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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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In Dining Reviews

Rustico is a casual pizzeria serving a smattering of sandwiches, salads and pastas. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining Reviews

Food and service were slightly subpar, but Rustico showed some promise. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining Reviews

The interior is sedate and quiet, and scenic Riverwalk dining is available. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining Reviews

Onyx, Borrego's and Riverwalk Bistro operated in the same space. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

Ambience, view outshine Rustico's food and service


What seems to be a revolving door at 223 N. Water St. has opened once again with Brian Zarletti's Rustico, a casual pizzeria serving a smattering of sandwiches, salads and pastas.

Rustico is the fourth restaurant to open in this location in recent years. After Onyx closed its doors in the early 2000's, Borrego's and Riverwalk Bistro occupied the space before Zarletti opened his third restaurant there in spring.

Diners can expect the interior to remain sedate and quiet as it was with the bistro, and both tiers of the Riverwalk patio are still available for scenic dining.

Food and service at Rustico was disappointing, especially considering the consistent quality evident at Zarletti on Milwaukee Street. Even the lovely riverwalk view couldn't quell that disappointment.

The menu at Rustico begins with basic antipasti: fried calamari ($8.95), fried eggplant ($7.95), antipasto platter ($10.95 for two, or $18.95 for four), bruschetta ($5.95) and meatballs ($6.95). We were enthralled with the fried olives ($6.95), which were pitted, breaded, fried and charmingly served in a martini glass with tiny wooden skewers and a side of marinara. Fried calamari, however, was woefully overcooked, with one tentacle so rubbery I struggled to bite through it, and the antipasto platter was sparse and the quality of the meats was sub-par.

On two separate visits, our entrées arrived within minutes of our appetizers, not allowing us enough time to even make our way through half of the starter items. On the first visit, our server delivered two Italian sausage bomber sandwiches ($5.95) instead of the meatball bombers ($6.95) we had ordered. After receiving the correct sandwiches, we found them to be of slightly lesser than average quality, but admittedly, the pricing here is so economical, perhaps I should not have expected anything better.

On our second visit, we sampled a caprese ($7.95) and a Rustico salad ($7.95), both of which were quite salty. The Rustico contained a disproportionate amount of pancetta and croutons, overpowering what may otherwise have been a quite enjoyable salad.

A Toscana pizza ($12.95 for a 12-inch, $16.95 for a 14-inch) was slightly heavy, although the thin, crisp, and yes, slightly rustic crust here is good. Rustico's pizza sauce carries a sweetness which I suspect may play better with some of their other, largely vegetarian pies.

A special of chicken parmesan ($14.95) featured bowtie pasta beneath pomodoro (diced tomato, garlic and olive oil), and an overcooked breaded chicken breast that separated into tough striations as I worked to slice through it. Water service at Rustico is a problem, too. We sat many times with no water, another time a server filled our glasses with unpleasantly warm water with no ice. They brought ice over several minutes later at our request.

On our second visit, our bill was tabulated incorrectly, with a carafe wine special advertised at $10 but billed at $15. After mentioning it to the server, it was promptly corrected, but with so many good pizza options in the Third Ward area, the issues at Rustico must be addressed quickly to allow this restaurant to flourish.

With Brian Zarletti's talent and flair for opening quality restaurants, I am confident that with a little work and time, Rustico could be a welcome permanent tenant of 223 N. Water St. It just is not quite there yet.


Talkbacks

hmmg | Feb. 13, 2009 at 3:56 p.m. (report)

Best Pizza in Milwaukee, great draft tap seletion. Pizza sauce is a Vodka sause i believe.

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sanfran | Aug. 5, 2008 at 10:44 a.m. (report)

We recently visited Rustico and had a wonderful experience. From the design and dcor, friendly staff and service and taste of the food; we were delightfully impressed. We are excited to share our experience with others and look forward to our return.

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DowntownRed | July 17, 2008 at 7:25 p.m. (report)

We visited about a few weeks after they opened and we were completely underwhelmed. We love Zarletti's on Milwaukee so we had high hopes for this place. Pizza was okay but the servers looked bored and acted as if customers were an interruption to them sitting around. This place needs to get better fast or they are not going to make it.

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Z_boy | July 15, 2008 at 7:49 a.m. (report)

rydude: I can totally agree with your giving a place a chance comment, but I don't know you, so I have no frame of reference. You just saying it's good doesn't tell me anything. With the reviewer, however, I've read her pieces for quite a while now and have come to agree with her tastes on a number of restaurants. With you, though, I don't know what you consider delicious. For all I know, you might think Pizza Hut is the best pizza in town, which, if that were the case, I would respectfully disagree. Now when close friends of mine rave about a place or tell me about a bad experience while dining out, I'm more apt to follow their reviews and take them to heart. I know them; I know if my tastes are similar or not. There's a point of reference there.

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kl2 | July 14, 2008 at 7:42 p.m. (report)

Are we talking about the same restaurant here? I have been there twice. The food and service were both very exceptional on both occassions. I would encourage everyone to give it a try!

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