So it seems fitting that music helped make a new collaboration between Czar (1531 Grand) and the Magical Meatball Tour. The meatball truck’s proprietors, Venus Van Horn and Ceasar Reyes, debut a new meatball menu at the Crossroads bar January 5. The selection of sandwiches and appetizers will be available Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
“I’ve known Venus’ husband, Troy, for a long time,” says Tim Gutschenritter, who owns and operates Czar with his brother, Dallas. “She needed a place to operate, and I knew she was a super-talented, really creative chef.”
“Czar owners Tim and Dallas [are] kindred spirits who want to provide their clientele with a more adventurous take on bar food. It’s really a perfect match,” Van Horn says.
The idea for the partnership was launched during the Crossroads Music Festival last September, when the Magical Meatball Tour used the Czar kitchen as a commissary. Over the past few months, the truck has been parked in front of Czar, slinging meatballs and luring hungry downtown patrons. The Czar owners debated about turning their kitchen into a revolving pop-up restaurant featuring a rotating cast of chefs, but they kept returning to the idea of bringing in the Magical Meatball Tour to kick off a new menu.
“They were just kick-ass; it made sense to work together,” he says.
For Van Horn, the idea of getting out of the cramped mobile kitchen was welcome because she could bring more of her meatball recipes to life. The result is a collection of dishes that go way beyond the traditional hoagie drowning in sauce and cheese.
“At Czar, we will be able to expand our menu and offer more choices to our customers,” Van Horn says.
The menu is launching with five sandwiches. The Bleu Balls (pork and beef balls with Buffalo-style sauce, slaw and blue cheese, for $9.50) and the Giuseppe (pork and beef balls with spicy marinara and a parmesan and basil chiffonade) will be familiar to fans of the truck, while the Matador (ground pork, beef and corn tortilla balls with Spanish spices, a fire-roasted tomato sauce and Mexican cheeses) is likely to be embraced by Czar patrons. Vegetarians also have options: the Matador (made with sweet-potato and black-bean balls) and Green Balls (chickpea and walnut balls with a cucumber-yogurt dressing and an heirloom-tomato salad). The two appetizers include a sampler of each magical meatball, sans bread ($10), and the Chorizo Gusher Balls, which are for adventurous eaters.
“Chorizo Gusher Balls are spicy balls with a Fruit Gusher candy baked inside. It’s kind of a different take on the appetizer your mom may have made with meatballs and grape jelly,” Van Horn explains.
The meatball menu is just part of the culinary makeover that Czar’s owners have planned for the next few months.
In September, the Gutschenritters opted to stop serving food. The brothers took over Czar Bar in March of last year, rebranding it as Czar and calling it an “upscale dive.” The kitchen was open six days a week, and the beer selection improved markedly, reflecting the same attention to craft brewers that has turned the brothers’ other bar, the Riot Room, into a favorite of beer geeks across the city.
Gutschenritter intends to have food six days a week again, using the meatball menu to re-introduce bargoers to the idea that they can get a bite to eat at Czar. The owners are playing around with new dishes that are tasty but quickly prepared — like a salad that can be dressed and garnished by a bartender — and with the concept of a “Meatless Monday” that would feature vegan and gluten-free dishes from vegan chef Jade Gutschenritter (who is married to Dallas). One item that will return to Czar’s menu from the bar’s food served last spring: the hot wings.
“They’re traditional, Buffalo-style wings,” Gutschenritter says. “They have a little bit of a sweet zing, and they were one of the flagship items that had people coming in every day to eat them.”
He also has found inspiration from working with Van Horn and Reyes, seeing the meatballs as
symbolic of the new direction for Czar, a philosophy that Gutschenritter sums up as “deconstructing food into one bite.” In the weeks after the meatball menu launches, Gutschenritter intends to unveil a set of cocktails. Among Czar’s developing liquor experiments is the Martini Sirin, a combination of Yellow Chartreuse, cranberry bitters, a splash of sparkling white wine and lemon.
“It’s got that lemon refreshing flavor with carbonation and herbaceousness,” Gutschenritter says. “We’re going to move toward seasonal cocktails. We’re really into simple flavors and layers. We don’t want to get too complex and confuse and lose people.”
Czar’s wine program is designed, in part, to reflect a change in the acts coming to the stage of this Crossroads bar, including jazz musicians.
The menu of the Magical Meatball Tour debuts this week at Czar on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The menu is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and is available after 4 p.m. Thursday—Saturday. Sandwiches cost $9.50 ($1.50 more with Kettle chips), and the appetizers are $10.