Monday, May 17, 2010

My Bushwick: Roberta's

Summer in Bushwick while working full-time and studying for the NY Bar Exam may have been the Worst.Summer.Ever. Yet I knew what I was getting into when I found a cheap apartment above a grocery store far out in the middle of nowhere, where I planned to hole up and study for 3 months. I picked Bushwick because I knew that if I lived in the city, the temptation would get to me. After a day-long housing search, I opted for the place in Bushwick over a tiny apartment in the middle of Soho.

Whenever studying wills and trusts or property law from 15th century England threatened a complete shut down of all brain functions, potentially rendering me a drooling mess, I would leave my apartment and wander the neighborhood in search of food. My neighborhood was filled with Dominican and Puerto Rican cuchifrito joints serving everything from mofongo to mondongo (I'm not being sarcastic). While many people think of the neighborhood as foreboding, it seemed as if every weekend families living on the block would grill out, drink and listen to music (while I tried to study, stewing at my fate).

However, I quickly learned that one can only eat so much mofongo a week, so the relatively new pizzeria/restaurant Roberta's became my comfort food whenever I sought a completely different atmosphere from the spartan and drab mass of cuchifrito joints. The pizzas were blistered and perfect, and their calzones were unparalleled.

People say the ambiance at Roberta's is a microcosm of the Bushwick scene, but it's really just the epicenter of the "Bushwick White People Scene. Walk into any cuchifritos joint on any corner... that's the Real Bushwick Scene. I lived in that scene, although it was advertised as the amorphous neighborhood in Brooklyn known as "East Williamsburg" (but no one would mistake Flushing and Broadway for Williamsburg). It was a mix of adventurous hipsters and other people on the coattails of the Williamsburg scene; a bohemian collection of beards and skinny jeans in the industrial wilds of Brooklyn.

Cash Only

When I first moved in, my parents joined me on a trip to Roberta's. I suggested we walk. Four of us wandered through the neighborhood as the sun set, with my parents constantly wondering aloud about the possibility of us all getting murdered, as the crowds on Broadway gave way to factories, junk car lots and Chinese food manufacturers. They weren't looking hard enough, though. Enormous lofts filled with young outcasts lined the streets, they were blind to what was happening all around them.
The unassuming outside masks an eclectic interior, with random junk like trophies and Christmas lights scattered across the large room.

The bar serves tallboys (like everywhere else in Brooklyn), but also has a great selection on tap and an ever-changing cast of beers. A tall can of Modelo Especial always goes well with pizza (and anything else).

The beautiful pizza oven sitting in the front corner gives off a pleasant warmth, like the restaurant itself.

One of my favorite pies was the Specken Wolf, with speck, onions, mushrooms and rosemary. The pizza pictured below is not that pie. This is the "Crispy Glover," which is a great name for a pizza containing tomato, taleggio, garlic, guanciale, onion, breadcrumbs and pepperoncini oil. The taleggio by itself was overpowering, but when combined with the other ingredients, it proved mysterious and unconventional, like the real Crispin Glover.

After my eternal summer ended, I went back to Roberta's with the DAsian to recapture the magic. While the pizza was good, I hardly remember the specifics when put against what we had next.

For the few who have been reading Law & Food since it's inception, you know I rarely, if ever, make sweeping pronouncements about "the best" of something. Maybe it's just the lawyer in me, but I'm careful about what I say. However, the fried chicken at Roberta's might be the single best plate of food I ate in all of 2009. Everything on my plate was perfect.

The chicken was fried for maximum crunchy skin effect. I broke off an extra flap of skin, which made for one of the best "chips" I had ever eaten. The fried skin gave way to the intensely chicken-y and well seasoned meat. This was far better than a crappy supermarket chicken.

The biscuit was already buttery enough, yet the fresh honey butter melting on top was not overkill in the slightest. Even better was the Bibb lettuce with a buttermilk dressing, which had small pieces of fried chicken skin mixed in. How cool is that?

Look at that piece of chicken, perfect and glistening in the restaurant's natural light. We finished everything on the plate and could have ordered up a second round, but, as always, there were more places to eat that day.

I moved back to Manhattan after taking the Bar, but I will always remember my summer in Bushwick, especially my nights at Roberta's and the times spent wandering the foreign streets of this intriguing neighborhood.

UPDATE: Check out Steve's more recent post highlighting more of Roberta's non-pizza offerings.

261 Moore Street
Brooklyn, NY

To see all our pics please click the flickr link.

Roberta's on Urbanspoon

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