October 12, 2010

Roberta Sure Knows How to Grow

Roberta's in Bushwick, Brooklyn
We are certainly not the first to write about this establishment, but we just had to feature Roberta's pizzeria in Brooklyn, NY. The restaurant supplies twenty percent of its own food with a rooftop garden behind the restaurant and two more gardens in neighborhood yards nearby. Roberta's also buys produce from local urban farms such as Brooklyn Grange in LIC, Queens. It serves delicious pizza and many other options daily, from noon to midnight, in an area of Brooklyn that is starved for food options. And to top it off, their pizza oven and culinary knowledge come directly from Italy.

Hawaiian pizza at Roberta's 
Just steps away from the Morgan Station off the L train, the surrounding area doesn't look like much - mostly low industrial buildings with relatively few storefront businesses. Prior to opening Roberta's, Chris Parachini had moved to Bushwick (with hopes of becoming an artist or musician) because rents were relatively low and there was much less risk of annoying the neighbors. After living in the area for some time, the idea to open Roberta's came during a visit to a pizzeria in New Haven, CT with some friends. Frustrated by the lack of food options in Bushwick, and surrounded by delicious pizza and good friends, it was the quintessential "hey! we should open a pizzeria!" moment.

However, the idea was put on the back-burner until an Italian-born friend of Mr. Parachini's - who had been at the pizzeria in New Haven - told him that an acquaintance was closing a pizzeria in Fossono, Italy and was looking to sell his oven. Long story short, Mr. Parachini with his co-chefs and business partners, Brandon Hoy, Carlo Mirarchi, and Mauro Soggio, traveled to the pizza capital of the world and returned with some pizza cookery and perhaps more than a few secrets of the trade. It took them a year to convert an old warehouse space on Moore Street into a space that is part Bushwick loft, part urban cabin. The ceilings are high with exposed rafters, painted white, and the guests eat on beautiful stained-wood picknick tables that were made from repurposed wood. The pizza kitchen and wood-fired oven are open to the dining room, allowing patrons to watch the talented chefs dance around the hot oven. There is more dining space in a courtyard in the back during the warm weather.

Roberta's dining room
Pizza kitchen and oven
Salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and spices are grown in a greenhouse on top of a shipping container next to the restaurant and at two nearby neighborhood yards. The simple hoop house is built with basic and fairly cheap materials, and protects two rows of typical raised soil beds. The plants are fed with water collected from roof runoff, and Roberta's owners run a compost program in a next-door lot that provides their fertilizer.  To supplement their own production, the chefs purchase food from local New York State farms, as well as from Brooklyn Grange and other New York City farms.

Hoop house garden behind Roberta's
Interior of greenhouse
The local beer and wine is served in mason jars (with discounts offered if you bring your own glass), and Roberta's consistently delivers delicious and creative pies, but the chef's make their mark by using varied and often non-traditional toppings, such as ground pork, eggs, house-cured guanciale, Sicilian tuna belly, fingerling potatoes, and capers, just to name a few. And while the focal point at Roberta's was originally the pizza, the chefs have begun to turn out an incredibly sophisticated selection of alternative dishes from the kitchen in the back of the house as well.  Choices might range from pickled pigs tongue to braised mackerel to a glorious pork-chop flash roasted in the pizza oven, and perhaps the greatest aspect of the menu - indeed the entire restaurant - is that it is constantly evolving, with dinner options changing weekly, if not daily. The staff is great, and they are very accommodating for large groups, even offering special rates.

One alternative to pizza at Roberta's
After less than three years in business, Roberta's is already a Bushwick landmark, and what is especially remarkable is that the establishment has evolved into more than just a restaurant. It is community organization that promotes social connectivity, reconnecting urbanites to their food, using local resources efficiently, and transforming underused urban spaces to produce food.  Inside the shipping container that supports the greenhouse there is a small studio that houses the Heritage Radio Network, which produces webcasts about urban foragers, first-time farmers, and other local food programming. Most of the recording happens during the day when the restaurant is less busy and features other local chef's and interesting characters from the industry.

Here at growingCities, we strongly believe in Roberta's mission and hope that more restaurants follow in her path. Oh, and and if you are still waiting for one last tidbit, Roberta's is named after Mr. Parachini's mom, and it looks like she was a pretty strong inspiration.

Check out our next article: Urban Farms Devastated by NYC Hail Storm
Check out our previous article: Living Concrete / Carrot City

1 comment:

Urban Gardens said...

Great post! I was just in Brooklyn this weekend at Brooklyn Kitchen and loved all the local Brooklyn products. With wonderful locals like Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Brooklyn Grange, and BK Farmyards creating and selling, the city is really setting an example for how people can create sustainable urban farms and gardens.