In my time at TT, I've written about uni-covered pizzas. Roman-style pies and slices spread with 'nduja. The rest of the staff knows that any restaurant opening with something that even vaguely resembles a pizza on the menu, I'm going to volunteer (insist, really) to check it out.
But I've always had a dirty secret that's taken a pretty sizeable slice out of my pizza street cred: Until last week, I'd never been to Roberta's. Yes, I call myself a pizza fanatic and am an editor at a reputable NYC-based food publication, but I'd never been to the seven-year-old Bushwick mothership. Roberta's is a multiple Michelin Bib Gourmand pick and has always gotten rave critical (and lay-pizza-eating-person) reviews from everyone and their mom—adding to the humiliation.
I'd eaten the pizza once at a now-defunct food festival (pour one out for GoogaMooga) but had never actually braved the L. Why? Mostly because the restaurant's location is just inconvenient to where I live—but I've also always had the stubborn 'tude of, "I'm not going to wait two hours for pizza!" Even so, I'd feel a wave of mozzarella-topped shame wash over me every time I'd admit I'd never been. So I decided enough was enough.
Turns out, some of the other Tasting Table editorial staffers hadn't been there either, so we cut out of the office for a few hours last week, with the entire team, for a multi-pie lunch. Below are some of my general observations as a first-timer. Some of you old-hat Roberta's regulars may read them and think, "No shite," but consider this an outline for others who've never been to do it right—and maybe a little inspiration to go back if you've already been. The main takeaway? The pizza really is, in fact, that good.
① Too cool for school? Nah. If you're worried about getting attitude, don't. We rolled in 10-deep sans reservation (it does take them for large groups), and not only did the hostess not bat an eye, but she smiled and happily sat us at the, thankfully, wide-open central communal table. Same deal with our mustachioed server: We ordered a veritable crap-ton of food, between starters and pizzas and drinks and whatnot, and he took it in stride without so much as an eye roll.
② Don't get too comfortable. Well, actually, you can't. Maybe I have a lower threshold for dining in uncomfortable environs, but the benches you're required to sit on are not meant for a leisurely dining experience, considering how hard they are to get in and out of, especially when you're sitting so close together. Make sure you wear stretchy pants and do not even consider a skirt unless you'd like your companions to get to know your business, should you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.
③ And about those bathrooms . . . Again, maybe some people are okay with a lack of creature comforts, but the bathroom was, in Larry David speak, pretty, pretty unsavory. The reason is unbeknownst to us, but the day we visited, the ladies' room had a single rubber sanitary glove floating in the sink. It's good that they wear gloves and all, but there's no need for a reminder.
④ Cheeseburger, cheeseburger. If you're going for lunch, and you don't feel like pizza (hey, it happens), the cheeseburger ($16), made from dry-aged Pat LaFrieda meat and draped with a single slice of American cheese, is a great patty, plain and simple. There's little in the way of accoutrements—no bacon jam this or Sriracha relish that—just a crunchy round of white onion and a piece of lettuce, ketchup, house-made mayo and coarse-ground mustard. It's a burger that's not trying to be anything it's not. And the fried fingerling potatoes served alongside it are nicely crisped and heavily salted.
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⑤ The pizza really does live up to the hype. I was actually shocked at how good it was. First, there's the perfectly blistered crust that's a little bit thinner in the middle of the pie, that's easy to fold without the toppings spilling out. And those toppings are masterfully done: The Millennium Falco ($17) has the thinnest smear of tomato, a little bit of chile flake, basil, onion, Parmigiano and spicy pork sausage—restraint at its best. No one ingredient overpowered the pie. Even when the elements get a little out there, such as the sprinkling of sesame seeds on the Four Emperors ($16), also dotted with spicy arrabbiata sauce, young pepato, mozzarella, Asiago and ricotta, it doesn't feel overdone.
The verdict: I can't wait to go back. So many pizzas I didn't get to try, so little time.
Have a classic NYC restaurant you've never been to—and are ready to confess? Tweet us at @tastingtable with #TTconfession, or leave your comment below.
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