The pop-up pizzeria that stole my heart
If there’s one food that clearly illustrates just how subjective taste is, it is the pizza.
There is a pizza for every person and every occasion. The greasy slice after the club, your hair still damp from dancing. The corner slice of Sicilian for lunch in the old Italian neighborhood, a moment of respite on a busy afternoon. The yuppie pie with goat cheese and fresh herbs eaten on the porch on a summer night with friends over bottles of wine in your early 20s; you know you’re at least a little grown up because someone brought a salad, dressed in balsamic vinaigrette. The destination pie, its reputation preceding it, logged in a notebook or displayed on Instagram: I was here, I ate this, I am a member of the tribe. (And I don’t mock this; we need to belong, to ascribe meaning to our wanderings, in whatever way we can.)
Pizza is fashion, a statement you can cast on and off at whim. Pizza is eternal, a recipe that never changes. No one’s favorite is right or wrong. Everyone’s favorite really is the best.
Me, right now, I’m telling you to go to Rabottini’s Pizza, a pop-up in Lower Allston. Pizza maker Dan Roberts fine-tuned his craft at Apizza Scholls in Portland, Ore., the kind of place that tends to wind up on “best in the nation” lists. It’s run by Brian Spangler, who was a bread baker first and taught Roberts — already passionate about dough — even more about dough, which is Reason No. 1 the pizza at Rabottini’s is so good. (It is also probably the heart of why I like this pizza so much: I love bread, both baking it and eating it. I respect the willpower of people who voluntarily decide to give it up, and also look upon them as strangers from another species I will never understand but will work my hardest to coexist peacefully alongside on our beautiful planet full of beautiful things including bread.)
The pizza at Rabottini’s comes in 17-inch rounds or 8-by-12-inch “squares” (“Yeah, we know it’s a rectangle,” the menu says). The dough for both is basically the same, with the ratio of ingredients tweaked. The round has a thinner crust, albeit not ultra-thin, and it’s real good. But it’s the square that won my heart, bronzed and blistered, toppings baked into a layer of cheese that’s scorched deep brown here and there, so each bite has layers of flavor and texture: nutty, milky, crisp, gooey, tangy, mellow. Slicing the slab open reveals the crumb, with its beautiful structure, pocked with a network of tiny holes and big bubbles. It’s a really great loaf of bread that happens to be flat and also topped with whole milk mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage and peppers, seasonal vegetables.
Toppings are Reason No. 2 Rabottini’s pizza is so good. Roberts first launched the pop-up out of Porter Square’s Bagelsaurus, then brought it to Allston as part of Zone 3, a Harvard-led initiative to liven up this stretch of Western Avenue. Originally scheduled to end this month, Rabottini’s was recently extended through the end of December. Ultimately Roberts hopes to find it a permanent home.
But before he returned to restaurant life, for the previous dozen years or so, he was a farmer, growing vegetables at Waltham Fields Community Farm. Erinn Roberts, his wife, still manages the farm. (The two have a 17-month-old, Willa, who is often in the house at Rabottini’s.) Almost all of the produce at the pizza shop comes from either Waltham Fields or the Buckle Farm, run by their friend Jim Buckle in Unity, Maine. The greens pie — a white pie topped with seasonal greens, chile flakes, lemon, olive oil, ricotta, mozzarella, and other cheese — is a standout. Even kids clamor for it. I’m still in mourning for a summer special that was topped with corn, cherry tomatoes, and pesto, although I’m looking forward to trying its fall counterpart, with roasted potatoes and vinegar-poached red onions. The king is dead, long live the king.
The home-grown vegetables also mean you shouldn’t miss Rabottini’s salads: a classic Caesar with blocky, satisfying house-made croutons; a vegetable antipasto plate. For the latter, I caught the last of the tomatoes, juicy red slices plated with Mozzarella House burrata and roasted, marinated eggplant so good a friend and I spent half the meal trying to figure out how to re-create it exactly at home. Now the plate feels more like fall, featuring roasted red peppers, delicata squash puree, and more.
Also served here: ice cream from Gracie’s in Union Square, in rotating flavors such as black raspberry chip and salty whiskey. Out on the patio, eating pizza and ice cream, shivering a bit as the sun goes down, life looks pretty good. Is Rabottini’s the best pizza in town? At this exact moment, it is.
182 Western Ave., Allston, 617-903-4576, www.rabottinispizza.com