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The Ward 5 pizza at Rustik
Outside, it’s a balmy late October evening in Bloomingdale, but inside Rustik Tavern, it feels like a meat locker. It’s as if the neighborhood’s first watering hole is trying to prepare for winter by cranking up the AC. I’m feeling the need for a parka – or at least something warm and savory.
Perhaps my dining companion and I should have sat near the pizza oven, which blazes like a hearth in the corner behind the bar. Instead, we settled on a two-top near the door as well as a hot pizza, called the “Ward 5,” which is this unusual Middle Eastern-influenced round with preserved lemon, za’atar, button mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and tomato sauce.
The pie has a pronounced sourness, which is not quite suppressed by the fatty cheese or earthy ‘shrooms, but my bigger issue has to do with the crust: Thin, bubbly, and charred, it has little flavor, no chew, and the texture of dried-out pita bread. Still, I’m impressed with Rustik’s ambition with this pie, which dares to stretch the standard pizza flavors into strange, sour territories, sort of like an Italian take on the Mediterranean flatbreads at Lebanese Taverna. With some further tinkering, the pizza could grow into itself.
The other items we sampled weren’t quite as adventurous, but they did stray from the typical triumvirate of burgers/sandwiches/wings found at most neighborhood operations. The chicory salad, a not-unpleasant plate of bitter greens and chewy barley, would have been better served by the inclusion of the advertised figs, which were AWOL and, more importantly, would have provided more balance.
The real surprise was Rustik’s “fresh pita with lamb,” a sort of DIY dish containing a small bowl of braised meat, a soft and warm round of pita bread, and garnishes of sliced cucumbers and pickled onions. By itself, the stewed lamb was under-seasoned and rather bland, but when assembled into the pita with the garnishes, the bite was complete — all savory and warm and perked up with the pickling juices of those onions.
It went perfectly with my glass of Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, a Belgian-influenced IPA, one of several quality quaffs found on the draft list at Rustik. The one-two punch of lamb and Raging Bitch was so good, in fact, that I almost forgot how cold I was.