Pizza Rustica

With a menu as tantalizing as Pizza Rustica’s, part of the fun is in the reading—and the anticipating. Sopressata, crème fraiche, capicola, pine nuts, caramelized onion … the flavors of Italy seem arrayed before you.

On our visits to this popular campus eatery, we’ve sometimes been disappointed by less than great service and dishes that underwhelmed, but it’s still the place to go for panini and wood-oven pizzas. We couldn’t claim to have sampled even a quarter of this ample menu, but we’re happy to share the results of a few recent foraging trips.

Rustica’s fire-roasted artichoke dip ($6.95) looks, like most dips, unappealing. It tastes great, though. Creamy, garlicky and cheesy, this appetizer is served hot with traditional pizza bread.

The marinated goat cheese ($6.95) appetizer is far better looking, with three generous medallions of silky cheese topped with olive tapenade and sun-dried tomatoes on a bed of mixed greens.

Antipasto ($6.95) here is hit or miss, with lots promised (tuna, anchovies, salami) and a good deal less delivered. The tossed salad of carrots, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and olives, with cheese cubes and a hot pepper or two is palatable but does little to excite the appetite, surely the job of any good appetizer.

Much more satisfying is the Virenza panini ($7.25)—roasted eggplant, spinach, provolone and roasted peppers doused with oil and wine vinegar, all on a good crusty baguette.

Rustica’s gourmet Italian panini ($6.95), packed with classic Italian meats, makes for a hearty, tasty meal. The flavors here—peppery capicola ham, tangy sopressata, sharp provolone—are some of the very best this restauraunt has to offer.

With that imposing wood-burning oven, pizza is Rustica’s specialty. It doesn’t have to be cheesy, either. In fact, you can get one with a mixed green salad on top. That’s the Sicilian a la Greque ($7.95/ $16.50), scattered with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, toasted walnuts, roasted garlic and a few dabs of feta. A nice change from a traditional pie, we did note that the salad became a little limp in proximity to the hot pizza. We ordered the a la cocca pizza ($7.50/$15.75) mostly out of curiosity since it’s billed as having “a whole fresh egg baked in the center.” Try as we might, we couldn’t locate said egg, though we did spot a spreading drift of something pale near the middle of the pie. Was it egg? Hard to say, though further inspection convinced us it was most likely fontina.

The bread at Rustica—be it ciabatta or baguette—is consistently excellent and the good news is you can buy a loaf (or two) to take home. Airy ciabatta rolls are 75 cents each and a baguette will cost you $2.50.

Pizza Rustica, 3602 Chestnut Street, 215-895-3490, www.pizzarusticaonline.com.

Originally published November 2, 2006.

Originally published on November 2, 2006