Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: Rustica, Philadelphia

Rustica is a small (maybe a half-dozen tables) pizzeria in the gentrifying/hipsterfying Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. It enjoys a solid reputation among local foodies, but has largely escaped the national attention garnered by Pizza BrainPizzeria Vetri, or the legendary Tacconelli's. We set out on a warm Sunday summer afternoon to find out if Rustica belongs in the same league.
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Rustica enjoys the advantages of being well-situated in a rising neighborhood where, perhaps, bikes outnumber the cars. Moreover, its location adjacent to Standard Tap, a much-loved gastropub, has to help put Rustica on folks' radar. Northern Liberties may be the Philly version of Brooklyn's Bushwick, where Roberta's is the pizza anchor for urban pioneers.


Unlike Roberta's and many of the new places that populate the ongoing pizza renaissance, Rustica is not offering up yet another rendition of a puffy Neapolitan pizza cooked at 900 degrees. As its name might suggest, Rustica is an old-school slice joint, offering medium-to-huge thin-crust pizzas whole or by the slice.
Small but cozy interior

Rustica's signature is the variety of unusual pies on its menu. Often, weird toppings are a weak disguise for a common foundation, but I suspected that there was more going on here. 

I really wanted to try the scrapple and egg pizza with siracha catsup, but we opted for a conventional large pizza with half pepperoni and half andouille sausage. Other quirky offerings included several types of white pie and one topped with chicken mole.

Our 18" large pizza and two sodas came to about $24. This huge pie was very generously topped with thin slices of conventional pepperoni and thick slices of terrific spicy andouille sausage.

Even after giving it a moment to cool and settle, each large slice was unwieldy. The generous toppings (especially the thick layer of mozzarella) made the tip of each slice limp and floppy. We managed to eat without knife and fork, but it was sloppy going.

The crust - as always, the most important element - was very good once you got beyond the first few bites. Although it was baked on a screen, it had great color, texture, and flavor. The cornicione was crisp and full-flavored, but the dough was light and airy.
Andouille sausage

The sauce was a role player, and mostly got lost under the mountain of cheese - good standard dry mozzarella. This would have been much better with about half that amount of cheese.  The pepperoni was fine; the andouille was a standout. Chewy, spicy, and full of rich flavor that enhanced each bite.
Baked on a screen
We thouroughly enjoyed this pie, but it lacked balance due to the cheese overflow. I'd be keen to return and try something simpler, such as the tomato pie, or one of the more inventive specialty pies.

Bonus points for the availability of slices, and for the retro-rock art on the walls. It's not destination pie, like Gennaro's or Nomad Roman, but it's a great neighborhood pizza. I'd be there often if I lived nearby. On that count, it stands with Philly's Bufad and Barbuzzo. Every neighborhood deserves wonderful stuff like this.

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