We first heard about Roberto’s from the Mount Washington Google group (City Paper’s 2013 Best Sometimes Racist Google Group) back in May. It seemed the place popped up in Mount Washington Village out of nowhere and was proffering pizza, but had no menu or phone number (except for the proprietor's cell), didn’t take credit cards, didn’t deliver, and had no regular posted hours. We were intrigued.
We stopped by recently at the prime pizza-eating hour of 6:30 p.m. and found the place locked up tight. We tried again a couple days later at 7 p.m. and found the door open and Roberto himself fiddling with his phone at an outdoor table. Roberto practically jumped out of his chair when we walked inside. The place had just-moved-in bare walls and four small tables covered with checkered tablecloths. We asked for menus and he gestured toward the door, which had four taped-up pieces of paper listing offerings. There were six kinds of 12-inch “artisan pizzas,” each $15: puttanesca, margherita, Sicilian, pesto, gluten free, and garlic and oil. The more standard “N.Y. cheese” pizzas were $9 for a 12-inch, $11 for a 16-inch. There was also a list of fillings available for subs, sandwiches, wraps, and gluten-free wraps, with no prices. We order an artisan Margherita, a N.Y. cheese, and a turkey sub. Roberto’s eyes widened. We were only a couple minutes into small talk when he mentioned that he didn’t know if the place would make it through the end of the month. A first-generation Italian-American in his 50s, Roberto described how he had spent his life working in pizzerias while also working as a photographer. When he opened his place a few months ago, he used flour imported from Italy and fresh mozzarella, but was surprised people didn’t come. We’d often thought a casual eat-in/take-out place might do well in Mount Washington Village, which is weighed down with dining destinations like the Mount Washington Tavern, Nickel Taphouse, and Ethel’s Creole Kitchen. There’s Mount Washington Pizza and Subs, but it’s almost strictly delivery and, ironically, better at making Indian food than pizza (or subs). We gently suggested Roberto print menus, take credit cards, maybe jazz up the place a little. He just started taking cards yesterday, he told us, and he was thinking of putting up pictures of himself as a kid in Italy.
As we chatted, we watched Roberto slice cherry tomatoes and chop basil for our artisan pie, and our mouths watered. He covered the N.Y. cheese with a thick layer of dark sauce and grated mozzarella with flecks of basil. Both were delicious. The artisan pizza was a bit crispier, the fresh ingredients blending beautifully. The N.Y. cheese was, as advertised, heavy on the cheese and pleasantly chewy. The turkey sub was, well, a turkey sub. We’re not even sure what we paid for it.
Bottom line is that Roberto is good at making pizzas, maybe not so good at running a pizzeria. As a resident of Mount Washington and Baltimore, we think that’s the kind of business we want to encourage. But we’d better act fast. Roberto has a rent payment coming up.