Sunday, December 20, 2009

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

New York is a big city for sure, but not so big that a sense of community is lost. In Brooklyn, there is a huge community of artists and musicians and most of them never leave the borough, unless they have a gig or a David Byrne lecture to attend somewhere.

And many of the hipster artist types hang out or work at Roberta's Pizza in Bushwick. Roberta's even hosts a radio station that features shows about local food and music. You can feel there is a real sense of community at this place. They even have those communal tables. Get to know your neighbors!

When we finally found Roberta's entrance (which made the place look like a grungy dive bar), we were greeted with warm smiles, but I felt a little out of place. It was as if we had entered an exclusive ski lodge in the middle of New England and we were more than welcome to visit, but we weren't staying for the night.

The service was friendly but apathetic and completely unhelpful. I asked the waitress about a specific beer and she answered that she hadn't tasted it, without any offer to find out more information from somebody who has. I think she may have been slightly stoned too because she took away our menus before we ordered and then later in the meal as we were clearly eating, she attempted to take our order again.

But the service was really besides the point. Everything was relaxed and Roberta's felt like a local haven from your daily troubles. Now on to the real reason we were here: the pizza.

We started with The Good Girl, which had no tomato sauce, but kale, taleggio cheese, pork sausage, and just the right amount of garlic. It was a nicely balanced pizza. I got some saltiness from the crispy kale (which may have been fried), sharpness from the cheese, spiciness from the sausage, and just a touch of sweetness from the garlic.

I also had to order the margherita. I didn't think it was quite as successful, but it was a valiant effort. The dough was tender and soft with a good amount of char (they use a classy wood oven). The mozzarella was buttery, rich and quite stretchy, but the tomato sauce was a little dull. The basil was undeniably fresh (I hear they grow it on their roof) and plentiful. The pizza was a bit wet, but the flavors worked well together.

Roberta's was our first stop of an evening spent eating, drinking, and being cultured in the Williamsburg/Bushiwck area. I won't go too much into the specifics of our night (who really wants to hear about the show we saw which featured lots of girl on girl fighting and subtle lesbian overtones... wait a minute....), but I have to mention the bar we ended up at.

It was The Alligator Lounge, another local watering hole that I had been to before. When we walked in, I realized I was in for some trouble because their gimmick is that they give out free personal pizzas with each drink ordered. The last thing I wanted was more pizza, but in the name of science....

I feel bad even reviewing it since it was free, but it was pretty awful. It tasted flat and bland. It had no flavor. It was a sad, dead pizza. Granted, I have been eating some of the best (and most expensive) pizza in the city, so my tastebuds are a little refined and I might be a tiny bit of a food snob. But, it's free pizza. I should just shut up and eat it!

Right before we left, a local came running into the back and invited us all up front for a drunken game of Bingo. It sounded like fun, but I had a bit of a train ride ahead of me. I can linger for as long as I want, but the truth remains: I don't live in the neighborhood.

Is Roberta's the best pizza in NY? They do a modest wood-oven pizza with smart flavors and fresh ingredients in a hip enclave in somebody else's neighborhood. They get a 7 out of 10 from me.

Is Alligator Lounge the best pizza in NY? It's definitely the cheapest (free), so I'll leave it at that.

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