Not Just Pizza at Roberta's
Cucumber salad with Calabrian chili and fennel.
When I rode my trusty bike over the Williamsburg Bridge to Roberta’s, the famed pizza joint in Bushwick, I knew restraint should be casually tossed over the railing. It wasn’t a long ride, but I hoped that the mileage would leave me with a slight edge. You can understand my excitement, in San Francisco this was my favorite type of restaurant (Piccino, Flour & Water and Delfina Pizza to name a few). And, despite living in New York for two years, I had yet to dine at this hipster institution of pizza.
I found my friend sitting at the outdoor patio, she was drinking a margarita and mentioned I had ten more minutes before happy hour ended. Noted. I quickly bought a glass of white wine. Then we lazed around in the sunshine and caught up. I was hungry but I ignored my appetite and used it as a form of withholding, something I can be known for, to ensure that when I finally do get something, I really enjoy it. So I waited.
We had two more glasses of wine. And waited.
Now I was a tipsy. My friends friend, Michael, told me his bicycle wheel was recently stolen out front. Noted. I went outside and locked up both my frame and my front wheel. I looked around the block. It reminded me of some of the areas around Hunter’s Point, also in San Francisco. Gritty and commercial, Roberta's felt like an oasis in the desert.
We finally made our way in and grabbed two bar seats. Some time passed before we got menus or water, but I didn’t really mind. The ambiance at Roberta’s is that good, or maybe I had achieved that perfect place between just enough wine and not enough food?
The menu at Roberta's
In looking over the menu, I wanted it all, but we were just two girls (or as my mom prefers me to write: women). Of our two starters, the cucumber salad was so leaps and bounds better that the other dish (cabbage with razor clams), that the other dish just may as well not exist. Eensy sprigs of furry fennel and Calabrian chili offset the salad, delicate curls of thinly sliced crisp Persian cucumbers. The mix of cool and spicy was pushed to another world entirely with the sweet licorice fennel. I was sharing the dish but what I wanted to do was circle the plate with my arm and say: Mine.
While we waited for our next course, Amanda, the lucky wine buyer for Roberta’s, came by to say hi. The wine list changes daily and is selected with the care of a fine-art curator. I counted six rosés alone. Six!
The Summer Sinclair pizza: crucolo, chard, maitake mushrooms, red onion and Calabrian chili.
We forewent a pasta dish, but if I’d had an expense account I would have ordered the torchietti with little neck clams. But I didn’t. Next came our pizza, the Summer Sinclair, topped with crucolo (a nice elastic cows milk cheese that isn’t too overpowering and with a nice buttery taste), chard, maitake mushrooms, red onion and, my new favorite, Calabrian chili which has plenty of smoky/spicy kick without too much heel in your face. I had one slice and devoured it before I could recognize how the blend of toppings were coming together. However I can speak to the crust, which was thin but chewy, very straightforward for a crust. I can also speak to the delicious hot oil that was on the table, which was so good I wanted to steal the bottle. I didn’t.
Our last dish was the grilled Mangalitsa collar, the fatty part of a pigs neck. It was served over fresh roasted corn, pickled onion, and two delicate green herbs: papalo and epazote. The surprise addition were the dollops of sweet corn pudding, somewhere between the consistency of mustard and rice pudding, which complimented the fatty pork, the char of the fresh corn and the acid of the pickled onions. The dish made you stop and smile. Our waiter came by and, after I gushed, he mentioned that the two things he had in his fridge were water and bacon from the same farm as the collar. Noted.
Grilled Mangalitsa collar with roasted corn.
As we sat and chatted, a couple came by and grabbed an empty chair to our left. They held a coveted bag from Blanca, the fancier sister restaurant to Roberta’s. I recommended the Mangalitsa collar, because that’s what I do, and they told me they were just there for the pizza. Then I looked back at the Blanca bag, looked at them, and said, “Wait, did you just eat at Blanca?” They did. 27 courses or something like that, and here they were, at Roberta’s, to order a pizza.
“Wait. What? Really?” I said.
She laughed, a deep loud infectious laugh. We introduced ourselves. Justin, the man behind the desire for the post-dinner dinner, told me he didn't want to leave without trying the pizza he had heard so much about.
“But, where do you live?” I asked.
I shook my head. I may have even called him gluttonous. But these are my people.