The Undulating Frontier

The relentless re-conquest of the New York City’s frontier continues. To someone who pioneered SoHo in 1973, and Tribeca two years later, visiting the relentless energy being showered on outer Brooklyn is very familiar; forsaken industrial neighborhoods, blighted with vehicular based industries and amenities, are given a dose of pedestrian reclamation. SoHo 1973 pre-Dean and Deluca, is now Bushwick 2008 post-Robertas.

Patrick Martins, ex capo of Slow Food U.S.A., and now co-founder of Heritage Foods U.S.A. has become an acolyte of Roberta’s. He has taken a shine to the place calling it “more than a restaurant, it’s a movement.” Thus, when the Heritage Foods staff of Sara and Heather invited me out for a meal at Roberta’s I was quick to say yes.

But first the wine. Roberta’s does not yet have a sprits license so it was BYOOW time. We had another task to do before Roberta’s that brought us to South Street Seaport, so a stop at Pasanella and Son wine store was in order. The charismatic owner and his helpful staff helped us identify several organic wines that were potential pairs with pizza.

Preparation for the pizza

  1. “Bloom” the yeast by sprinkling the sugar and yeast in the warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes, until bubbles form on the surface.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the olive oil and bloomed yeast mixture. Using a spoon, mix until a shaggy dough begins to form.
  3. Once the flour is mostly hydrated, turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. The dough should be soft, smooth, and bouncy. Form the dough into a taut round.
  4. Grease a clean, large bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside, turning to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for at least an hour, or up to 24 hours.
  5. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for another minute or so, then cut into 4 equal portions and shape into rounds.
  6. Lightly flour the dough, then cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for another 30 minutes to an hour while you prepare the sauce and any other ingredients.
  7. Preheat the oven as high as your oven will allow, between 450-500ËšF (230-260ËšC). Place a pizza stone, heavy baking sheet (turn upside down so the surface is flat), or cast iron skillet in the oven.
  8. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: Add the salt to the can of tomatoes and puree with an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth.
  9. Once the dough has rested, take a portion and start by poking the surface with your fingertips, until bubbles form and do not deflate.
  10. Then, stretch and press the dough into a thin round. Make it thinner than you think it should be, as it will slightly shrink and puff up during baking.
  11. Sprinkle semolina onto an upside down baking sheet and place the stretched crust onto it. Add the sauce and ingredients of your choice.
  12. Slide the pizza onto the preheated pizza stone or pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust and cheese are golden brown.
  13. Add any garnish of your preference.
  14. Nutrition Calories: 1691 Fat: 65 grams Carbs: 211 grams Fiber: 12 grams Sugars: 60 grams Protein: 65 grams
  15. Enjoy!

Roberta’s has the feel of a reclaimed industrial space. An open kitchen with pizza oven greets you when you walk in the door. Walking thru the long open space takes you to a garden out back that must be sat in to be believed. It is enclosed by a cement wall that separates it from the a parking lot. Ala Beirut, the garden also boasts a 1964 Mercedes 160 in need of a total restoration. Bushwick and Roberta’s clientele are young, just like SoHo’s was before the Armani Exchanges arrived. So in the sprit of youth and exploration we ordered a lot of great food and opened our organic wines.

First off was a 2004 Cantina Zaccagnini Riserva Montepulciano D’abruzzo from Wines Unlimited Inc. I thought it was very fruity and ripe, ripe, ripe; super dry and tart on the tongue. It tasted of deep leather and violets, a real nectar of ruby red fruit. Brandon Hoy, one of Roberta’s owners, thought this Italian red to have nice acidity, and to be refreshing like lemonade; he “really liked this wine.” Tristian Steinberg, who is a restaurant and stage designer and designed Roberta’s, was also positive – “tastes great with lots of forward grape flavor very refreshing, hints of herbs.” Patrick Martins rounded out the favorable reviews – “feels like it’s high in anti-oxidants like blackberries and blueberries very full bodied even though it’s low tannins…good acidity.”

The food kept coming. Innovative and salads and savory dishes like, salads with Gorgonzola cheese, hen of the woods mushrooms and a skirt steak. We opened our second bottle – an Adanti Nispero Rosso Dell’ Umbria. 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot. Imported by Summa Vitis Inc. a Matthew Fioretti selection. I thought this one was light and a little sweet with high notes of ripe fruit, not very complex; would not clash or overpower food and would go well with cheese and fruit. Brandon on the other hand was far more complementary – “ a nice spicy wine with good character a long finish, lots of interest, I would drink it late at night.” Tristian thought it “smooth, round good acid and a little smoky hints of plum and pomegranate.” Patrick was sure it would go well with hot dogs, BBQ and smoked sausage; it was round in flavor if not very complex.

We tried some more wines that night but with the conversation and lots of others joining us at the table recording the proceedings became futile. If you want a culinary, community and real-estate adventure go buy as many bottles of organic wine as you can and take the L train to the Morgan Street stop and go try Roberta’s.


One response to “The Undulating Frontier”

  1. Sherry Avatar


    I was also there, does that make me a pioneer?

    love, soho sweetie, your roommate, SK

    PS. I was there too. I remember the covered wagons. YB

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