Among the hundreds of takeout options from local restaurants, one in particular has gained a cult following: the meatball grinder from Curt’s Cucina in Southern Pines.
An original menu item, the grinder hasn’t been served at Curt’s for years — but when restaurants had to close, chef Curt Shelvey brought it back. Now, he’s prepping up to 1,000 meatballs a night. And most nights, he’s selling out.
“I had two hours notice to shut down my restaurant, and I started thinking, what is something high-quality that I can produce and keep it under $15 in trying times?” he said. “Now, I feel like I’ve become the Colonel Sanders of meatballs.”
On social media, screenshots of call logs show that people are calling 60 times in a row, fighting a busy signal just to get their hands on one.
More than 70 percent of his takeout orders, Shelvey said, are placed by new customers.
So, what makes the grinder so good?
Grass-fed, hand-ground and hand-breaded meatballs, a house-made buffalo mozzarella, tomato gravy — not marinara. And the bread is from Tribeca.
“I love our local bakers, but you can’t do bread like New York,” he said, with butter garlic and spices baked in.
Did we mention your order starts when you call in?
“The most expensive part of the grinder is the protein,” Shelvey said. “You can’t scrimp on that. But, you have to have a good gravy, and a good cheese, and a good catalyst (the bread) to bring it all together.”
Convinced that the COVID pandemic has changed the way people approach dining out — not to mention the response from meatball grinder fans Shelvey was inspired to change his business model. He’s investing in ways to produce his most popular takeout options in the most efficient way possible.
Shelvey is knocking down walls to create sliding windows, where customers will be able to order and pick up food. He’s looking at adding patio space, where customers can sit and wait (or eat) as regulations allow.
And, he has begun work on a grinder-focused food truck, called The Gravy Train (as in tomato gravy), that he hopes could hit the road this fall.
“I’m trying to get ahead of the curve, and trying to adapt as quickly as possible.”