When you live in a city of over 8 million people, with an average of ten people per square foot, the discovery of an unknown and extraordinary locale can feel a bit like you’ve just won the last golden ticket, or stumbled across an emerald in your bowl of cereal. Half of you wants to shout it out to the world, and the other half wants to tuck the it deep into your pocket before anyone sees you licking your lips with glee.
It could be as humble as a forgotten park bench in Prospect Park, or as magnificent as the unadvertised sunbathing deck of that out-of-the-way gym location in Hell’s Kitchen- but the privilege of getting to something good before the word is out has become my biggest thrill in life.
Take the pool with a swim-up bar in the lobby of a new boutique hotel, where (years ago) my friends and I partied the night away – free to drink a bottle of champagne in the sauna, drip water all over the leather banquettes, or terrify a celebrity in the elevator – until it got inundated with hipsters (whose unkempt appearances were probably faux but still enough to scare us away).
Late night at the pool bar in the Hotel QT on 45th Street.
There was also the dance hall I discovered last year, while wandering up a dark stairwell on the narrowest, crookedest street in Chinatown. I celebrated my birthday there with friends, and a handful of Chinese couples who stuck around after their Waltz music gave way to Duran Duran and the Jacksons…to see what kind of entertainment we could provide them through the night, I guess.
Birthday dance party at Youth Palace on Doyers Street.
Those are the times when the schoolgirl in me wants to shout “DIBS!” and eat all the candy that is underground New York by myself, but then this wouldn’t be a very interesting blog, would it?
It had been a while since the excitement of my last “I got a seeeecret” moment. Then, two weeks ago, I hit the jackpot.
I’d awakened with a start from an afternoon nap and had a strong urge to buy bedside tables. Despite the pouring rain and lack of appropriate footwear, I grabbed my dollar store umbrella, strapped on my limited edition Japanese Converse sneakers, and set out for Bushwick.
My destination was Green Village, a warehouse rumored to be piled to the ceiling with used furniture. On the way, I meandered down street after street of nothing but warehouses. Some sheltered noodles, others; stainless steel faucets. I stopped to let big trucks back into loading docks, and met glances from workers who wondered what I might be doing there in the pouring rain. Something about being where ‘you’re not supposed to be’ made this this trek all the more fun.
It was at the end of one of these streets where the rain began to let up, and, peeking out from my umbrella, I noticed a little sign above the open door to a garage-looking place that read “Roberto’s.” I wondered: What is this little Mexican joint doing all the way out here in no-man’s-land? Fascinated, I crossed the street and walked through the door of the unassuming cinderblock building.
The first thing I encountered was a menu that read “Roberta’s.” Oh. Got it. And beyond that, a window looking onto a big, shiny, coal-fired pizza oven! Besides that, there was not much in the lofty space aside from some big, heavy looking wooden farm tables with benches and chairs; just like I’d encountered all over Tuscany. It was love at first sight.
Unfortunately, I was not hungry (gasp), so, at the urging of the only person inside, a flour-speckled and friendly young man, I took a to-go menu and continued on my way.
So, for the past two weeks there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about sneaking back to Roberta’s, and on Tuesday afternoon, I finally got the chance. Sky was flying out for 3 weeks in LA that night, so she came over to say goodbye. As we cooled off from the 93° heat with some Thai iced tea, she suggested we grab a slice of vegan pizza at our usual place on Grand.
I instantly remembered that the first thing on Roberta’s menu was a rosso, or a pizza with no cheese. Minutes later, we were boarding the Rockaway Parkway bound L-train with an ice cold bottle of $6 Italian white in hand.
We arrived in less than ten minutes, rounded the corner, crossed under the shade of a tall, weepy tree, and strolled into the stone-colored interior of the restaurant, which, just like last time, was desolate.
Even though it was very hot outside, the patio off to one side of the building was irresistible, with equally rustic tables, an elevated garden, an old mafioso-looking car that served as a huge flowerpot, and just enough of a sliver of umbrella shade to keep us from getting baked ourselves. We got settled in while Noah, our soft spoken waiter, brought menus and a mixing bowl full of ice for our wine.
We took in the atmosphere and got acclimated to the temperature. Every once in a while, a nice breeze drifted by and mixed with the 80′s music playing inside. It felt like we were in the Mediterranean, but there was this cool Bushwick backdrop of warehouses and spurts of buzzing machinery.
We decided to share two cheese-less pizzas. We ordered one with artichokes, olives and arugula, and another with onions and mushrooms and…and…Noah suggested tuna. Great.
We recounted stories of Greece, Italy, and Portugal to each other between sips of wine: people, places, funny mishaps, and of course, food. I guess the stakes were pretty high, especially since the buildup for this pizza was running on 2 weeks.
By the time Noah arrived with our tuna pizza, we had about a glass and a half each left of the wine.
OH! And I almost forgot: they had me won over before we even got our food! Anyone who knows me well knows I HATE stemware – It is one of my only eccentricities. I am forever being a pain in the ass at the bar asking for my wine in a rocks glass. At Roberta’s, they give you those simple, short European drinking glasses for the wine… my favorite!
That just melted my heart.
The pizza was good but the tuna was not what I expected. It was a little dry and stringy, though it did have a nice, briny, seaside-evoking flavor. I also kind of wished there was more sauce to compensate for lack of cheese, so I’ll remember that the next time I order a cheese-less pizza.
Then we got our artichoke-olive-arugula. And it blew my socks off.
The flavor was so fresh yet so rich. It was a little tangy, a little sweet, and a little spicy after a drizzle of red pepper infused olive oil. I could not pinpoint exactly what ingredient made it so mesmerizing, but Sky did. She confirmed with the down-to-earth Noah that the arugula was tossed with lemon before being added. I think there may have also been some kind of mystery seasoning, or this was the most mind blowing arugula I’ve ever had.
The pizzas were about $12 each. For a cheapskate blog, that’s kind of a lot, but that price included the toppings, and we had leftovers to take home.
It was well worth it just for the experience. Both Sky and I have had pizza in Italy and all over New York, and we agreed that Roberta’s had a style all its own. The subtle differences made it unlike anything I had tried before. For example, the crust is the thinner, crispier, Neopolitan style, but the toppings are more abundant and diverse like on NY pizza.
They even have a Hawaiian one I can’t wait to try called the DaKine, with jalapeño, pineapple, ricotta and (homemade?) ham. And a pesto pizza Noah recommended. I think this is the kind of place where the food will only get better with time, and I hope the owner’s continue to try out new ideas and ingredients.
On the walk home we enjoyed Bushwick’s street art.
When I got home, there was a New York Magazine in the mailbox. Later that night, I settled into bed and attempted to conquer their crossword puzzle, but my brain hurt from a day of overstimulation. I flipped to the food section and came face-to-face with a picture of Roberta’s red coal oven. Wha! The secret was out.
For a moment, my heart sank. We’d sat there most of the afternoon, laughing, drinking, eating and carrying on…with the whole patio to ourselves.
Then I pictured the drove of yuppies that clutter the LES sidewalk in front of that Momofuku whatever place every Friday night…descending. The grade school brat in me did not want to share. MY CANDY!
But after coming back to my senses I felt happy for Roberta’s. Lógicamente. I hoped this attention would bring them lots of business, because, after all, unless you plan to spend 24 hours a day eating there, you can’t support a place all by yourself.
And, like a typical American, I was laying claim to something that wasn’t even mine. I wasn’t even a regular yet, for crying out loud. How silly.
It all just goes to show what I’ve known since the first day of Spring…
I NEED A BICYCLE.
261 Moore Street, between Bogart & White