"The coolest pizza joint in New York"
When Roberta's first opened, it seemed like the kind of lark that might not last. A few dudes— Chris Parachini, Brandon Hoy, and Carlo Mirarchi— built out much of the wood-fired pizzeria by hand, and opened even without working gas (they used butane burners for the first year.) But along with perfectly charred, soft, chewy pies with charming names like Beastmaster, they also managed to do fried chicken and fresh greens surprisingly well for a bunch of hipsters.
Nearly a decade later, it’s still worth the pilgrimage. Aside from some veggie-forward options on the menu—former chef de cuisine Nick Barker is to thank for an ever-so-slight shift to a lighter, California style of cooking—there have been no fancy updates to the restaurant, which you enter through a stickered, graffitied red vestibule.
Immediately to your left is the wood oven that turns out their famous pies, and beyond that a dining room whose most elaborate décor might be the Christmas lights strung along the walls. If you can, sit in the courtyard where you can see inside the studio of Heritage Radio. The culinary-focused station resides within a shipping container that is also home to a garden atop its roof. A substantially larger rooftop garden a few miles away supplies even more of the restaurant’s produce in the summer months.
It’s all seemingly slapdash—a shipping container here, some string lights there—but the enduring appeal of Roberta’s is that amidst this unfussy setting, there is real thought behind the quality of the food, and for that matter, the beer and wine, too. Roberta’s is likely the only pizzeria in the city where you can find “Orange” wine by the glass, or sour gose on draft.
Once you pick your poison, start with the hardest to pronounce items on the menu. The ‘Nduja (neh-jew-ah) is like a fiery red puddle of spicy pork sausage. If you don't like to play with fire, stay away, or order it along with the house-made stracciatella, better known as the delicious inside of burrata, as a creamy antidote to the sausage’s heat. Both are served with hunk of buttery, grilled bâtard, one of the many breads you can order next door from Roberta’s bakery, along with its popular sticky buns.
"We are lucky to work with a very talented group of people who are able to bring a great amount of creativity, skill, and discipline to menu development. "
- Carlo Mirarchi: Chef/Co-Owner
To lighten things up, order Roberta’s riff on the Caesar, simply called “Romaine”. The shaved pecorino and hints of lemon and mint turn this often overpowering salad into a refreshing, almost palate cleansing experience.
You may be tempted to veer onto one of the house-made pastas or pizzas next, but save room for at least one of the oddball options, like the “Sweet Potato”. Fried and smashed along with eggs, greens and chimichurri at lunch, or with crumbled blood sausage at dinner, it is not at all the sugary, orange North American variety you expect, but rather the very delicate, white, nutty Japanese version called satsuma-imo.
The steamed mussels on the dinner menu is another root vegetable delight, as the shellfish shares the plate with shell beans and turnips simmered in a carrot broth. Typical renditions seem like a missed opportunity by comparison.
As for the pizza, you can go all-in for one of their savoury flavour bombs like the Axl Rosenberg, with jalapeños and sopressata, or go easy and get the Famous Original, Roberta’s take on the classic New York pie. It’s like a margherita, with a puffy, chewy crust and bright tomato sauce, but the blend of cheeses, including the provolone-like caciocavallo, has more substance and bite than flimsy, fresh mozz.
"Quite simply, we just try to be better than we were yesterday, every day."
- Carlo Mirarchi: Chef/Co-Owner
Much of the menu hovers just below $20, but the real price of eating at the coolest pizza joint in all of New York is the wait. On a Friday or Saturday night, it can take two hours to be seated (they don’t take reservations), though you are welcome to while away the time drinking an alcoholic slushie in their adjacent tiki bar. It’s more enjoyable in summer, but you can still hang out in winter, when it’s buttoned up beneath a tent.
The wait is shorter during weekend brunch service, but if you can visit for lunch—and if you are visiting New York, chances are you'll have at least one afternoon free—then you’ll be joined by just a few locals in the place that embodies Brooklyn’s creative spirit.
About the author
Nicole Davis is the founder and publisher of Brooklyn Based, a weekly email about the best food, culture and events in Brooklyn and beyond. When she’s not editing and assigning stories, or planning one of Brooklyn Based’s many events, you can find her buried in a cookbook, plotting her next meal.