ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN GQ MAGAZINE IN JULY OF 2012
At around 9:30 p.m. we took a break to ascertain where our heads might be. Two things were agreed upon: We were in the middle of the greatest meal of our lives, and Diana Ross’s disco record, which was playing at maximum volume, is dangerously underrated. Guitarist and New York sage Matt Sweeney, a fellow dinner guest, pointed out that Ross uses the word thee in place of you in the song “Upside Down,” and we were awed by the Elizabethan sadomasochistic heaviness of that. Of course, having recently eaten a bellyful of marijuana, we were apt to find deep meaning in almost anything. So maybe I should give you some context for why I recently found myself standing in a kitchen, stoned as Rastas on Haile Selassie’s birthday, vibing on disco. Let me pull back a bit and see what I can do.
America spearheads the R&D of partying. Just think. Togas were Roman. But Toga parties? American. The beer bong? That was us, too. And while the Germans may have synthesized MDMA, we named it Ecstasy. But there is one place where we’ve really dropped the ball—the pot brownie. It was born, we like to believe, on some karmically auspicious day—probably in the ’60s, perhaps on Haight Street—when an as-yet-unrecognized Great American took a few stray kind buds and, like an ape discovering that a bone could be a weapon, plopped them into a pan of gooey brown batter. Eureka.
But since then, marijuana edibles haven’t really been much improved. We’re a nation that obsesses over food and chefs as much as we secretly obsess over drugs, but to judge by the sad trifles on display at legal weed dispensaries, the evolution of the pot snack stalled back when Janis Joplin was still alive. It’s mostly just variations on a theme: cookies, cupcakes, fudge… Yawn. Sickly sweet and uninspired.
So we decided it was our duty as both stoners and gourmands to properly unify weed with food, and we turned to our friends at Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for help. It opened in a cavernous location with a few space heaters and a pizza oven in 2008. The five men who run the joint have grown it into something completely unique in American dining. The original space, which looks like a 1970s punk ski chalet, now meanders off into a second dining room, an Internet radio station, an outdoor tiki bar, and an expansive atrium that’s crowned with a rooftop garden where herbs and vegetables are grown. And this summer, Roberta’s has stretched even further, starting a new operation in a former auto-body shop on the other side of their courtyard. Within sits a state-of-the-art catering kitchen and a twelve-seat dining room that hosts a bold, hearty tasting menu that caused former New York Times food critic Sam Sifton to tweet simply: “Am rarely speechless. But #robertas #bklyn.” The Roberta’s crew is whip-smart and wild-eyed—almost as if the cast of Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H ran a pizza joint after the war—and are such hard partiers that a night out with them is equal to three nights out with average men. At our behest, they recently set about designing a three-course, two-cocktail weed-heavy tasting menu. I was still high twenty-four hours after eating it. And though my notes from the end of the night are difficult to read, I think I know what I meant when I scrawled: “This needz 2 happen allo the time.”
You see, when I joined a small group of diners that secretly convened at Roberta’s to experience their one-off weed menu, I witnessed history. I saw expert chefs treating marijuana as a viable ingredient in terms of both taste and psychoactive effects. I saw weed claimed in the name of great food. I saw, hopefully, the beginning of the end for the pot brownie.
It was in Roberta’s new space, which is named Blanca (for the restaurant’s co-owner and head chef Carlo Mirarchi’s mother, just as Roberta’s proper was named for co-owner Chris Parachini’s mom), where we held our pot-eating odyssey. I arrived hours before the dinner’s start to observe the prep work. Upon stepping inside, I was hit by a soft wall of weed scent. Pizza chef Anthony Falco offered me a taste of his marijuana pesto sauce off the tip of a rubber spatula. It was intense. The pine-nutty oil of the pesto was deeply complemented by the undercurrent of marijuana, which is not a shy flavor. Within ten minutes, I felt a polite little buzz from that one lick.
Bartender Mike Stankovich came up with two drinks for the night. The first was the Planet Caravan, a variation on a classic gin sour. A tincture made of gin, Earl Grey tea leaves, and a strain of weed called Hash Plant (an indica that’s known for an easy, dopey high) was mixed with egg whites, lemon juice, grapefruit bitters, simple syrup, and more gin. It was frothy with a light, tart flavor. (Later in the evening, encouraged by the cooking staff, we would try ice-cold shots of a mix of gin and pure marijuana tincture, which was a total revelation. You taste the gin, and then, completely separated, you taste the essence of pot. The flavors don’t mix so much as they walk down your throat hand in hand.)
Mike’s second cocktail was a variation on the Painkiller (a piña colada with orange juice, if you’ve never been to Club Med). He called it the California Painkiller, but after an impromptu conference, group consensus amended this to the Mendocino Painkiller. The piña mix was made using Northern Lights, a highly respected indica strain that’s known for a giggly high. The drink tasted like…an orangey piña colada. The pot flavor was undetectable. The extracurricular effects, however, were not. Within thirty minutes of cocktail hour’s start, I was pleasantly, mildly stoned. Thus prepared, I ambled to my place at the dining counter. Blanca’s chairs, made especially to the founders’ specifications, are hot-rod bucket seats mounted on firm wooden stools. Sitting in them a little bit high, waiting for the first course, I had the feeling of being at the starting line of the Indy 500. To my left was Brandon Hoy, another owner of Roberta’s. Gabe Rosner, yet another owner, was on my left. The aforementioned Parachini sat a few seats down. Catering chef Ryan Rice began our meal with Long Island bluefish, accompanied by a weed yogurt sauce and a salad of Roberta’s-grown greens and blood oranges, dressed with marijuana oil and dotted with housemade pumpernickel-marijuana croutons. After scaling and boning, Rice had seasoned the fish with salt, crushed fennel, Meyer lemon zest, marijuana oil, and Sour Diesel kief. (S.D. is a sativa-dominant strain known for its consciousness-expanding properties, and kief consists of the resin heads of marijuana buds—the pure stuff that really gets you high.) Once seasoned, the fish—cooking pan and all—was enclosed in plastic wrap and blasted with two thirty-minute sessions of vaporized Sour Diesel fumes. For an extra flavor kick, Rice then fogged the cuts of fish with a bit of hickory smoke before searing them in a pan.
This dish immediately revealed the true potential of pot as a cooking herb. The flavor was smoky and sort of exotic and mixed perfectly with the notoriously oily bluefish, softening its inherent fishiness with just the right amount of garden notes. And while every bite reminded me that I was eating pot (the taste had a nostalgic element that evoked my first teenage fumblings with getting high), it wasn’t deployed as a novelty ingredient. It was right there in the mix, as essential to the course’s profile as the spotted basil or the kosher salt.
I cleaned my plate, and thanks to the cumulative effects of the cocktails and the fish, everything began to take on the heightened significance that means one has entered the land of the über-stoned. The entire party was now perma-grinning. Gabe, Brandon, and I embarked upon a discursive, enthused talk about how, like, amazing this all was and how the only thing that could make it better would be pizza—and then, suddenly, like the fulfillment of a prophecy, there was pizza.
Chef Falco prepared two varieties of pie for us. Both used hempseed dough. One was a classic Margherita with a psychoactive marinara sauce, an oregano and kief mix, and buffalo mozzarella. The second used pot pesto, prosciutto cotto, housemade mozzarella, and ricotta. They had been cooked in Roberta’s outdoor wood-burning oven, and the crust was rustic, browned, and crispy. Roberta’s first became famous for the quality of its pizza, and these more than lived up to the legacy—with the added bonus of weed. In this course, the pot blended with its fellow ingredients so subtly that I had to remind myself not to have too many slices. It occurred to me how efficient this was: Most stoners have to smoke their weed and then eat their pizza. Here we were, revolutionaries, doing both at once. I laughed at the thought, Gabe asked me what I was laughing at, and I found myself utterly unable to express it to him.
It was soon after this that Diana Ross came on, which was really just a brief respite before the nuclear bomb of the final course.
Roberta’s pastry chef, Katy Peetz, is, and I write this as soberly as I can, a genius. As her plates were put in front of us, chef Ryan Rice intoned, “You are about to enter a radical zone.” He was right. Peetz took the earthiness of pot as a point of inspiration and gave us a dessert that was by turns sweet, savory, tart, and bracingly refreshing. She made a parsley cake with weed oil, a vanilla tuile (that’s a crispy little cookie) using weed butter, a weed brittle sheet, green-strawberry rhubarb gelato with weed cream, a hempseed crumble also made with weed butter, and a green juice granita using parsley, watercress, lemon, kale, and green apple. Peetz dressed the plate with green and red strawberries and strawberry flowers, creating an English garden/Lewis Carroll mood that made me wish I could shrink down to two inches tall and run around amidst parsley-cake canyons and gelato mountains. She also nimbly combined a mix of marijuana strains. The indica Hash Plant you’ve already met. Shamam is a mysterious sativa-dominant hybrid that had a soothing sedative effect. Together, with their calm and leveling action, they were ideal dessert choices. The parsley cake had the sensuous feel of moist moss, which may sound gross, but wow was it nice. The gelato, cool and reeking of weed, slid around in our mouths like a balm. Eating this dish stoned was an experience I am likely to remember on my deathbed.
Toward the end of dessert, Black Sabbath’s debut album materialized on the turntable, and nobody, not even the chefs, was able to speak during the first track’s rain, bells, and doom. I took advantage of the lull to think about what we’d just accomplished. After three hours of consuming copious amounts of marijuana in carefully prepared dishes, I was perfectly high and perfectly full. It is with the memory of that feeling fresh in my mind that I am here to tell you what you already know: Legalizing pot would, in addition to engendering medical miracles and rendering moot a large sector of illegal-drug-related crimes, allow quantum leaps in the world of cooking. Maybe if we all pray really hard to Jah, pot will one day infiltrate snooty haute cuisine and local artisanal eateries alike, all over America. And I’ll be able to say that I was there on day one. As I sat there and let the meal wind down, I thought, satiated and stoned, We are pioneers.
And then Parachini broke the post-Sabbath silence. “Next time,” he said, “let’s do this with LSD.”
• Planet Caravan: Tincture of gin, Earl Grey leaves, the weed strain known as ‘Hash Plant,’ egg whites, lemon juice, grapefruit bitters, simple syrup.
• The California Painkiller: Rum, pineapple puree, orange juice, cream of coconut infused with the strain Northern Lights.
After cocktail hour, I was pleasantly, mildly stoned.
• Long Island bluefish—smoked with the vaporized fumes of a strain called Sour Diesel—accompanied by weed-yogurt sauce, atop Roberta’s-grown greens with marijuana-oil vinaigrette.
The pot wasn’t a novelty ingredient but an actual cooking herb, earthy and heady. I was now becoming very high.
• Margherita: marijuananara sauce, buffalo mozzarella, “oregano.”
• Pot pesto: ricotta, prosciutto cotto, hemp-seed dough.
Most stoners have to smoke their weed and then eat their pizza. But not me.
• Parsley cake made with weed butter, topped with a weed-brittle sheet; green-strawberry rhubarb gelato with weed cream.
I’m still having flashbacks to this dessert.