Allison Robicelli doesn’t understand why Brooklynites have such a tough time making it to her corner of the borough.
“It’s Bay Ridge, not Beirut! It’s not hard for people to get to, but there’s this misconception that it is. Fifteen years ago, people said the same thing about Park Slope.” This is the kind of perspective you get from a lifelong, fourth generation Bay Ridge girl, who can also tell you that 20 years ago, her hood was “known as the restaurant capital of Brooklyn.” Now the tin ceilinged, artisanal-everything restaurants to the north get all the attention, while Bay Ridge’s dining scene seems stuck in the land of red sauce.
But Robicelli’s Gourmet Market is expanding the locals’ palates. The “mom and pop gourmet shop,” which opened last September, is owned by Allison, a pastry chef with years of catering experience at places like Really Cool Foods, and her husband Matt, who once headed the pastry department at Lutece and whose gourmet market resume includes Balducci’s, Forager’s, and Greene Grape Provisions. Jon Greenberg, who has worked at CraftSteak, Pearl Oyster Bar and Franny’s, runs the savory side of the kitchen.
Together, they’re introducing things like Humbolt Fog to a place where Provolone, Mozzarella and Ricotta qualifies as a cheese selection. (Initially, many customers would only get as adventurous as brie, but now Allison says, “I have people going for Taleggio.”)
Prepared foods include delicious, classic salads like roasted beets with chevre and a Sicilian tuna salad. Fancy foodstuffs line the shelves. They’re also the only place in Bay Ridge where you can buy cold cuts without nitrates.
The reception so far hasn’t been as enthusiastic as it would be in a place where the residents already have a taste (and budget) for grass-fed meat. But that is changing, and despite the challenges, Allison says bringing good food to her own neighborhood has been more rewarding. “Emotionally, not financially,” she clarifies.
One thing that has come easy is widespread acclaim for their cupcakes. Earlier this year they placed second in Brooklyn Kitchen‘s Cupcake Cookoff (those are their entrants, above). A few of their elaborate creations include the Irish Car Bomb (Guinness chocolate cake glazed first with a Jameson’s dark chocolate ganache and topped with a Bailey’s infused, French buttercream frosting) and a smoky, salty-sweet sensation called The Elvis (banana cake frosted with a peanut butter French buttercream, and sprinkled with candied Berkshire bacon. In a word: awesome, like Matt’s bacon tat, below). They also claim a few originals, like the Bea Arthur, a black coffee infused chocolate cake with cheesecake frosting and an espresso ganache drizzle.
All are made in small batches, with nothing more elaborate than the Kitchen Aid mixer from their apartment and the best ingredients at every step. “If you’re going to invest a couple thousand calories into a cupcake, go all the way,” Allison reasons. The cupcakes, meanwhile, are cheap — just $2.5o on average!
There are two opportunities to taste Robicelli’s offerings outside of Bay Ridge. Tonight at BookCourt from 7-10pm, they’re catering the book party for Brooklyn Heights author J. Courtney Sullivan, whose debut novel Commencement is already hailed as one of the summer’s best reads, and on July 11, they’ll be making a special cupcake for the Pretty in Pink Prom we’re co-hosting at the Bell House.
But one of these days, you really should make the trek to 86th Street.