High-Concept Pie

At Roberta’s, the Medium is the Message.

roberta pie“We’ve been calling it the Peach Pit,” laughed my friend Jane, “because, like, you know everyone.”

I’d taken the L to the empty streets of Bushwick not for 90210 nostalgia but for prosciutto-annointed pizza at Roberta’s, the new pie place that feels like a cross between an arts collective and a frat basement.

Chris Parachini is artist-in-residence and frat president. His bloodshot green-gray eyes look out from under his Wolfensohn Electric Inc camo cap. “We opened Jan 11th,” he says laconically, looking away like he doesn’t care, but clearly he’s proud as a poppa.

He worked in his own poppa’s Jersey steakhouse as a teenager, but Roberta’s—named for mom—feels less like a family business and more like a conceptual exhibit in the Whitney Biennial, which fits Parachini’s trajectory: his resume boasts evictions from some of Manhattan’s best prep schools; after bouncing around he landed in Greenpoint in ’89, like a sooner in the Oklahoma land rush. A few years ago he again moved to uncharted territory—Bushwick—and “had been living through the dearth of anything to eat.”

Not that he cared so much. “Yeah, I’d been out with friends for the foodie experience,” he says with an implied barf face.

So how’d he wind up with toppings like Berkshire guanciale and house-made mozz?

“I’ve always been a pizza aficionado and a few years ago my uncle was like ‘you gotta go to New Haven for pizza.’ It was totally amazing. It blew my mind.”

When his Italian chum Mauro Soggiu, who was there that fateful night, heard word of a wood-fired oven going for cheap in the mother country,

Parachini’s eyes were as big as pies. “Not to be cheesy, but it was like a sign from God. I was like fuck, you know? We gotta open a pizzeria.”

They found the space last March and in May flew to Italy to train with a master pizzaiola. “We drank a lotta espresso and grappa,” remembers Paranchini through the fog. What happened next is a bit of a blur, complete with a lost-cargo shipping nightmare that sounds like a bad trip.

But today the lights are on and soon the gas will be too—though firewood stacked to the ceiling is fuel of choice. Alongside towers of cans of pomodori tomatoes, the logs invoke an undisclosed pizza bunker, while the mismatched chairs lining the communal tables look like the crap you pass up at garage sales. Parachini is particularly proud of the space. “It’s designed to make the city wash away,” he explains.

As we are cleansed of urbanity the host sidles up. In a sauce-splattered Pan Am tee he looks like a flabby stoner but speaks knowledgably about swine, counseling us through house-cured prosciutto options and steering us wisely toward fingerlings cooked in goose fat and crowned with a duck egg. “Ohmigod smell, smell!” he urges later, shoving a side of Brussels sprouts up to my startled face. A kazoo performance blares through the speakers.

“We had no money but we had the vision,” says Paranchini, surveying the scene. “It’s owned by a rather large group of people—nine, I think, altogether. Just a bunch of people with a fucking dream.”

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Gabrielle Langholtz is the former editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan.