Why is it that some business spaces seemed doomed? Call it feng shui, or just bad luck, but it is a simple fact that some locations are perpetual graveyards, especially for restaurants. In Montauk, 240 Fort Pond Road is one such address. Just down the road from Surf Lodge, the various iterations over the last 20 years or so are too many to name -- the most recent casualty being Arbor, a solid and attractive restaurant that suffered too short a life.
Now comes Roberta's, an offshoot of the wildly popular Bushwick pizzeria. This Roberta's, however, is much more ambitious than a pizzeria, and the restaurant group has gone all in with an upscale Montauk eatery that is stylish, pricey, and quite good.
The dining room, renovated back in 2016 for Arbor, is broad and high-ceilinged, with the feeling of open spaces and a surf hut motif with swatches of bamboo. There are sliding glass doors to catch the Montauk breezes and a sizeable outdoor area.
A gorgeous modern bar sits as if on a stage above the sunken dining room, fully stocked with wine, tap beer, and hard liquor. The house cocktails all have cute names: There's the Jet Ski Rental and the Hot Girl Bummer for example. They are also gorgeous to look at and reasonably priced at $17. Unfortunately, neither the A$ap Julio or the Whatever's Clever that we tasted were very good, and with all the esoteric ingredients (genmaicha, Giffard's banana liqueur, Heering's cherry liqueur) you wonder if the components are slightly overthought.
But not to worry. The house cocktails are the last and only thing that doesn't work at Roberta's.
Given the pedigree, Roberta's will probably live and die with its pizzas -- and they are outstanding. We had the Famous Original, which was a classic tomato with mozzarella, Parmigiano, oregano, and chili. It was a medium-thin with just the right amount of charring on the crust. Ursala's Parade was a traditional white pie with whole little neck clams, mozzarella, Parmigiano, and parsley. At $28 it could probably use a few more clams, but there's no denying it's perfectly executed.
But Roberta's is going for more here. There is a wide selection of small plates, all of which vary from very good to excellent. Scallops are large, perfectly roasted to medium rare, and served with husk cherries, ramp oil, and chili. Crispy squid were slightly chewy but served with a nice spicy aioli and cherry peppers. The Flannery beef carpaccio was melt-in-the-mouth tender and nicely marbled, and accompanied by shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a cherry mostarda.
There is a knockout salad of asparagus and fava beans served with a salsa verde and some more of the shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.
The piece de resistance, however, is the Maine sea urchin, served inside a buckwheat crepe with fresh horseradish. It's a genuinely inventive and exciting dish, the creamy sea urchin offering a slightly briny counterpoint to the crepe, and with a touch of heat from the horseradish. I doubt you will see a riskier -- or more interesting -- offering on any menu this summer.
Dessert is soft-serve ice cream, strawberry or vanilla, served in a small bowl topped with a wafer cone.
The servers are exclusively women, and all excellent. The music, on the night we were there, was a great mix of alternative hits from the 80s and 90s, and almost certainly superior to what many of the diners will hear moving later on to the Surf Lodge.
What is the long-term prognosis for Roberta's? Pricing, I believe, is an issue. Scallops are three for $35 with nothing else on the plate. Urchin is $54. Fans of the Brooklyn branch may shake their heads when the check comes and dinner for two or three (much of which is pizza) heads toward $300.
Of course we all understand that prices everywhere on the East End have gone bonkers this season. I suspect that Roberta's will become a go-to spot this summer, and most won't blink an eye at the prices. But for a restaurant looking for year-round longevity the question remains: How will Roberta's, its decor and menu designed for a summer crowd, fare in the treacherous Montauk off-season?
Let's hope it breaks the spell of disappointments at this difficult, but beautiful location.