With my fine dining experience at Roberta’s having been so positive, I needed to check out the more rustic side of the equation. So, a few weeks after my incredible dinner, I was back in town and returned with my sons L.J. and Andrew for an early afternoon Saturday brunch. L.J. was working in NYC and Andrew was leaving that evening for an extended sojourn in Barcelona to study Spanish. After dropping Andrew off at EWR, I was to head home. At the time we were all in need of sustenance and sustenance is what we received at Roberta’s. None of us had to eat another thing the rest of the day!
Being a bit of a pizza snob, I was quite curious to try some of their pizze as well as a calzone. For the pizze, we had a tomato-less one with mushrooms, mozzarella and artichokes as well as a classic Margarita. They were extremely well crafted with superb ingredients. They were nicely charred and held their toppings well without becoming soggy. While not necessarily my favorite pizze in NYC, they are comparable to all the top pizzerie. The calzone with red pepper, mozzarella, ricotta, and prosciutto cotto was equally well made and delicious. I haven’t enjoyed a calzone so much since eating them at Lenny’s Pizza on 5th Ave and 16th St in Park Slope while growing up.
This being brunch, we had to try some breakfast items as well. This was hearty fare, but not heavy. Between the bacon, egg and cheese on buttermilk biscuit, the ethereal ricotta pancakes with brown butter, maple syrup and pears, the soft scrambled eggs with maitake mushrooms and toast and finally the creamy polenta with a poached egg, pork jowl and pecorino, this was satisfying breakfast fare that the very best diners would be proud to serve and we were more than happy to consume it.
There was one special on the menu that I couldn’t leave without trying and I’m glad I saved room. Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love the fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans and get serious cravings for the fried chicken at Hattie’s in my very own backyard of Saratoga Springs, but once I had the fried chicken here at Roberta’s, it became my new benchmark. Served with a biscuit and a simple, but perfect salad, the chicken hit every note and kept them going. It was hot. It was crackling crisp. It was moist and juicy and at the end, it was so delicious, the bones were absolutely free of any debris whatsoever.
Somehow we managed to save room for Pamela Yung’s desserts, which were provided on the house. Her sunchoke panna cotta with sunflower, chestnut and pralinée was every bit as delicious as the first time I had it. Her ice creams were well made with good, pure flavors and her olive oil cake was moist and flavorful. Shortly after this, Ms. Yung left Roberta’s to spend time studying pastry in Italy before assuming the job as pastry chef at the equally hot Torrisi Italian Specialties in Manhattan.
It’s not uncommon for starred chefs to have second, casual restaurants, a variety of restaurants under their single banner or even for them to leave their fancier abodes to focus on more earthy cooking in a less formal environment. Roberta’s, though by no means fancy or in any way formal, uncommonly manages to bridge a variety of styles and bring them together under one totally casual roof and at the same time. Even more amazing is that it takes the disparate styles of cucina povera and international haute cuisine as well as a number of styles in between, integrates them seamlessly and and does them all extremely well. It truly succeeds in making a lot of different people happy in many different ways. While there are a few restaurants in NYC right now that I really love, I may love this one most of all.