In The Midnight Hour: Arancini Bros.
Open Until: 2:00 am, Sun-Wed; 4:00 am, Thu-Sat
Drinking Until: 4:00 am, 7 days at the adjoining Wreck Room
Food Until: close, 7 days
Single-food restaurants are nothing new, but more and more of them seem to be sprouting up, and in some cases dominating the culinary landscape they inhabit. Such a fate could easily be in store for the new brick and mortar Bushwick outpost of Arancini Bros., the former Hester Street Fair vendor that specializes in fried risotto balls with fillings as unpredictable as the edgy, industrial neighborhood where they've made their home.
The windowed storefront, attached to watering hole the Wreck Room—a dive bar to end all dive bars, with car seats for chairs and automobile parts mounted on the walls (get it? like a car wreck)—only holds four stools with minimal counter space. Larger groups would do well to order their balls via the back window accessible from within the bar. Due to the restraints of their cooking equipment, owner Will Levatino trounced the idea of additional dishes—"But", he added, "we're thinking of doing granitas in the summer."
All balls cost $3, making them a delightfully affordable snack. The rotating menu includes at least one vegetarian option, so on any night you might find mushrooms, sausage or broccoli rabe with bechamel stuffed inside the golden brown, greaseless arborio orbs. They can also be made gluten-free upon request. So how are they? Damned fine. On the night we visited, there were balls stuffed with spinach and ricotta, butternut squash and rosemary, ragu rich with saffron and peas, and a carbonara version with pancetta, egg, pecorino cheese, and a healthy dose of black pepper. Of those, the butternut squash and carbonara stood out the most—the sweet squash and punch of rosemary do a lovely job of straddling the sweet/savory line, and carbonara is already a study in excess, so frying the whole affair adds another level that puts the ball into stoner food territory. Both the ragu and spinach/ricotta varieties were lacking a bit of salt, a minor overstep easily overlooked in light of the tangible pleasures of eating these things. The rice itself is cooked tender, devoid of any graininess—a tough task when dealing with risotto.
Turns out, savory balls are for chumps. A dessert arancino filled with Nutella and coated in cinnamon sugar was a revelation. Like the lovechild of rice pudding and churros, everything about this ball sings "decadence" as if it were Josh Groban himself. Who knew creamy rice and chocolate spread could taste so good? You have to give it to a food that can alternate as both dinner and dessert in the same package.
A short walk from the Morgan L subway stop, Arancini Bros., with its spare confines and abbreviated menu, is a quirky addition to an already quirky part of the borough that is seemingly unstoppable in its quest for Brooklyn foodie sovereignty.
About the author: Zachary Feldman is a former debutante and current freelance writer. He makes hand-crafted, small batch bitters under the moniker Bitters, Old Men.