We sat closely together at a round table, tucked into the corner of the restaurant on a blustery fall evening. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I know what we ate: burrata, all luscious, creamy and oozing out onto the accompanying pane carasau–Sardinian flatbread–basil and tomato; pappardelle intermingling with mushrooms, garlic and Parmigiano; thick-cut lasagna, its shape more rectangular than square.
I do remember when he pulled out a small box. It contained the ring we’d designed together some months earlier; my sapphire engagement ring, a symbol of our commitment, as delightful and unique as the plates we were devouring.
Yes, this is a story about love and pasta, and a romance oft rekindled at this special restaurant. It’s called River Deli.
Located on one of the most idyllic corners in New York City, the Sardinian restaurant isn’t a deli at all. It’s a trattoria styled for families and lovers, friends and acquaintances. The food is better than good and it’s extremely affordable. You won’t find anything like it in Brooklyn Heights or anywhere else in the city for that matter.
My now-husband and I started dining at River Deli when it opened in 2010 and although we had very little money, we ate there regularly while living nearby in a garden apartment on the BQE. When we moved to Crown Heights, River Deli passed into memory. A recent daydream brought me back to that place and I was suddenly desperate to return. This time, we brought our nearly two-year-old daughter with us.
The food was better than I remembered, and my palate knows more now than I did then. Roberta Rose loved it, too. Sitting in a sunny window seat, my little family shared four large pieces of bruschetta, the toast thick and the toppings generous. Mozzarella and tomato, eggplant and ricotta, diced tomatoes and garlic, pancetta and pecorino, each simple and satisfying. Next we shared more of that lasagna, luxurious with bechamel and flavored heavily–and surprisingly–with bay leaves, and a large bowl of the Sardinian pasta called malloredus, shaped like a cross between gnocchi and cavatelli. The sauce was sweet; slowly roasted tomatoes and pecorino can do that. Thumbnail-sized sausage meatballs were mixed in with gusto.
Families with toddlers dine early, but River Deli was filled with people of all ages. Another, larger family with a pre-school aged child sat in the back of the restaurant; multiple bottles of wine dotted the table. A couple on a date sat a few tables over, enjoying mussels, rosé and what seemed like vibrant conversation. Friends sat at the small bar, catching up over cheese plates and more rosé. A large group with four kids in grade school came in a few minutes before we finished. There was room for them, too.
Some say the neighborhood restaurant, that simple place with consistent food that you keep returning to, is dying out in New York City. That may very well be true, but not here. On this quiet corner in Brooklyn Heights the restaurant you dream about exists. It’s quaint. It’s delicious. Its charms are undeniable. Oh, and a plate of pasta costs just $13. Cash only.