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A South Sider Eats New York

That Chicago has become of the top food cities in the country is indisputable. That New York City has always been the culinary benchmark is equally undeniable. In New York, as a recent visit illuminated, the sheer volume and vast array of eateries is overwhelming. The cool thing about New York V.2012 is that the farm-to-table joints, uber-hip speakeasies and eclectic diners have overtaken the stuffy multi-ethnic fusion restaurants of the previous decade in both relevance and popularity. And the backstory to many of these places is as interesting as the food. A few really stood out.

Roberta’s – Few places are as inherently cool as Roberta’s, which will, of course, lead to its eventual demise among true foodies in NYC.

Roberta’s rooftop garden provides much of the produce and herbs used by the restaurant. (And don’t forget Tiki Disco Sundays!)

Roberta’s is in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood of starving artists, fair trade coffee shops and razor wire-protected tractor trailer lots. Roberta’s, opened in 2008 by a trio of musician friends, is the land-locked culinary cousin of Pirate Radio. It’s a jerry-rigged, mish-mosh of a restaurant set in a virtual landfill of cinderblock buildings, corrugated steel, 9-foot fencing and old shipping containers. One shipping container now houses an internet radio station, Heritage Radio Network, which is devoted to segments on sustainability, artisan cheese, craft beer and the like. Another houses the restaurant’s bakery oven.

Sustainability is Roberta’s mantra, and the restaurant’s yard space teems with hoop gardens and planting beds. The grow-your-own philosophy now extends to a 40,000-square-foot rooftop garden in Long Island, which is run in part by the Roberta’s crew. Restaurant legend (Chez Panisse) and food activist (Edible Schoolyard) Alice Waters was so enamored with the efforts of the Roberta’s gang that, during an unannounced visit, she cut them a check for $1000 on the spot to help with build-out costs.

Childhood friend/documentary film maker/former Vibe and Time Out New York editor, and Brooklynite Joe Angio (with Ellen Panozzo) steered us to Roberta’s. Nice call!

But eventually everything comes back to the quality of the food, and Roberta’s holds its own with any million-dollar kitchen. Known for their creatively topped wood-fired pizzas, Roberta’s doesn’t miss with antipasti or entrees either. We shared a beautiful purslane salad with blueberries, buttermilk dressing and Bayley Hazen Blue. Scallops with carrot, yogurt and pistachio butter were equally nice, as was charred octopus with cucumber, avocado and radish. The pizza (housemade sausage, fresh tomato relish and rainbow chard) was everything it promised to be.

 

Definitely worth the trip!

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