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My First Visit to Roberta's: A Long and Strange Trip, But Well Worth It

Last night I was out for dinner, celebrating the birthday of my brother, at Roberta’s, the esteemed neo-pizzeria in Bushwick, Brooklyn. On the subway there my company was “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone,” a collection of essays from 2007 edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler.

I bought the book a long time ago, when I was formulating the proposal for my anthology, “Man with a Pan,” but only now have I actually gotten around to reading it. Ferrari-Adler was in grad school when she came up with the idea for her book, and the essays skew young.  Many are about being single and having to navigate the romantic labyrinth of one's twenties.

As the L Train rumbled on, I flipped through my copy and found a few treats. I lapped up Amanda Hesser’s “Single Cuisine”; got a kick out of Steve Almond’s “Qe Será Sarito: An (Almost Foolproof Plan to Never Eat Alone Again)”; and relished Haruki Murakami’s “The Year of Spaghetti.”

When my subway ride ended, I found myself in the labyrinth of Bushwick, an industrial maze of streets peopled by svelte couples struggling with big paper bags from Trader Joe’s and skinny guys wearing glasses with even bigger frames. All the men seemed to have beards, and almost every available surface was covered with white-paper signs saying “Huge Loft: Roommates Wanted.”

It was, I realized, exactly where I would have ended up living if I was in my twenties and had just moved to New York City. Down a dimly lit street I sought the purposefully poorly marked entrance to Roberta’s, and as I entered the restaurant, I knew that if Bushwick was where I would have lived if I was young, Roberta’s is where I would like to reside right now.

The smoky scent of freshly baked pizzas and the joyful cacophony of a crowd gorging themselves on the pies filled the front room. In the back, I found my brother and his band of merry revelers stretched out a long wooden table, tucking into salads of Bibb lettuce and meat and cheese plates. I sat down and tried a bit of the Verde Capra, a blue cheese made from goat's milk. I love blue cheeses, and it was irresistible.

Plates of meat were passed around. I dropped some prosciutto on my tongue and felt it (and the worries of the day) melt away. Beer flowed from a plastic pitcher. Pizzas arrived—baroque affairs piled high with brussels sprouts and onion (the “Lionheart”), pork sausage and kale (the “Good Girl”), and portabellas (the “Porta Baller”; my favorite—I swear those mushrooms were laced with vinegar).  

The food and the company were a powerful combination. I left happy, and took a cab home, done, for the time being, with “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.”

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