[Pigging by Wilfrid: March 22, 2010]
My claim to fame this week: if you google "Bushwick dining" - try it - the Pink Pig is the premier source on the worldwide web. I never imagined.
Since this unlooked for prominence is based on the shaky foundation of my one review of Northeast Kingdom (which now has a new chef and menu, by the way), I thought I should bolster my credentials.
Furthermore, I had been steered firmly in the direction of Roberta's - one of the only other places in Bushwick to eat (not featuring tacos and tortas) by two independent sources. Both bartenders, which says a lot about my sources. The manager of one Brooklyn bar, who witnessed the composition of some of the original art work for Eating the Apple, was such an enthusiast for the pizza that he ordered a pie for me to try. The manager of an East Village bar, who has lived in Bushwick twice now, rooted for the non-pizza part of the menu. Add to this, the constant hubbub on Mouthfuls about New Brooklyn Cuisine, whether it exists or not, or has any more distinguishing marks than servers sporting Doc Holliday whiskers.
And so I was condemned, even in the midst of the recent typhoon, to squelch into Roberta's diffident premises almost next door to the Morgan Avenue L stop. You really need to know where it is - especially on a dark night; it's just off Bogart Street, on one of those deserted and dismal stretches of the industrial theme park which characterizes this part of the neighborhood. There's an ATM machine, and a door which looks like it might lead into a spare parts shop. Inside, however, join the line (reservations, don't make me laugh) for a place at long communal tables strung between the wood-burning pizza oven at one end of the room and the bar and kitchen proper at the other.
It's a long, spacious room, and you should assume it will usually be full: prices are kind, and diners outnumber covers in this corner of the world. So to the bar, and the expected "craft" beer list - quite short: five drafts, five cans, two bottles (there's no hard liquor). Beverages are served in Mason jars of various sizes - an irritating affectation, but in keeping with N.B.C. retro style and the pretence that we are all woodsmen and farm laborers (Pavement's "Range Life" is the soundtrack here).
Ordering was suitably chaotic, with me barking "Abita" over the heads of the crowd at the bar, and the bemused barman shouting back "A pizza? What kind of pizza?" But despite the outlaw feel of the place, seats were available in less time than predicted (thirty rather than forty minutes).
Roberta's reputation rests on the pizza, and having tried two versions I can speak well of the chewy, charred crust.
Regular readers may recall my reservations about pizza, which even at its best is essentially flat bread with more or less nice toppings. Still, this was as good as any, and certainly in the same bracket as the much favored Motorino, when simply garnished with artichoke. On this occasion, it was loaded up with mushroom and, oh dear, potato - not my idea, although it has Italian precedent. The potatoes need to be sliced frightfully thin for the crust to hold up, and here they weren't: but order right and you'll like this pizza well enough.
Step out of the pizza box, and you have a range of meat options beckoning - entirely representative of the current trend among young hip Brooklyn diners: away from vegetables, toward dead animals, but with the moral frills (organic, sustainable, died smiling) still attached. Lovely tripe, cooked tender in a light tomato broth. Price is your best guide to the relative size of plates, and I rightly calculated I could inhale both the tripe and marrow bone as appetizers.
Prune on 1st Street was once the lone standard bearer in New York for this French bistro classic, but you'd now think people cut their teeth on these lengths of roast veal shin giving up smooth fat-jelly best taken with a simple sprinkling of salt and a few torn parsley leaves. Credit to Roberta's for kicking up a classic, throwing what appeared to be chips of fresh lemon over the bones. I wasn't sure about that - but ah, this was Meyer lemon, a sweeter and more aromatic deal altogether, and a surprisingly fitting match. A nice touch to find the good salt herbed up for extra flavor.
Pork belly followed, with the inevitability of "God Bless America" in the seventh inning stretch. Not the best of the thousand or so renditions currently available, but pleasing enough: loved the brussel sprout leaves with a few, not overwhelming splinters of dried chili pepper; didn't like the pineapple sauce which took the overall flavor too far in a sweet 'n' sour direction.
I hadn't thought seriously about dessert, but when I saw the austere plate of New York cheesecake going out to other diners, I thought I should get some, and didn't regret it.
The wine list is not much longer than the beer list, and with a similarly worthy craft/organic orientation. The biodynamic Clos Lojen by Ponce in Manicheula, an expression of bobal - yet another coming grape - will not change your life, but is enjoyably quaffable. Just as well, I think, because a wine striving for heights above the quaffable deserves better than to be served in a Mason jar.
Roberta's has a cheerful community feel about it, which is appropriate enough in a neighborhood striving to generate a liveable feel. You can fill your growler from the beer taps to take away, and bread baked in the pizza oven has recently been available for sale. There are salads and cheese if you have the opportunity and brunch of course. There it all is, if you feel like it - and many people do.
The website is entirely representative of the place.