You don't have to live in New York to eat some of New York's best pizza
People on the West Coast now have access to one of the country's finest pizza institutions.
Brooklyn-based Roberta’s is hosting a pop-up, which launched on Wednesday, in L.A.’s super-hip Culver City neighborhood. A stone’s throw from a cold-pressed juicery and a SoulCycle, the beloved pizzeria is serving its blistered personal pies out of tents in a nearby lot, with a mobile wood-burning oven in tow.
Predictably, the menu is bit thin compared to its Brooklyn location; there are no offerings of salumi or grilled radicchio here. Instead of eight pizzas, there are six, including the "Ursula Parade," of which chef and co-owner Carlo Mirarchi is particularly proud. It features mozzarella, Parmesan, littleneck clams, parsley and garlic, all layered over a super reduced clam stock thickened with cream. “It's pretty intense,” says Mirarchi. “That was that hardest pie to deliver during this pop-up, because there’s so much prep involved.” His team has to prep all the ingredients at a commissary nearby.
Roberta’s second pop-up in L.A. is just one more brick in the foundation of Italian cuisine this city has been building—and it’s earning respect nationwide. This year, Evan Funke’s Felix topped the list of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America; some weeks later, Eataly launched its first L.A.location, with involvement from Mario Batali, Michael Cimarusti and Nancy Silverton. Silverton, whom you might have seen in the first season of Netflix’s docuseries Chef’s Table, has held the most well-known stronghold of “serious” pizza in the city: coming from a baking background, she partnered with Batali to open Osteria Mozza in 2007. And, of course, we can't forget Travis Lett’s Venice Beach-based Gjelina, which has really helped define what “California pizza” can be: thin-crusted, wood-fired and topped with fresh-from-the farm kale and okra. There’s Jon & Vinny’s, too—which is actually Mirarchi’s favorite pizza spot in Los Angeles. The joke used to be that this city had everything but bagels and pizza. That punchline doesn't hold anymore, though.
Roberta’s dough isn’t unlike Gjelina’s. You can't quite call it Neapolitan-style—similar to Champagne, there are strict definitions set as to what merits the designation and what doesn't. True Neapolitan pizza should only feature Vesuvius-grown San Marzano tomatoes, as well as buffalo mozzarella. (Roberta’s uses less sweet, slightly more tangy Northern California-grown tomato, as well as an oven that might be a smidge less hot than the standard 900 degrees.)
Still, if you were describing Roberta’s pizza and you were to call it Neapolitan, that would be an efficient way to communicate the idea. The crust is doughy, soft and blistered with huge bubbles—they’re from a combination of high water content in the dough and high heat. Head pizzaiolo Chris Ancona manned the oven today; he flew out from Brooklyn, along with a few other employees for the over-two-week event, which ends December 26. (The mobile wood-burning oven was shipped separately; it was manufactured in upstate New York from parts imported from Italy. Today, the oven burned almond wood—which doesn't smell like almonds, by the way—and it sometimes uses walnut, as well.)
If you’re in SoCal and want to see what the fuss is all about, spring for The Bee Sting: the pie features crisped Soppressata and mozzarella and is finished with a generous drizzle of honey, bringing out the saltiness of the cured meat and cheese. (It works, even for those of us who prefer our dishes not-so-sweet.) Purists should opt for the margherita, which offers the trifecta of tangy tomato sauce, mozzarella, and crisped basil, translucent with grease.
Mirarchi told us he has no plans to open a brick-and-mortar in L.A. anytime soon. But, for now, if us L.A. folk can get Roberta’s for about two weeks a year, we’ll take it.