Roberta's vs. Paulie Gees
So after all the geschwaetz on this board about Roberta's and Paulie Gees, and having a daughter in Brooklyn, I have been trying to get in to try both places.
Hit Paulie Gees this past fall with some guests and finally made it to Roberta's on Sunday. What follows is my mini review/comparison.
We arrived at Roberta's at 3 o'clock on a Sunday, which in and of itself was problematic for them. Apparently they have all different kinds of menus, brunch, lunch dinner and what not and get confused about what to serve you, more on this later. Anyway they said 30-40 minutes and we were welcome to get a drink at one of the two bars. Turned out one of the bars was out in the garden under a tent after walking through what looked like a construction site. Very loud hip hop music everywhere making conversation almost impossible. The crowd was tight lipped and surly. We grabbed a beer and went back to hang out at the indoor bar.
Got seated about 20 minutes later with a really snarky waitress named Cassandra. Did not give us the specials, told us we had to order in a hurry as brunch menu was ending soon. Told her we didn't want lunch. Tried to order a sausage plate antipasto. After some confusion on her part we were informed that the "salumeri" plate was not available until after 5pm (this is listed on the menu as the "meat" plate). When we were pressed a little we were informed that this needed to be prepped. I mean how hard is it to slice a salami???? So we just ended up with a brussel sprouts salad and a couple of pizzas, the famed Speckenwolf and the Bee Sting. After we were served we noticed the people next to us enjoying a large plate of really good looking brisket. They indicated it was an off menu special, and the only way they knew about it was they saw someone else having it. Another big thumbs down for the server.
By contrast at Paulie Gees the vibe was really friendly. We went there with a couple of friends from Sweden and had a great time. Got there right at 5pm on a Sunday when they opened. Service was excellent, music was lower, and it seemed like there were a lot more family groups there. Vibe was still a little funky, but not as sterile. We were also able to order at will and did not feel hurried. Again we had a salad with bacon and escarole and pizza choices: the Spectacle, the Arugula and the Delboy (hot honey). It didn't hurt that they had Bluepoint Toasted lager on tap, which is a personal favorite. Finally, at the end of the meal, Paulie Gee himself came up to us, introduced himself and asked how everything was.
Although you may have guessed this by now, there was also no comparison on the pizza. Roberta's famed Speckenwolf was dry and the crust was a little soggy. Could have used a shot of EVO or something. By comparison, both my daughter and I agreed, the pizzas at Paulie Gees were much better. Just the right balance of crisp and moist, great crust, and overall more flavor. The Delboy with the hot honey at Paulie Gees was amazing, and I am not a big fan of honey on pizzas. About the only thing that was better at Roberta's were the shaved brussel sprouts in a light vinagrette with a soft boiled egg. That's a salad I will try to make at home.
If the food at Roberta's had been better I would have been willing to over look the other sins. But the way I see things they have started to develop a little bit of a reputation and along with that an attitude. Too busy for their own good. Since both of these places are a little bit out of the way, I won't be returning to Roberta's anytime soon, but would return to Paulie Gees in a heartbeat.
For those that are really passionate about pizza in the NY metro area, there's no competition between Roberta's and Paulie Gees. It's only when you start stacking Paulie's up against Motorino and Keste that it begins to be a fair fight.
Roberta's was a large part of Paulie's inspiration (especially his interior design) and should be a destination for any serious piehead, but it's more of a top 20 NY area pizzeria than a top 5 joint like Paulie's.
Even if Paulie sold carbon copies of Roberta's pizzas, he'd still be considerably higher on the list because of his charming personality/"everyone's a VIP at Paulie Gee's" philosophy. Roberto Caporuscio is passionate about pizza, but it's an incredibly niche Neapolitan passion, whereas Paulie lives eats and breathes every kind of pizza known to man.
I just went to Paulie's for the first time today and although I enjoyed it, I kept feeling that I was missing something. Perhaps my expectations were through the roof not sure. The crust was nice but a bit too soft and chewy for my taste. After a few slices I felt like I was eating a lot dough.
Liked the Regina - nice sweet fresh tomatoes.
Delboy with the spicy honey on the side was good although the Sopressata was a bit burned and on the salty side. I liked Roberta's bee sting a bit more with the hot Sopressata and Don Antonio's as well.
The Greenpointer was good with that lemon juice blended nicely.
My favorite I think was the Cherry Jones. Those dried Cherries really have a certain zing and overall one of the most unique pies Ive had.
Very good overall. Tough to compare against the other heavyweights where you have them months apart. I would be a regular as well if I lived in the neighborhood but not sure I would wait more than hour.
I think didactic katydid is onto something that you had an atypical experience at Roberta's (though ill acknowledge it is a scene and can put some folks off).
like DK, we had our wedding catered by Robertas (though not on site, but we've been to several events in the outdoor space and considered it strongly).
there are certainly plenty of places in NY surviving on hype and or reputation more than substance, but i think its pretty unfair to put Roberta's in that camp.
the last time we were at Paulie Gee's they actually had a tribute to one of Roberta's pies on the menu (looking online i see its still current - PG's is called the Spectacle 261 and the menu description acknowledges it is a "tribute" to the Speckenwolf). Roberta's also has served a version of the Hellboy which they call the bee sting (we had it at our pizza wedding).
I can see your point about attitude at Robertas, and I agree that Paulie is a super nice guy and its great to see how committed he is to being there, in the dining room, during (almost) every service.
For me, the biggest plus is the non-pizza at Roberta's, which is, generally speaking, exemplary. A couple pizzas and a mix on the non-pizza dishes is a great meal worthy of the haul out to bushwick. Paulie's salads are fine but are kind of an afterthought - something to offer an occasional break from bites of pie but not so much a thing unto themselves.
i think a lot of the negativity about roberta's is actually more about the clientele than the food-- a problem that should be solved once the first hipster scandinavian place opens up in south ozone park (aka the new bocofashamalamadingdong) and the lemmings go with the flow.
i prefer the pizza at paulie gee's, but agree that the non-pizza dishes aat roberta's are wonderful. still haven't made it to bianca, a goal for this spring.
Staff at Roberta's often perceived to have attitude towards customers. It ain't just me. If I'm spending my money, I'd at least like a semblance of courtesy. This issue has been extensively debated, written about and blogged. Not interested in being made to feel like a pest asking when I'll be seated when I've waited an hour and a half for a table, having been told it would be a 30-45 minute wait. You don't work at Paulie Gee's very long if you give customers attitude. I know Paulie is a big fan of Roberta's and respect his opinion greatly, but I'll take his Greenpoint joint over Roberta's any day.
I go to Paulie Gee's frequently because I live two blocks away and your description of the friendly atmosphere is right on, and the pizza is amazing.
I also, however, have an abiding love for Roberta's (we got married there!) and think your experience was atypical. The food there--especially the pizza--has always been amazing as well, and I've always found the waitstaff and clientele friendly and welcoming--though in a much more casual way.
I'd say a good way to differentiate the service: my retiree dad would like Paulie Gee's (attentive, make you feel like you're important) and be less comfortable at Roberta's (make you feel like you're one of their friends and you're having dinner at their house).
Roberta's big downfall is its extraordinary wait, which is one reason I don't go super-frequently. Paulie's got an epic wait at certain times, too, so I might be misjudging a bit because I can just put my name in and walk home until the table's ready, so it ain't no thing.
Oh, also: Roberta's brunch is outstanding; Paulie's is, sadly, currently nonexistent.