A popular New York pizzeria is popping up this weekend at Dusek’s in Pilsen, further fueling the pizza civil war between Chicago and the Big Apple. For the last nine years, Roberta’s has dished out acclaimed pizza to Brooklynites, earning a spot on Eater NY’s Essential 38. People can line up to try the Bushwick pizza starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday while supplies last.
The pop-up will serve four different pizzas: a margherita; the “Famous Original” with tomato, mozzarella, caciocavallo, Parmesan, oregano, and chili; the Beesting with honey and sopressata; and a special Chicago-only pie. This pizza, a collaboration between Dusek’s and Roberta’s, is topped with arrabbiata sauce, ricotta, caciocavallo, mozzarella, Parm, garlic, pepperoni, and sausage. Eater Chicago caught up with Roberta’s co-founder Brandon Hoy to talk about a Chicago versus NYC pizza showdown, the magical NYC water myth, and why Brooklynites love Roberta’s.
For the uninitiated, can you tell us a little bit about Roberta’s and its place in the New York pizza scene?
So, you know, this is our 10th year in New York. We’re kind of not just pizza, we’re a staple in our neighborhood in Bushwick. As far as pizza goes, we’re just a brand that’s incredibly passionate — we’ve tried to create a product that people really like. No one says, “I hate pizza,” so it’s kind of a saturated market in that sense. But what sets us apart is that we have a bakery, so we have a very deep knowledge of dough and how those things come together. We have a full menu and a two-star Michelin tasting menu. As far as food is concerned, we have a lot more than your standard pizza place. And the straightforward pizza places, like [Frank] Pepe’s, are definitely the ones that inspired us. We’re definitely a nice cross between Neapolitan-style pizza, and we see ourselves as a New York-style pizza place; the pizza that came over from Italy and started in New York, like Pesci’s and Grimaldi’s for the early New York pizzerias, [is something we] aspire to be like.
The difference between us and them is they were always focused on making great pizza, and we do more than that. My partner Carlo [Mirachi] is an amazing chef and we do a lot of things that aren’t just pizza, which has allowed us to be a better pizza place as well.
And Chicago is awesome, it has a rich pizza history, it’s a place where people have a passion for pizza. In that regard it’s equivalent to New York, it’s a place where people truly have an opinion on pizza, even though New York pizzas and Chicago pizzas are different kinds of pizza.
Chicago is another densely populated city that has a lot of diverse styles of food, well, everything, you know? It’s a place where people come from all over the place and people want to bring a bunch of different styles together.
Is the New York water myth a real thing?
I’m not gonna 100 percent debunk it, but also, you know, with today’s modern technology, you can pretty much emphasize everything. Water’s not incredibly complex, you can test it and you can fix it to get the thing that you want. We make far more complex things than water. Off the tap, it’s a really easy water to use, but is it a necessity? You’re not trying hard enough if the water out of the spigot didn’t work for you. I think more [important is] the knowledge of what you want from the flavor and the profile of the dough and how you want it to be. You can achieve that by being scientifically sound and testing from there. And if that is, like, changing the pH balance of your water or the hardness of the water, that’s just a piece of the puzzle you have to figure out.
Alright, Brooklyn pizza versus Chicago pizza — who wins in a duel and why?
What kind of weapons do we get to choose, or straight fisticuffs? But straight fisticuffs, Chicago pizza is heavier and thick, making the fight a light versus heavy pizza fight. But Brooklyn pizza is nimble and quick. I’m not sure. I’m gonna go with Brooklyn, though.
Why are Brooklynites arrogant about their pizza?
I would say that me personally, I’m not super in opposition to everything, I’m just pro what I do. I could say the same thing about a pizza place down the street from me. There’s just an air of confidence about the pizza that they’re making, so Brooklynites feel like they have to have an air of confidence about what they’re doing. You really have to hustle. It’s like two totally different realms, especially in the pizza realm. It’s like comparing ravioli and lasagna: They have the same name but are two very different things. If you were going out thinking you were getting a thin crust and you got a Chicago-style pizza, you might not be happy. It’s different.
Will you guys open up in Chicago?
Baby steps here, baby steps. Let’s see how people like the pop-up first.