March 19, 2008
At Roberta’s in Bushwick, the Pizza as Art
By PETER MEEHAN
LIKE many who migrate to Bushwick, Brooklyn, Chris Parachini moved there to be an artist and a musician. The rents are reasonable and neighbors aren’t much of a problem unless they play in a noisier band than you do.
The streets are quiet at night — maybe a little too quiet — and it doesn’t look like much, unless blocks of low-rise industrial buildings and yards ringed in concertina wire are to your taste.
He said the idea to open Roberta’s, to bring noon-to-midnight service and fantastic pizza to his restaurant-starved neighborhood, came to him during a meal with friends at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven.
“We were having a great time,” he said, “So I was like, we should open a pizzeria!”
Everyone agreed. And no one did anything. Like so many schemes hatched over pizza and beer, it was a scheme deferred.
Then an Italian-born friend (Mauro Soggiu, now a partner) who was at the meal told Mr. Parachini that an acquaintance was closing a pizzeria in Fossano, Italy, and wanted to sell the fixtures for “next to nothing.”
Sounding like Elwood Blues with an East Coast accent, Mr. Parachini said, “It was like a sign from God.”
It took a year for Mr. Parachini and his partners and co-chefs, Brandon Hoy and Carlo Mirarchi, to turn the warehouse space at 261 Moore Street into Roberta’s, which opened two months ago.
“At one point,” Mr. Parachini said, “the Italian shipping company told us the boat with our oven in it had been lost at sea.”
The place has a D.I.Y. feel, like a Bushwick loft. The ceilings are high, with beams exposed, and the floor is poured concrete. The dining room can seat about 50 people, and there will be room for 20 more when winter ends and its backyard deck can be opened.
Tables are big, made from repurposed old wood, and flea market chairs sit nearby. Cord upon cord of wood is stacked just beyond the door; the pizza-making station, with its marble slab and handsome red pizza oven, is out in the open, the visual focal point of the room.
The 12-inch pizzas ($7 to $15) are the focal point of the short menu. Roberta’s offers a margherita and a tomato-only rosso, but the restaurant is not a destination for anyone looking to stoke memories of Napoli: the heretically creative pies are the thing to get. (Neapolitan purists may now want to avert their eyes.)
Roberta’s take on a Hawaiian pizza comes topped with paper-thin sheets of ripe pineapple, shreds of ham, sliced jalapeńos and dabs of ricotta cheese.
The Chicken by the Sea features red sauce, Italian tuna, capers and red onions. Guanciale and Egg is just that: a mozzarella pizza strewn with crisp-cooked pieces of housemade guanciale (with appealingly strong flavors of clove and sweet spices) and an egg cooked to a slightly runny doneness during the pizza’s two or so minutes in the oven.
Calzones are beautifully browned and bubbly half-moons; choose the special calzone with roasted peppers, ricotta and capicola if it’s available.
Beyond the pies, there’s a simple salad ($6) of greens, Gorgonzola and roasted walnuts with a bright vinaigrette, and a few nonpizza items coming out of the kitchen at the back of the space.
The repertory is limited because the restaurant doesn’t have its gas turned on yet — they are cooking on hot plates and in the wood-fired pizza oven, in other words. But what I sampled — a side dish of simply roasted hen of the woods mushrooms and a perfectly medium-rare skirt steak, sliced and served over a nest of wilted onions in a buttery, buttery, buttery sauce — was good eating and an encouraging sign of what’s to come.
There’s only one dessert, a dense, sweet chocolate-and-amaretti cookie cake that one of the waitresses makes, so there’s no question of how to end the meal.
In fact, leaving the place, I had just one question: Who’s Roberta? I put it to Mr. Parachini.
“Roberta’s my mom,” he told me. “I had to do right by her just once.”
261 Moore Street (Bogart Street), Bushwick, Brooklyn; (718) 417-1118.
BEST DISHES Any specialty pizza; calzones; skirt steak; salad.
PRICE RANGE All dishes $6 to $16. The restaurant is B.Y.O.B.
CREDIT CARDS Cash only.
HOURS Noon to midnight, Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.