Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roberta's Pizz in Bushwick

Every day I get a few emails from Tasting Table, one of the recent ones was about this pizza restaurant in Bushwick, an up and coming, industrial area with several live, work lofts that's attracted lots of arty hipsters.

Depending on the train you take it's about 5 stops out, living on the Lower East Side as I do I took the J train to Flushing and walked through the projects for about 10 minutes or so. It was really eye opening. I live surrounded by projects, but somehow the uber-gentrified and gentrified LES has had a taming affect on the 'hood. Also the projects here have been around since the sixties and are now surrounded by large trees.

Listen to me being a back seat Jane Jacobs, anyway my point is simply where I live, even though it's got a huge density of subsidized housing, it seems livable and safe. This walk from the J train did not. Grim, barren, densely packed cheap fast food outlets, low end chain stores, elevated train, bleak, with lots of industrial emptiness and not so safe feeling.

Not that I felt threatened. I didn't. But if I was to go again I'd take the L and get off at the Morgan station, which stops just around the corner in the heart of the burgeoning industrial loft neighborhood that Bushwick is becoming known for and is nothing like the walk there from the J train. It's one of those typical New York things where you can be walking along one stretch of a block and be skeeved out and turn the corner and all of a sudden it's a whole different vibe and you are, in this case, in a very friendly pocket of cool and groovy.

Funny, Neil and I were at a party on White street a few Winters back at our friend Christian's place before he moved to Berlin and opened up his art gallery. Anyway, that night it was impossible to tell there was anything but vast empty lots, and lots of trucks. Today when I went I got the feel for this funky, few, blocks that was very appealing. A grocery store, wine store and several restaurants have all popped up to make this outpost of hip very livable, even desirable. The idea of space to grow your own garden in is more and more my idea of a place to call home.

Roberta's caught my attention because they are taking the local idea and running with it. Roberta's as you can tell from the video below is a non-descript grey brick building with a basic sign outside. The inside is like some turn of the century tavern, old wood, retro grunge feel, with a view out onto what looks like was a parking lot.

What the adventurous and smart owners of Roberta's have done is gotten some old shipping containers and are in the midst of building themselves a garden, rumor has it in addition to the garden they are also getting themselves a green house so that they can have tomatoes either fresh or ones they put up, all year round. They source everything locally and soon that source will be just outside. How cool is that?

I find the entire enterprise wildly exciting, so much so I left them a resume. I'm sure they laughed at me and wondered what such an old un-hip guy like me was doing applying for a job, but I figure it's better to try and work at places that speak to you.

My pizza was great, charred and chewy, with a perfectly cooked egg in the middle, tangy tomato sauce and wonderfully unctuous/crispy guanciale - a type of "classy Canadian Bacon", so said the perky waitress. In truth, speaking as a Canadian, it has little to do with Canadian bacon, which we in Canada actually call peameal bacon and is really a fatty pork loin, cut thick, rolled in pea meal.

They have a great selection of beer and a limited selection of red and white wine. It'd be nice to see some mention of organic or biodynamic on their wine menu given how important it is to their food.

I can't wait to take Neil here. In the video near the end you'll see guys on top of the containers planting tomatoes. In the early part of the video I go up close to the pizza ingredients, those aren't canned "ripe" olives are they?

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