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Roberta's: No country for old men

Always rated at or near #1 on every list of the best pizza in NYC and highly recommended by pal Paulie G., owner of the eponymous outstanding Greenpoint pizzeria, we finally broke down and paid Roberta's a visit. At 8 PM on a warm summer evening, the hostess estimated a waiting time of 1hour 15 minutes to an hour and a half. Hell, nice summer evening. Kids home from respective institutes of higher (costly) education. Why not enjoy a beer in the garden and wait for table.

Is there a place that gathers more hipsters in a five hundred square foot radius? The tattoo count was in the thousands. Hats, vests, waxed moustaches, iPhones. And, apparently, the tented bar area does not count as an indoor space, so smoking is permitted.

Much has been said about the attitude of the staff at Roberta's. Frankly, everyone, from hostess to bartender to waitresses to busboys, were polite and attentive. As our wait extended to more than two hours, hostess didn't seem annoyed at our inquiries about when table would be ready.

Two hours and fifteen minutes later, we were seated. Daughter ordered a snap pea "salad," the remainder of us pizzas. Two hours and thirty minutes after we entered, daughter was first to receive anything resembling food: approximately 12 snap peas over a spoonful of ricotta with some sparse bread crumbs tossed in. That's $1 per snap pea.

And the pizzas? Meh, I think is the appropriate hipster term. The green-and-white (arugula) pie was the hands-down winner. The margheritas were just okay and the mushroom pie generously decorated with fresh mushrooms. Worth the wait? Nah. I'll stick with Paulie Gee's. Better pies, lower noise level, shorter wait, more familiar mix of customers.

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Roberta's
261 Moore St, Brooklyn, NY 11206

Paulie Gee's
60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

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  1. Reading through past the comments on the people, it seems like the kitchen did well with a packed house.. In that 2 1/2 hour time limited, you only actually waited 15 minutes from the time you ordered.. I have been to Roberta's many times and never had to wait more than 15 minutes.. I guess it depends on when you go or you got unlucky..

    Are Iphones a bad thing? Very confused... Have you been to Saraghina, that is good pizza too.

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    Saraghina
    435 Halsey St, Brooklyn, NY 11233

    4 Replies
    1. re: Daniel76

      @Daniel76:

      You are correct: the kitchen did a great job feeding a packed house. The bottom line of my comments is that Roberta's pizza is not, in my opinion, worth a 2-1/2 hour wait. And, the hostess underestimated the wait.

      As for iPhones..I own one and find them useful. I am amazed, however, how little conversation takes place between friends and intimates in restaurants these days. I noted a preponderance of people texting, emailing, chatting on their phones while seated across from a significant other who was doing the same. A sign of the times. Guess I'm the old man in the title of my post.

      1. re: famdoc

        yeh, 2.5 hours, i wouldnt wait 2.5 hours if they were handing out free cars.. I have a 15 minute threshold.. My wife sees my face as I am simultaneously scanning the exits. But, that is just me.. But, yeh, that sucks they under estimated that long..

        I like North East Kingdom in Bushwick for food.. But, I would try Saraghina pizza, that is my favorite in Brooklyn right now.. Besides Tottonos that is.

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        Northeast Kingdom
        18 Wyckoff Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237

        Saraghina
        435 Halsey St, Brooklyn, NY 11233

        1. re: famdoc

          Hi famdoc,

          I've only ever been to Roberta's during the daylight hours as I turn into a pumpkin at night.

          During the day, Roberta's has been consistently wonderful and I would go back in a heartbeat for any of their pizzas. Admittedly, I always make it a point to go when I know they won't be busy—it's a pumpkin thing.

          By the way, you have again piqued my curiosity about Paulie Gee's. I keep hearing so much about that place that I'llI have to check it out very soon. Thanks for reminding me!

          I second Daniel76 with Saraghina not only for pizza but their wonderful brunch—especially the French toast. Ooh la la! I don't know where you're located in Brooklyn but if you can make it to Williamsburg, you can make it to Bed-Stuy. If you go for brunch at Saraghina (which starts at 10AM—pizza is available at noon), you'll find that the place feels as if you've stepped out of Brooklyn and into the country. It is soooooo laid back.

          Ciao,

          Glendale is hungry...

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          Saraghina
          435 Halsey St, Brooklyn, NY 11233

          Paulie Gee's
          60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

          1. re: Glendale is hungry

            co-sign you and Daniel76 on Saraghina. I've eaten at both and actually prefer Saraghina's pizza and rustic decor. Plus, the non-pizza menu at Saraghina changes daily and they have some wonderful items including a great grilled octopus salad and grilled mayan shrimp with fava beans. Saraghina is my standby place.

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            Saraghina
            435 Halsey St, Brooklyn, NY 11233

      2. I also did not love dinner at Roberta's, though we didn't wait nearly as long, and the host's estimate was exactly on the nose for a group of 6 mid-week for dinner. My review is here:
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7761...

        I also found the pizzas to be pretty delicious as well, but overall was not blown away with the small plates from the kitchen (we wanted the Chef's table but they were fully booked). It's my understanding that the chef's table/tasting menu is excellent -- I'd like to try it if the opportunity arose since so many people have written positively about it, it's just a shame that my a la carte dinner wasn't as stellar. I think maybe I'd go back to Roberta's for a pizza lunch/brunch experience, too (I hear they have great fried chicken) when the wait is not as long as dinner.

          1. re: H Manning

            Roberta's gets the same rating as SHO Shaun Hergatt? Something's wrong with Sifton.

            1. re: famdoc

              Obviously you haven't been to Roberta's lately. Anyone who goes to Roberta's just for pizza is a fool. It is not just a pizza place and those who look at it as such are missing out.

              Mirarchi is putting out stunning food—I've had positively transcendent foie gras, cuttlefish, lamb breast, ramps, you name it, over the past two months there. Sifton's review is spot-on.

              1. re: loratliff

                If you search Roberta's on twitter you'll notice most are not familiar with other menu items. Never has been a restaurant with such a broad customer base. Amazing concept!

                1. re: oysterspearls

                  It's true, and it's unfortunate. I quite like the pizzas there too, but the small plates far and away steal the show. I mean, I don't think your neighborhood slice joint serves plates of asparagus, pullet egg, yuzu and trout roe.

                  I might be presumptuous, but it's Michelin-star worthy food at this point, in my opinion.

                2. re: loratliff

                  Did you have the chef's table dinner or order a la carte from the non-pizza menu? I was disappointed in my meal there from the a la carte non-pizza menu, as the small plates seemed overhyped.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    We've never done the chef's table, only the small plates.

                3. re: famdoc

                  You're right, famdoc. Roberta's deserves three stars.

                    1. re: sgordon

                      The review does end with:

                      "For eight people a week, Roberta’s is a three-star restaurant, no matter the paper napkins or hard wooden seats. For many more in the neighborhood, collapsing into the room after a long afternoon or evening of dancing or making art, it is an amazing one-star one: a place for pizza and a beer. And for the rest of us, staring at the subway map, tracing our fingers east along the L line? Roberta’s and Mr. Mirarchi: two stars. "

                    2. re: famdoc

                      Sifton also just said in NY Mag that its one of the more interesting restaurants IN THE COUNTRY

                      1. re: MsAlyp

                        Has it changed much in the last year?

                        I've been following this conversation but have not thrown my opinion into the mix yet. I went there late last summer, and sadly I wasn't all that wowed by it. Maybe we ordered poorly. I remember we had the purslane salad, a pizza that I wasn't impressed with (we ordered a daily special with too many toppings...), and two other things that completely escape my recollection. Maybe it was because we'd already gotten several bunches of purslane from our CSA, but I didn't love that either. Obviously the other two items didn't impress me, because I've completely forgotten them.

                        It's not that I'd refuse to go back, but for me it's a hassle to get there. I'm starting to wonder if I should give them another try. Has it really gotten that much better?

                        1. re: egit

                          I think that Sifton's NYTimes review was pretty silly, but we did have a lovely dinner there last week. The carrot/smoked ricotta salad and the cuttlefish (both of which he mentions) were standouts, but we enjoyed the hell out of everything. We also had the testa, the skirt steak, the scallops and some very generous pours of bourbon. Service was pleasant and surprisingly efficient. No wait at 7pm on a weeknight, but perhaps we got lucky.

                          1. re: egit

                            As filet_minion mentions above, Sifton is doing some (IMO) sketchy star math.

                            3 stars for the food at the chef's table, 1 star for those getting pizza and beer = 2 stars overall? Um...

                            Like you, I wasn't overly impressed with my meal there, but it sounds like the chef's table is worth it.

                            There was a huge discussion about comparing the chef's table vs. a la carte non-pizza dish ordering after my review:
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7761...

                            My main takeaway was that the cooked dishes probably do suffer when Chef Carlo Mirarchi isn't in the house.

                            1. re: kathryn

                              Carlo is hardly ever in the house, at this point. The Chef de Cuisine runs the dinner service there six nights a week. I think I've only eaten there once when Carlo was in the kitchen and it wasn't any better or worse.

                              1. re: loratliff

                                If he's still serving the tasting menu, I find it hard to believe he's no longer in the kitchen, as it's one of the most hands on tasting menu's curently being served in the city. Carlo emailed several times prior to the meal, and then serves and introduces every course himself. And yes, Sifton is right on with his praise-one of the best meals i've ever had. It's adventurous and imaginative, while stil very sophisticated cooking.

                                1. re: quizkiddonniesmith

                                  He's basically only there when the tasting menu is served (which is just two nights per week).

                                  As a poster below me said, he does have various smaller outposts around the city. The last time I saw him, he was working the "pass" at their pop-up at the BMW Guggenheim Lab.

                                  How often do you think any of these top chefs are in their own kitchen? Less than you might think.

                                2. re: loratliff

                                  Curious, where is he if he's not in the house any more?

                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                    He was certainly there for our Tasting Menu dinner a couple of weeks ago but wasnt in the house several weeks earlier when we went for a menu dinner (on a night that no one had the Tasting Menu table). I think he has a lot of things going on, from the Roberta's outpost at the Museum to the various carts around town to special events. I think he's also more actively moving forward on the place next door where he'll be able to serve as a non-pizzeria restaurant (I'm not talking about the 2nd bar under the tent or anything in that area, where construction work is also going on).

                                    Since I'm here, I might as well chime in with my take on Roberta's (and the Sifton review). As much as I dont think that the review was descriptive enough of the various components of what we know as Roberta's, I dont disagree with the result. My pizza/calzone lunches were quite good, I hear the brunches are as well, and my dinner from the menu was good enough to make the entire non-tasting table operation worth a star rating. At dinner, I think that there are weaknesses (very small precious salads and uneven entrees) but there are some powerful strengths as well (the sweetbread poppers were great, as were 2 pastas and a couple of other entrees). All in all, a 1 star place. Our Tasting Table experience was very definitely 3 star in quality of food material, chef skill, service, knowledge, tableware and all other aspects of a 3 star except for it being in the middle of a pizza place on benches. I can live with this, since I knew it going in but felt it was completely worth it given the food served at the price asked. One of the best buys in NYC for folks who love food, in my opinion.

                                    1. re: Steve R

                                      I think Sifton's 3 star is spot on. The tasting menu was my second best meal in NYC I've ever had, next to Per Se. Maybe being served by the chef himself and having such a great meal in a "dive" added to the experience (I can imagine the dive part turning off some people) that's hard to isolate from just the food itself, but that's OK in my book.

                                      My coworker just went recently as well and he called it "hands-down" the best tasting menu in NYC, prior to this NYT review.

                                      Also, I met David Kinch (of Manresa fame) once when he did a pop-up here a few months back and he said that Chef Carlo is doing some of the best cooking he's tasted on the east coast. They're friends, but still, that's saying something.

                                      1. re: deepfry7

                                        David Kinch sugar coats nothing. I have no doubt he meant it if he said it. I really got to get to Roberta's, even more so now.

                                        1. re: oysterspearls

                                          Looks like a celebrity has had the "3-star" tasting as well. This looked fun.

                                          http://annamarie.tumblr.com/tagged/az...

                              2. re: egit

                                I don't think so. We just went recently (albeit for brunch) and were not overly impressed with our food. We had the cornmeal pancakes (which were really good) and the escarole pizza (which was not good). If you live in the area, i feel like you might as well try it out but otherwise, it's not worth a long trip.

                        2. I thought the place sounded interesting after reading the NYTimes review...but what you said about smoking turned me off for sure . You said the area where people were smoking was tented- in that case, it is illegal. Restaurants can have outdoor smoking areas, but only if there is nothing overhead. Having a smoking section in a restaurant is like having a peeing section in a pool.....

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: EricMM

                            FWIW, I've never seen anyone smoking in that tented area and am shocked they allow it. They do have an open "yard" next door that people will and sometimes do smoke in, but the tented area is very much attached to the restaurant, so it seems hard to believe that people were smoking there.

                            1. re: loratliff

                              It may be that people were smoking during the OP's visit, but were stopped after complaints. When Dumont first covered over its outdoor area and kept it open all year, people used to smoke. I posted a note about it on CH, which was removed by the mods after a day. But, interestingly enough, the smoking stopped afterwards. Not to my credit, but I'm sure a complaint was made.

                          2. Famdoc, my recent experience was similar:

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/884598

                            In addition to the horrible vibe at Roberta's, I just don't think the food is as good as at Paulie Gees.

                            While the tasting menu may be another story, I still don't see how this place improves.

                            Makes one wonder about the NY times reviewers.

                            1. Honestly, I prefer Motorino to both Roberta's and Paulie G. They re-opening in Williamsburgh soon.

                              2 Replies
                                1. re: rschwim

                                  broadway and bedford, and "soon" per their website.

                              1. We've removed the marijuana related discussion from the thread. It got unfriendly pretty quickly, and wasn't really related to the food that's regularly available at this restaurant. Marijuana in food is, in general, considered off-topic for Chowhound, as well. We apologize, but with all those factors going against it, we don't think it was a very good fit for discussion here.

                                If anyone would like a copy of their posts that were removed, you're welcome to email us at moderators@chowhound.com and we can forward those along.