DEEP DISH: Angelo Romano. Fresh from the kitchen of Bushwick’s trailblazing Roberta’s Pizzeria, chef Angelo Romano is marking his own territory at The Pines, a seasonal eatery in south Brooklyn’s unlikely foodie hotspot, Gowanus. Jess Blumensheid got the dish on his favorite Brooklyn eats, what he’ll be cooking this winter and the secret ingredient to making palates pop.
You come from Roberta’s in Bushwick, often deemed as “Robertaville.” How do you feel about the restaurant as a neighborhood-changer?
It’s amazing. The things we got to do there and the sense of community that has been created is embracing. We did what we all thought was the best we could do that day, whether it was a tasting menu, dry aging meat, making cool pizzas to doing a radio station. There were no rules, just, “Do what feels right.”
You’ve only been in Gowanus for six months since your stint at Roberta’s in Bushwick. How’s the new ’hood?
I love the area. It has kind of a lawless feel, which is very appealing to somebody who is opening up a business and wants to develop the whole place itself. I’m very optimistic. It’s such a small neighborhood that it’s going to take on its own self. Everything around it is developed [and is] the epitome of people who enjoy leisure and spending money and are interested in good food and wine. I like to draw in a crowd of people who have a full sense of gastronomy created for them rather than just coming in for some substance. No one is going to be able to tag a beautiful brownstone in Gowanus and expect everybody to be cool with it. It has a level of family and developed culture around it already.
How is the kitchen environment different at The Pines?
At my previous restaurants, it was more of a regimented system with staple menu items. I think we’re in a location now that we can kind of seize the opportunity and run with it and push it as far as we can. I don’t want it to ever feel like it’s an experiment, but I definitely don’t want people to get bored. You’re not going to see a brick chicken on the menu any time soon.
How do you skirt the boredom?
We play Lil Wayne all day, and it works [laughs].
Where would you go for your perfect meal in Brooklyn?
For starters, I would go to Maison Premiere for their play on the Groni that I had a while back where they added molten salt to it. The salt brought out all the subtleties—adding the little things like that made it totally work. And then follow that with some crudo from their crudo program.
For the entree, I would go to Roebling Tea Room because Chef Dennis Spina is an interesting chef to watch right now. I had an amazing swordfish conserva with an egg—like a ravioli stuffed with egg yolk—and I’ve had scallop crudo with tobiko roe and jalapeño juice.
For dessert, I would go to Roberta’s because the pastry program is one of [Brooklyn’s] best. It sounds like a stoner dish, but it’s not. Like a spin on peanut butter and jelly, it’s chocolate peanut butter, a grape granita with frozen grapes and a peanut butter marshmallow. With so many different components, it’s not just a redundant piece of cake that with the first bite becomes boring; It’s so much more interesting every time I have it.
And now some quick-fire foodie questions: What ingredients are you working with now?
Buddhist hen, raw walnuts, coconut vinegar and kañiwa, which is an Aztec grain like quinoa.
What are you growing in your backyard?
Orage leaf, the flower kale, mustard greens, nasturstrium, lemon verbena and purple shiso.
What is your most dog-eared cookbook?
On Food and Cooking, the Herald McGee cookbook. I really like the way he writes—it’s legible, not all over the place. Nothing is set in stone. I’ve read it probably 200 times, and I still don’t remember half the stuff that’s in there. I’m always learning a little something [new] from that book. I’ve also met him a bunch of times—he’s just a really interesting guy who loves to talk about food.
What is your favorite dish to cook when the temp dips below 50?
By far, a classic Roman-style braised tripe. That will be available [at The Pines] until the end of like the middle to the end of January. Heartier braises like oxtail and tripe and soup peasant will get you through the winter.
Sounds delicious. Do you serve it with anything?
Right now we’re serving it with tough buckwheat—usually you have it with breadcrumbs or something. We’re dry roasting kasha in a pan until it pops, and we put that on the top of the tripe.
What do you see as emerging food trends in Brooklyn?
There are a couple of cool artisanal things that will probably pop up soon: There’s going to be an amaro (liqueur) pop of homemade amaro. I’ve had faith that there’s going to be a lot more sausage and hot dog production. I think [a trend] will be to showcase a lot more specialties like with one person doing one thing really, really well and not just doing it for a marketing scheme. You’ll start to find people doing exactly what they love to do and making no excuses for it.