Like most people on the verge of leaving New York, Rachael has a list of places to go and things to do that she somehow hasn't gotten around to while living here. Of course she recruited me for the restaurant portion of her list and I gladly stepped up to the challenge. While I cook at home more than the average New Yorker, I also like a meal out on a regular basis.
We decided on pizza. Rachael had been hearing a lot of buzz lately about Motorino, especially since they opened their second location in the East Village spot where Una Pizza Napoletana had reigned. I was leaning towards Roberta's in Bushwick, where I had twice had great pies, a hearty bowl of linguine carbonara and rustic roasted chicken from their brick oven.
For some reason, I was having a really hard time letting go of my Roberta's idea. I guess I wanted to impress my friend with this unique restaurant. After all, Roberta's is much more than a pizza place. Not only a hipster hangout, it is virtually a temple of the local, sustainable food movement. Just off their cozy back patio are re-purposed shipping containers, now used as a home for the Heritage Radio network - an internet radio station hosting food related programming. And on top of the containers is a "rooftop" greenhouse, providing the restaurant with ultra local produce.
As we haggled back and forth, I had a burst of inspiration - why not go to both? Motorino in Williamsburg is just a block or so from the Graham stop on the L train and Roberta's is 3 stops away at the Morgan Ave exit. Genius! Gluttony! Glory! A pizza crawl - something only a food lover would want to do.
We got to Motorino at about 7:15. There were plenty of seats available and we scored a cozy two-top back near the big brick oven. We decided to go simple and ordered just one Margherita pie: a simple trio of tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese. About 10 minutes after ordering, a man came to our table holding a small plate with two sugar-crusted rounds of fried dough. The waitress ran over and redirected him to a neighboring table.
"What was that?" I asked, sort of awed, "Was that...doughnuts?"
The man came back. "Sorry about that, yes, those are our house-made doughnuts. One is filled with a fruit jam and the other with our home-made vanilla custard."
If we didn't have to save room for our next stop we definitely would have ordered them for dessert. Luckily, shortly after this sweet tease, our pie arrived - fresh, hot, and very juicy with fresh olive oil drizzled over the top. The crust was nice and chewy with the requisite char. I mopped up the olive oil left on the serving plate with torn bits of crust. We settled up and headed out to the L train.
After a bit of a fiasco with what should have been a quick subway ride, we arrived at Roberta's at 8:30 pm and waited for another friend to arrive. He was crucial in our dining plan as we were both feeling more full than expected after only 2 slices of thin crust pizza each. We needed his appetite so that we could order another pie! For true comparison we should have ordered another Margherita, but this was more about getting to experience two different places than judging which was better. So we got a pizza the menu called "The Good Girl," a promising combo of kale, taleggio cheese, pork sausage and garlic. We also ordered a simple Bibb lettuce salad with a dried cherry vinaigrette, gorgonzola and roasted walnuts.
I wanted to try a lot of the other things on the menu like their sauteed Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms or the pan-fried sweetbreads. There was also a cavatelli special and a pork chop that arrived at a neighboring table already carved into glistening, medium-rare chunks with lovely charred edges. Pork, chopped.
I couldn't talk Rachael into having any of the salad. "Just one slice of pizza," she insisted.
"What about a drink?" I suggested, sipping my (way-too-much-to-pay-in-Bushwick, Brooklyn,) $11 glass of red wine from a small mason jar.
"Yeah, maybe." But we had already ordered dinner and the drink subject didn't come up again.
The pizza arrived. It was dark green from the crisp kale leaves that covered it from edge to edge. There were little juicy chunks of pork sausage hidden throughout, and pools of super gooey and pungent cheese. I had sort of forgotten what taleggio was until I bit into it and remembered, "Oh yeah, it's that cheese!" The flavors went well together, but the amount of kale was sort of overwhelming. A major plus for me at Roberta's is the little bottle of olive oil with crushed red peppers on each table. I can dip my crusts without a special request to the server for oil.
This pizza was cut into five slices as opposed to Motorino's four. After we each got through our first slice, I longingly eyed the two remaining. But I was so full! It just doesn't seem fair that there's only room for so much good-tasting food in one night.
I think Rachael enjoyed the pizza crawl, and I'm glad she got to cross two places off her list. I'm even more pleased that she overcame her squeamishness after reading the recent New York Times article about a rabbit butchering class held in Roberta's parking lot.
But most of all, I was just glad to spend some time with her before she heads off to Berlin and leaves me here to deal with all this pizza on my own.
For Rachael's take on the evening, please visit The Night Way.
319 Graham Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
261 Moore Street
Brooklyn, NY 11206
photo via Roberta's