Roberta’s x Humboldt & Jackson?! Yes, Please! (aka the “Takeover Par-tay” Post)

It’s safe to say that at this point in its tenure, Bushwick pioneer Roberta’s is a New York City institution. (If a Michelin star for Blanca, pizza approaching perfection and a high-stakes legal battle among owners doesn’t make a New York City institution, I’m not sure what does.)

So there was no way I was going to miss Roberta’s “kitchen takeover” at Humboldt & Jackson, which is, literally, the closest food and drink establishment to home. Part wine bar, part bar-bar, part seasonal menu; frequent host to trivia nights, live music, pop-up food and/or seasonal events, Humboldt & Jackson has made itself right at home in the neighborhood in the t-minus two years that it has been open.

Top billing on the menu was Roberta’s “square slice” pizza — an homage to Detroit’s hyper-local pizza style (a la Buddy’s Pizza) that’s best described by what it’s not: It’s not thin crust, not deep dish, square? yes, but not Sicilian (although billed as such, this is still questionable) and definitely not Chicago style. Roberta’s served up its famous pizzas (“The Bee Sting,” “Millennium Falco,” etc.) on an foccicia-like crust.

But the scene stealer? The stracciatella, a fresh, soft-stretched, languid heap of cheese goodness, which was served with toasted sourdough bread. Said bread’s toasty porousness was the perfect structure for every bite. (No photos worthy of posting, but this Washington Post recipe is calling my name.)

If you thought buratta was the pinnacle of Mozzarella’s excellence, think again, my friend. And then seek out stracciatella. One more reason why Roberta’s rocks — stracciatella is featured on its lunch and dinner menus on the regular.

For more on Buddy’s Pizza, cue up this Zagat video to 4:40min — but the whole thing is a solid watch: 

 

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Friday: Ahh… Brooklyn. (aka the “Dick Chicken Popcorn/Exploratory Post”)

photo-6It’s probably never the best idea to embark on a Brooklyn (art) excursion when you (unintentionally) miss the first stop, which turns out to be food. …

In this case, I missed out on supposedly delicious, fifth year anniversary-priced ($5) Margherita Classica pizzas at Fornino’s in Williamsburg — a pizza geek’s pizza place, if I ever saw one. Just missed them by about 10 minutes.

So when I later came across rows of bags of popcorn (with seemingly normal popcorn inside), labeled as “Dick Chicken -flavored Popcorn” at an overly-hyped event at the art space known as the 3rd Ward … well, yeah, I grabbed one. (Granted, the boxes labeled “Dick Chicken Nuggets” were selling for serious double-digits a piece — but they didn’t have any nuggets inside.)

photo-7photo-8…I took one and stashed it in my satchel, unsure if  I was planning on eating the Dick Chicken Popcorn or … archiving it. I had my own (free!) Dick Chicken souvenir … that I was waffling about eating, well, until, I saw two grandmotherly-aged women eating Dick Chicken-flavored Popcorn in the exterior hallway.

“Excuse me, I really hope not, but is there anything “Dick Chicken special” about the popcorn?”

photo-10“Nope, seems fine to me,” one replied.

And then I took the plunge. My estimation, air-popped, could have used a little more salt.

(And yes, I saved the bag as a souvenir. And later fashioned this still life…)

End of message.

Tuesday: Simple Italian with a Touch of Ferrari Red (aka the “Trattoria Cinque Discovery Post”)

When I come across a solid restaurant concept, I like to sometimes pretend that I know enough about the business that can dissect why it works.

rustic bread, fresh ricotta, E.V.O.O., black pepper
rustic bread, fresh ricotta, E.V.O.O., black pepper

I was up for the challenge at Trattoria Cinque on Tuesday. This newish neighborhood spot in Tribeca is a good find — crowd-pleasing trattoria-style Italian run by Italians in a venue that could just as easily be the spot for a low-key, midweek meal with a friend (or three) as for a birthday dinner production for 20.

As far as I can ascertain, here’s why it works:

photo-21Start with stylish, but unpretentious, decor: From the street, you want to walk inside.

Stunning (original) exposed brickwork, vaulted ceilings, brown leather banquets, industrial matte black lamps, backlit bottles of lemoncello, chairs and other accents painted official Ferrari red paint — I was told the design is intended to channel the Ferrari factory, circa 1950s, and it works. It’s fun without being gimmicky.

Keep the concept simple: “Cinque” is Italian for “five” and, appropriately, the menu has five beginnings, five pizzas, five big plates, five pastas, five endings.

On top of that, the entire menu receives a makeover about five times a year, to account for seasonality, popularity and whatever else. Plenty of room for the kitchen to engage with the crowd and evolve responsively.

Make it accessible: The most expensive thing on the menu at the moment is a $25 ribeye steak that’s aged for weeks in a meat locker on site. That’s cheap, especially for this neighborhood, but my favorites of the evening (I didn’t try the steak) were priced well below that.

photo-17The first thing I’ll be back for are Trattoria Cinque’s thin, oblong pizzas ($11-$12) like the pizza con gorgonzola e pere, a delicate, ultra-thin crust pie that is finished with white truffle oil and fresh ground pepper. It’s cooked perfectly and evenly throughout, and somehow, that thin crust holds itself together long enough for you to get it in your mouth.

photo-19Also: A fantastic Caesar salad ($10) that is only deserving of such a production:

Each one ordered is prepared from scratch at a tavola, or a large, wooden table placed prominently and dramatically in the main dining room. It’s dining meets spectacle, old world style.

And before I come back for the brasato di Manzo — braised beef short ribs with white polenta ($20), the hearty meat and potatoes dish I ordered on Tuesday — I’d dig into the list of pastas, all of which are made in-house. Entrée portions of pasta dishes run $14-$18, like most of the menu.

Eventually, we got around to desserts … but by then a bottle of grappa and a bottle of limoncello had showed up on the table. It was time to relax.

TIP: Trattoria Cinque is currently offering a “Pie, Peroni & Pigskin special” on Monday nights where $15 gets you a pie and two Peronis. And, presumably, some NFL football on the TVs in the bar area.

Want more food shots? There’s a photo of the frito misto plate — fried calamari, shrimp, artichoke hearts, and lemon slices — after the jump:

Continue reading “Tuesday: Simple Italian with a Touch of Ferrari Red (aka the “Trattoria Cinque Discovery Post”)”

Saturday: Ugghhh … (aka the “Tour de Bar Food” Post)

Potato skins, followed by an appetizer sampler, followed by late night pizza, all washed down with copious amounts of beer. This just might be the blog post I submit to ThisIsWhyYou’reFat.

Let’s chalk it up to the fact that Saturday was a double special occasion, an out-of-town visitor and a local friend’s birthday. Here’s what went down:

photo-1photoFully aware of the endurance it would take to get through the evening — we were starting early, about 6 o’clock — we needed to eat something early to hold down the fort. Enter, potato skins at Murphy’s Pub in Midtown East. They were chosen purely for the fact that they were the cheapest, least fried and easiest shareable appetizers on the menu.

photo-2When we showed up at the birthday party at Rattle n’ Hum, the excellent craft beer bar in Murray Hill (just a little further south), my friends had apparently had the same idea and voila, chicken quesadilla and sampler platter arrived. We were now satisfactorily fortified for the copious amounts of beer that came next.

photo-5And as for the slices from La Mia Pizza … well, anyone who’s ever been out for a big night in New York City knows that there’s just something magical about the glow emanating from a pizza shop open late night. And, if you actually have to cross in front of it while walking home, it’s a lost cause — even if you don’t finish it until the AM.

Monday: Spinach Two Ways at Big Nick’s (aka the Sort of “Daring & Delicious Pizza” Post)

photo
"where to find your food"

The trick to eating at Big Nick’s in the Upper West Side is to arrive hungry, but not starving. Otherwise, their 28-page menu — which includes more than 40 types of burgers, nearly as many specialty pizzas, two dozen salads and even more sandwiches, Greek options, an around-the-clock breakfast section, all types of pasta, and on and on — might just overwhelm. Trust me on this one.

photo-1
"our pizza is different, daring & delicious"

But aside from that little caveat, Big Nick’s really is special in this city. It’s wood veneer walls are covered in a collage of photos, notes from the management and handwritten menu specials that only could have grown organically over decades. Children are given balloons. The staff is brisk, occasionally gruff, but always accommodating.

It took me about three times of eating at Big Nick’s before I really get a handle on it, and my strategy now is to hone in on what general category of food I’m interested in and ignore the other sections of the menu as if they’re not there at all.

In fact, on this night I already knew one of two things I was ordering before I photo-2walked in the door: the Grecian-style spinach ($4.50), listed under appetizers, page 6.

Not creamed spinach, not like any other cooked spinach dish I’ve ever had really, the spinach is laced with feta, slices of onion, and some sort of (assuming Grecian) seasoning, garnished with tomato and cucumber slices and a lemon wedge and served hot.

It’s a fantastic way to dress up spinach, tastes good, and is so good for you. (Of course, it was my mother, the dietician, who first picked out this fairly obscure appetizer when I brought here here).

photo-3Being that my whole table was bathed in a warm, pink glow from Big Nick’s neon sign advertising how daring and delicious their pizza is, for part two, I decided to try a slice of the Fricasse pizza ($3.75), which, according to the menu, is: “a Big Nick original & NYC’s first green pizza!”

More feta, more spinach, plus onion, herbs in a cream sauce — it was okay, a little watery, actually. I’ve previously heard other diners rave about this pizza, which is what had piqued my interest. Was it that I was spinach saturated? That I prefer a pizza not so wholesome? I’m not sure. No matter, there are dozens of other pies to pick from next time.

Big Nick’s, 2175 Broadway, at W. 77th Street, 212-724-3010 (pizza) 212-362-9238 (burgers and other)

Tuesday: Ohh I Get It … a “Pitza” is a “Pizza on Pita” (aka the “Bedouin Tent Discovery” Post)

photoMore Atlantic Avenue discoveries.

Bedouin Tent. I stopped in on Sunday to grab a take-out menu and the front of the house smelled so good — that sweet, dough-y, bread baking smell — that if I hadn’t just finished my Paddington Bear panini across the road, I would have ordered something, anything, right there and then.

Bedouin Tent makes their own pita in a huge, industrial pizza oven, right there by the entrance, all day every day. Little dough balls sit stacked in flour on one side, waiting to be rolled out and shaped.

(I don’t really know how to make this metaphor work, but they reminded me of nothing so much as a small surplus of snowballs, lying in wait.)

photo-4Just as the oven is located front and center in the restaurant, the pita here is showcased in every dish: It is the vessel for an assortment of Middle Eastern salads and spreads; split open, the pita becomes a pocket, or sandwich; laid flat and topped with diced and sliced meats, vegetables and (sometimes) fresh mozzarella cheese, the pita becomes a “pitza,” a pita/pizza hybrid; with meal-sized salads and entrees, pita is served on the side, like bread.

photo-3I tried the garden salad ($7.50) — lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, peppers, cucumber, artichoke hearts, olives, parsley and feta cheese — and the Lambajin “pitza” ($7), a crumbled mixture of lamb, onion, tomato, parsley and other spices, spread out on flat pita disc and baked like a pizza.

It was a ton of food — easily enough for two people. (Indeed, it was two meals for me.) This is how every $7.50 veggie salad should be loaded: thick cuts of fresh produce, plus beautiful homemade touches, like housemade stuffed grape leaves, artichoke hearts, a blend of feta and parsley.

The Lambajin … a meat-lover’s “alternative” pizza. Full of flavor and meatiness, I did miss the cheese. (Look closely, there are a couple pitzas that are cheeseless.) All in all, my first Bedouin Tent meal left me wanting to try more, namely the “Green Pitza,” — leeks, scallions and fenugreek (described as “lightly sweet”) and mozzarella cheese — and, well, everything else.

photo-1Bedouin Tent, 405 Atlantic Ave., Boreum Hill, Brooklyn, (718) 852-5555.

TIP: Bedouin Tent has a large back patio, shaded by large, cream-colored umbrellas. I had to take lunch to-go, but if the weather’s good, take advantage of it! Then, it seems like more places than not along Atlantic Avenue have just similar backyards. Merits more exploring …