Late spring found members of Team AEB collaborating with Team Twitchy on a fast, furious, and highly caffeinated 2-day tour of New York. If you were to connect the dots, it would go something like this:
fig. a: Roberta's façade
How do you describe a pizza joint like Roberta's?
I'd heard great things about Roberta's. (And this being New York, Roberta's detractors were both plentiful and vocal.) I also knew full well that it was located in Bushwick, with all that that entails. Even so, I just wasn't prepared for the Roberta's experience.
From the homely, auto body shop-like exterior (the restaurant is housed in a former garage), to the eclectic urban bricolage of its dining room/pizza kitchen, tiki garden, greenhouses, vegetable & herb gardens, and radio station (?), Roberta's was unlike any serious, new-school, hardcore-Neapolitan-pizza-oven-wielding pizza joint I'd ever been to. Aspects of Roberta's reminded me of Waitsfield, VT's American Flatbread--the communitarian atmosphere, the loopy pizza nomenclature, the emphasis on sustainability, etc.--but Roberta's represented the very opposite of AF's back-to-nature ideology. This joint was long-haired, heavily bearded, and hippyish, but it was all about taking back the city. Other aspects reminded me of Joan Didion's seminal "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." This is a place to be taken with a grain of salt--or a tab of acid. All that said, the night we went, our party might have been a little bemused, but we came close to achieving instant karma--Roberta's food was right on.
fig. b: Roberta's tiki garden
Now, perhaps not surprisingly, Roberta's has its detractors (some of them vehement), but it's also got no shortage of supporters, and business is brisk. The night we went, there was a bit of a wait before we could be seated, so we took the opportunity to down a couple of frosty ones in the tiki garden, and to check out the premises.
fig. c: gardening at night
An impressive complex of greenhouses has been built on top of parts of the Roberta's compound, and a vacant lot beyond has been transformed into a massive container-gardening operation, utilizing containers of all kinds. Even bathtubs. Inside, piggy banks scattered around the dining room solicit donations to help support Roberta's Farm Fund.
Half an hour later, we were seated at a communal table, and we'd moved onto sipping Italian reds by the glass. Our pizzas consisted of a Margherita and a The Lupo (pesto, mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, smoked mozzarella, and spring garlic),* and we rounded things out with a hefty, incredibly juicy pork chop, served with farro, guanciale, and mizuna greens. All three were so totally rad that they didn't really fill me up--they just gave me the munchies. I was ready to work my way through the entire menu.
The folks at Gimme! got started in the Ithaca area--and that area is still home to their HQ--but they've now got two locations in NYC: one on Mott St. in SoHo/NoLIta, and another on Lorimer St. in Williamsburg. We'd been to the Mott St. location before, but this time, because our home base was in Brooklyn, it was all about the Lorimer St. location, where the staff were friendly and happy to oblige, and the espressos were expertly pulled and awfully tasty.
fig. d: inside Russ & Daughters
3. Russ & Daughters
There's more to the legendary Russ & Daughters (how legendary?--check out Anthony Bourdain's encomium in the photo above) than just bagels, gravlax, smoked fish, rollmops, candies, nuts, and halavah.
fig. e: UEC
There's also their absolutely amazing ultimate egg cream. Takes 'em about 5 minutes to make it because they pour (and stir) so much love and attention into it, but it's so worth the wait. If there's a better egg cream alive, I haven't encountered it.
Plus, the folks at R & D are such sweethearts. And they love to gab. And I love smoked fish. I could spend the whole day there.
fig. f: inside Milk Bar
4. Milk Bar
Milk Bar was something of a pilgrimage. Michelle's been following Christina Tosi's reign of catch-as-catch-can dessert mayhem closely over the last couple of years, so we were curious to visit Milk Bar up-close and in-person. And with good reason. With all the talk of the nostalgia values of recent dessert trends (cupcakes, doughnuts, whoopie pies, etc.), Tosi is one of the few people who's really pushed things further--she's also done so more inventively. Take her trademarked "cereal milk," which simulates the flavor of the leftover milk at the bottom of a just-finished bowl of cereal (Grape Nuts?), and which she's made available as a "milk" and as a soft-serve ice cream. Want to add to the layers of nostalgia? How about topping that cereal-milk ice cream with some "cornflake crunch" or, even better, "potato chip crunch"? Of course, Tosi's deliciously playful take on pop culture has also made her a major player in a scene the New York Times has labeled "haute stoner cuisine."
We got ourselves primed for our Milk Bar sugar shock by having a Ssäm Bar pork bun as an appetizer. Milk Bar is mainly a dessert outpost, but the space is connected to Ssäm Bar, and they do offer a few items that are on the savory tip. Once we'd gotten that into our system, we tried a selection of Milk Bar's soft-serve ice creams (blueberry muffin! cinnamon bun!!), and then moved on to the cookies, pies, and cakes section of the menu.
fig. g: truffles by Milk Bar
Tosi's "truffles" were a good way to sample the cakes. They're essentially bite-sized portions of the cakes that have been rolled up into a truffle-like form, and you get 3 for $3. Curious about Milk Bar's "birthday cake" cake, but hesitant to shell out the $38 it costs for a full-sized cake? Get yourself a packet of "birthday cake" truffles. We did.
fig. h: compost never tasted so good
As much as I liked the truffles and the "candy bar" pie, my favorites were the cookies. At $1.85 each or 6 for $10, Milk Bar's cookies are extremely affordable, and some of them, like the kitchen-sink appeal of the "compost" cookie** and the creamed corn/comfort food qualities of the "corn" cookie, are strokes of genius.
5. Third Rail
Third Rail was probably my favorite coffee bar of our visit. It was certainly the smallest and the cutest. And it's conveniently located just a block away from Washington Square. My late-afternoon macchiato was totally gratuitous (again, as I mentioned above, when you roll with Team Twitchy, you tend to have a fair bit of caffeine coursing through you system pretty much all the time--high-quality caffeine), but somehow it still managed to taste like my first of the day.
fig. i: impromptu ice cream picnic
6. Beez Kneez Ice Cream
One afternoon we were lying in the grass and taking in the sun and the views in Williamsburg's East River State Park when some Aussie came by and asked us if we were interested in some ice cream.
Why, yes, we are interested in some ice cream. Thanks for asking.
He pulled a container out of his cooler, handed us a couple of spoons, and the next thing we knew we were eating Australian ice cream made with real Australian honey. Was Beez Kneez ice cream as "killer" as their website claims? Well, it was pretty darned good, and the honey did taste pretty exotic, and, besides, how many artisanal ice cream companies can you think of that deliver?
How do you find Beez Kneez ice cream? Why, on Twitter, of course
fig. j: Franny's negroni
It had been a while since either of us had been to Franny's. Much too long a while. Our first two experiences were all about Franny's justly famous pizza pies, and both experiences were breathtaking. This time around we took a very different tack. L. had a theory. She insisted that as outstanding as Franny's pizzas were/are, their real strong suit was their line of pasta dishes. And their cocktails. Quite specifically, L. claimed Franny's was serving the Negroni to end all Negronis. Now, we already had a dinner date planned, but it was 6:00 pm, and an absolutely beautiful evening, an evening that was just begging for a Negroni, so the next thing I knew, there we were, having a couple of Franny's phenomenal Negronis with a spaghetti chaser. Now, I'm not sure that this pasta dish eclipsed Franny's pizzas (I still have dreams about their clam pie), but it certainly lived up to the standards I've come to expect from them. Chickpeas, minced garlic, crushed chili peppers, slivers of fresh mint, and some truly perfect pasta--so simple, so honest, so extraordinarily satisfying. Now that's what I call Happy Hour.
8. Aburiya Kinnosuke
Our dinner date that night was with our friends A. and J. and when it came to picking a restaurant, we deferred to their expert knowledge of New York's Japanese food scene. Their pick? Aburiya Kinnosuke, an elegant Midtown Japanese restaurant, specializing in robata grilled treats, fish dishes, and "tidbits for drinking." The atmosphere was semi-private yet convivial. We had our own little dining cubicle all to ourselves, but we were not detached in the least from the rather animated festivities going on all around us. Aburiya Kinnosuke was evidently making many of our fellow diners quite happy, and, I have to say, the vibe was infectious--especially when the beer and sake arrived.
I was excited to see all manner of robata dishes on the menu. I was even more excited when they began to appear before us. Among the night's highlights were a trio of pork sensations: organic berkshire pork simmered in brown sugar soju, grilled pork cheek, and black peppered berkshire pork. Oishii!
fig. k: inside Saltie 1
Saltie was already one of Team Twitchy's favorites. It instantly became one of Team AEB's too. From the moment I set eyes on the place, I was sold. The decor. The color scheme. The Jim O'Rourke blaring from the stereo speakers.
fig. l: Saltie's Scuttlebutt
And then there's their specialty sandwiches. Like their truly amazing Scuttlebutt, which contained feta cheese, mixed greens, hard-boiled eggs, capers, pickles, and a roasted red pepper aioli, and was served on their house-made focaccia. Patrons have been known to fall head-over-heels in love with the Scuttlebutt. I've joined their ranks, but, unfortunately, mine is a long-distance affair.
fig. m: inside Saltie 2
fig. o: inside Grumpy
fig. t: Palisades Parkway Pork Bun Picnic
15. Milk Bar
You can never have too many Momofuku pork buns and you can never bring too many Milk Bar cookies home for your friends, so a return trip to Milk Bar was my final stop.
Gimme!, 495 Lorimer St., Brooklyn (Williamsburg), (718) 388-7771
Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston St., Manhattan (Lower East Side), (212) 475-4880
Many thanks to Team Twitchy, A. and J., and H. Respect to all of you that this whirlwind visit didn't allow to see.
* Remember the "loopy nomenclature" I mentioned above? We seriously considered getting a Millennium Falco (tomato, Parmigiano, pork sausage, onion, basil, and breadcrumbs), and the Specken Wolf (speck, mushrooms, oregano, onions, and mozzarella) was tempting too, but in the end we opted for 1 classic, 1 special, and one main.
** Get this: pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips.