Kickboxing, tattoos and antiques are among the hobbies that keep Michael Chernow busy when he's not managing the front of the house at his New York City restaurant, the Meatball Shop. The 30-year-old native New Yorker once tended and managed bars, then decided to enroll in culinary school. Last year he joined forces with partner/executive chef Daniel Holzman to open their popular Lower East Side hangout, which specializes in two items: meatballs and ice cream sandwiches. He and his wife, Donna, share their Brooklyn home with a very large dog.
Meatballs and ice cream sandwiches: Kind of a narrow niche. Why do they work together?
Dan and I were both working in places serving fancier, more upscale cuisine. We just wanted to do something simple and familiar. Meatballs are familiar, delicious and acceptable, and ice cream sandwiches are the classic staple. Both are nostalgic. It's very difficult to say no to both of them.
With a busy restaurant, how do you find the time to keep fit enough to compete in martial arts?
I've been doing kickboxing for six years, and recently I've been focusing on Brazilian ju jitsu. I'm also a marathon runner. I run anywhere between 30-50 miles a week, and I do martial arts five days a week. I'll break away from work mid-day. I'm also not afraid to run to a business meeting and sit there in my running gear. Some people think I'm a little crazy, but I explain that I have to fit it in somewhere. When we were opening the restaurant, I couldn't go to the gym. So I would run to work, do pushups in the bathroom during the day and run home from work. I made the bathroom my gym. My whole staff thought I was out of my mind.
Um, we can see that. So, after all that working out, is your fridge stocked with healthy eats?
I am a huge apple eater. My fridge is stuffed with apples all the time. My favorite is hard to find, it's a Black Twig, an heirloom apple. I also love Honeycrisp and Matsus. There's always a lot of cheeses, because I love cheese. I don't drink, but there's a ton of different beers for friends who come over.
The Meatball Shop incorporates wood you pulled from a century-old tenement, and you enjoy collecting. You don't strike us as an antiquing kind of guy.
My dad was a serious collector when I was growing up. I hated it when I was a kid, but I guess it's just embedded in my genes. I don't look for anything specific — I just like old things. Especially old black and white portraits. I think those are a lot of fun.
Tell us about your ideal day off.
My wife and I will take a run, have a really great breakfast, go for a walk around the West Village, have a burger at the Spotted Pig for lunch, walk over to Balthazar for coffee and pastry, sit on the benches outside and people-watch, go see a movie, snack on popcorn mixed with M&Ms, go to Tomoe Sushi for dinner, and grab some Tasti D-lite for dessert.
We assume at least some of those 20-odd tattoos have an interesting story behind them. If you could only keep one, which would it be?
Hmm…I would be torn between the portrait of my dog and one on my left shoulder blade dedicated to my wife.