, a self-taught chef, and about the restaurant and about Northport Village.
The tape was submitted in June, and in July the Food Network informed the Maronis that the restaurant had been selected for a featured on “The Family Table.” On a Sunday in July a Food Network crew spent about 10 hours filming at the restaurant and around Northport Village and on Monday they spent a long day filming at the Maronis’ Northport home.
While Michael Maroni was in the backyard making his famous meatballs, Bobby Flay suddenly appeared and challenged him to the throwdown. Mr. Maroni was quick to accept the challenge.
“Apparently, my jaw hit the floor,” said Mr. Maroni about reaction to the arrival of Bobby Flay at his home. “I was totally surprised. I had no clue he was going to show up at my house, and I thought this was going to be a completely different show.”
“My biggest worry was that I would be like Ralph Kramden—abada, abada, abada…” Mr. Maroni said. “But I’ve been on television five or six times and I’ve been taped before. All my stage fright went away quick and I was fine with it. It was really a lot of fun.”
“He was the nicest guy,” said Mrs. Maroni about Bobby Flay. “He was nice, humble and a really great guy.”
Mrs. Maroni declined to say who won the throwdown. “You have to watch the show.”
ON THE SET: Michael Maroni’s wife Maria (right) in the backyard of their Nothport home with celebrity chef Bobby Flay during the filming of the meatball throwdown.
“It was a really surreal experience. We were in the second day of filming, we thought we were doing something completely different and all of a sudden this celebrity chef comes walking into our backyard,” Mrs. Maroni said. “My husband does not get thrown all that easily, but this was amazing to him. It was very, very exciting for us. It was an experience of a lifetime.”
Mrs. Maroni said after the initial surprise, her husband was composed, and never came across as nervous or star struck. She said he interacted well with Bobby Flay, and that she thinks the show will be fun to watch.
Mr. Maroni said his meatballs are made from the recipe from his father’s mother, who is also Maria Maroni, a native of the town of Benevento in Naples, Italy. “My grandmother made the best meatballs on the planet,” Mr. Maroni said. He said she moved to Oyster Bay in 1925, and the Maroni family has been cooking its meatballs here ever since.
Mr. Maroni started cooking for a living when he was 16 years old at Old Gerlichs in Glen Head. He served a stint in the Navy from 1977 to 1979, then returned to the kitchen as a private chef for the Sea Cliff Yacht Club, the Nassau County Bar Association and several other places around Long Island. “I’m completely self taught,” he said. Mr. and Mrs. Maroni opened Maroni’s on Woodbine Avenue in Northport in 2001.
“I think I did well,” said Mr. Maroni, who also declined to reveal the outcome of the throwdown. “I made the meatball I’m known for.”
The meatballs were judged by Richard Sholom of the New York Times and by Julia Petrocelli-Vergari of Raphael’s Vineyard. “I think it was really legit and really fair,” Mr. Maroni said.
“He made a Bobby Flay ball,” Mr. Maroni said of his opponents meatball. “He is a great chef. He picks somebody who he knows to be among the best at something, then he challenges them, but he still makes it his way. He wasn’t trying to mimic my meatball. He was trying to beat me with his own meatball.”