There's nothing like a little comfort and a little fun, especially when it's all rolled up into one ... meatball, that is!

Meatball & Co. is the newest addition to Darien's most tasteful establishments, but this one is a little different. This is a place where quality ingredients come together in the form of cleverly created meatballs and more.

Owner Joe Criscuolo has combined his family's heritage of great Italian comfort food from the Bronx, N.Y., with his own expertise as a Culinary Institute of America graduate and big-city chef.

This is his first time owning a restaurant. He's looking forward to making Meatballs & Co., at 20 Center St., a success.

"I'm a first-generation Italian, so basically everything was all around food," said Criscuolo, whose father, Luca Criscuolo, opened Pizza Post in Greenwich in 1972. "A love for food was developed early on."

Not only was his mom a great cook, but so were his aunts and uncles, who lived on the same block.

Following some time on staff at Pizza Post, Joe Criscuolo eventually found his way into Manhattan, where he attended the CIA and entered the world of fine dining, including a stint at Felidia and more than two years working in the kitchen at the Tribeca Grill.

While in New York he was inspired by a restaurant called the Meatball Shop, which created a concept based around the fun food.

"Up here, it's something that doesn't exist, really," he said. "Rather than just pizza, I thought, `What a great concept to bring a little piece of New York up here.' "

And so he opened a downtown Darien restaurant that not only caters to a take-out crowd with a long, open kitchen area near the front entrance, but also offers two sections of formal dining in the back, including a dozen seats out on a covered patio.

The menu is designed to give customers a fun choice to create their own meal. Five kinds of meatballs are available -- beef, chicken, spicy pork, eggplant, and a rotating daily special -- along with six sauce choices, including "cheesy goodness," pesto and mushroom gravy.

For one day recently, the special meatball of the day was buffalo chicken with a bleu cheese sauce.

There is also a collection of comforting side dishes, along with salads, grilled vegetables and risotto choices.

"Even though it's a small menu, there's a lot of combinations," Criscuolo said.

The sit-down menu itself is even fun: Customers use wipe-off markers at their tables to make their selections.

"Kids love it (and) it doesn't have to be pretentious to be good," Criscuolo said. "It's just home cooking, really."

While the gradual grand opening of the restaurant is still underway for September, several customers already have returned for another helping.

"It's good food," said Louise Murphy, of Darien. "It's something different. The town doesn't have something like this."

And Mara Goodrich, of Norwalk, said, "I like it because they're smaller portions and they're always fresh and delicious."

Criscuolo said he is using high-quality products to make his meals, including fresh pizza dough.

"The whole thing was just to have some fun and do something different," he said. "It's still comfort food in the end."

For information, call 203-309-5600.

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