261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206 (near Bogart Street; map); 718-417-1118; robertaspizza.com
Must-Haves: Paige's Breakfast Burrito, Calzone, Guanciale and Egg Pizza, Porchetta and Fontina Sandwich
What You'll Spend: $25 per person for salad, pizza, soft drink, tax, and tip. Roberta's is BYO on beer and wine
There are three kinds of people in the pizza-making universe. There are the to-the-oven-born, old-school types like Lawrence Ciminieri of Totonno's, whose great uncle Anthony Pero (nicknamed "Totonno") introduced pizza to the family gene pool almost a hundred years ago. Then there are the obsessive, perfectionist, chef/bread baker types, like Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana, Andrew Feinberg of Franny's, and Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. Then there is the third school, what I call the "We're good cooks who love pizza, so let's open a pizzeria" contingent, where a can-do attitude, enthusiasm, some cooking chops, and economic necessity are the forces driving the people involved.
The partners at the very fine Bushwick, Brooklyn, pizzeria Roberta's definitely fall into the latter camp. Musician and bar-owner Chris Parachini and his partners Brandon Hoy, Carlo Mirarchi, and Mauro Soggio decided to open a pizzeria because they love pizza. They found a practically unfinished space with high beams and poured-concrete floors in a hard-core commercial section adjoining an auto-repair shop in Bushwick, went to Italy to apprentice with an Italian pizzaiolo, found a fire-engine-red wood-burning pizza oven in a bankrupt Italian pizzeria (yes, pizzerias do go bankrupt in Italy), and came back to Brooklyn, put in the pizza oven in the front and waited for the city to install the gas line in the kitchen in the back. They waited and waited until they were about to run out of money, so they were forced to open Roberta's with the aforementioned pizza oven and three pans and three propane burners in lieu of a kitchen.
The pizza at Roberta's is very good (though not world-class), so they clearly learned a fair amount in their Italian sojourn. The crust is thinner than the typical Neapolitan pie and thicker than the cracker-thin-crusted Roman pizza. It is chewy, usually blessedly salted, and airy and light. Occasionally it is a little tough and stiff. The creamy mozzarella is made in-house, and the canned tomatoes are of the good quality, non-DOP Italian variety. The very-solid-if-unspectacular Margherita ($8) that comes out of the red pizza oven has the right ratio of cheese to sauce to crust.
Roberta's varied and decidedly nontraditional toppings are where this place makes its mark in New York's hypercompetitive pizza scene. I usually have little use for breakfast pizzas, but the two on the menu here are both terrific. Paige's Breakfast Burrito ($14) has little rounds of sautéed fingerling potato, seasoned Berkshire ground pork, mozzarella, sunnyside egg, and jalapeño pepper. The other, more Italian breakfast pie ($12) has thinly sliced house-cured guanciale (pork jowl), tomatoes, mozzarella, and a fried egg.
Roberta's even serves an artisanal version of the dreaded Hawaiian pizza called Da Kine ($15), with fresh pineapple, ricotta, Salumeria Biellese's prosciutto cotto (Italian boiled ham), and jalapeño. It represents a valiant but failed effort to elevate the reputation and status of the pineapple and ham pie. Some things are better left unexamined and unelevated.
The two huge calzones the Serious Eats crew tried at Roberta's are both contenders for best-in-show in New York. Made with folded-over pizza dough, one ($12) features the aforementioned prosciutto cotto, mozzarella, and mushrooms; the other ($13) is made with pesto, mozzarella, ricotta, roasted red peppers, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and prosciutto. They arrive at the table piping hot in full calzone bloom, the top rising a full four or five inches off the plate. Once you cut the calzone, the air escapes, and it collapses like a fallen soufflé.
At lunch Roberta's serves sandwiches on great Sullivan Street baguette known as stirato. One, a crunchy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside porchetta sandwich ($8) made with house-roasted peppers and fontina, is so good it's ready to be inducted into the Brooklyn Sandwich Hall of Fame. Partner Carlo Mirarchi roasts a heritage pork butt in his kitchen at home for a minimum of 14 hours hours at 205 degrees and schlepps it to the restaurant every day. Another simple and delicious sandwich features Salumeria Biellese sweet soppressata, La Tur cheese, and fresh greens ($7).
Salads and Dessert
For those of you who insist on salad at every meal there is a pretty good gorgonzola and walnut salad ($6) made with bibb lettuce. I never got to try the housemade pasta, and the only dessert available when I've been there has been a refreshing, light lemon and mint granita ($6), though according to Parachini, they usually have two desserts on hand, including a panna cotta, tiramisu, or a chocolate amaretti cake.
Roberta's is an incredibly appealing place with a relaxed, DIY vibe. Service is well-meaning if a little haphazard. The pizza is already very good and may or may not be on the way to great. But I don't think it really matters if it gets there, because the place itself is already filled with positive energy and good feelings, as well as plenty of really good food made with carefully chosen ingredients.
That really good food should give them more than enough time to get the gas into the kitchen, and then look out, world.