First order of business: Booze. Rustico is known for their beer selection, which makes Alden and Michael quite happy. I, however, am in need of something stronger after my week of not killing anyone, so I opt for my go-to—Ketel martini, slightly dirty, three olives. The edge effectively taken off, it’s time to look at the menu.
Rustico is also known for wood-oven pizzas, and Karina and I had been dreaming all day of the duck confit and cracklings pizza with brie and sautéed onions oh my god. Along comes the waitress, Karina orders, and we’re both so excited. Then the waitress gets a look on her face. Uh oh.
“Sorry, we’re out of duck.”
Did I just hear that right? Who runs out of duck? Especially when you have a pizza like that on the menu? “Out of duck.” Bah. Jerks.
All right, back to the menu. I spy something called “sesame crusted pickles,” which makes me curious. I ask the waitress what’s up and she tells me they’re basically fried pickles. I ask if they’re slices or if it’s a whole pickle (I’ll get to my reasons in a minute), and she says they’re slices. So I go for it.
They’re not slices, they’re spears.
Here’s the thing about fried pickles. If you’re going to do them, do them in THIN SLICES. I don’t know if you know this, but pickles are wet, and wet things don’t hold batter too well, and what does stick falls off after frying, leaving you with just a hot pickle, which is exactly what happened with these spears. And no one likes a hot pickle. (Insert your own joke here.) When the pickle is sliced thin, there’s less surface area to cover, so the batter sticks better. Best fried pickles I’ve ever had: The Penguin in Charlotte, NC. Go next time you’re in Charlotte. (You can tell them I sent you, but they won’t care.)
Two disappointments in a row—this is bumming me out. Will the third time be the charm? Let’s order another martini and find out!
I’m liking the look of the lamb short ribs, which Alden had ordered as his app while I was having my disappointing pickles. So I order them, while Karina, Alden, and Mel all get the mussels with white wine broth, bleu cheese, chorizo, and polenta, and Vanessa and Michael get a pizza with pancetta and bacon. (These are my people.)
Success! My ribs arrive and they’re quite literally falling off the bone. In fact, when I go to pick them up, the bone comes right out. Good sign. They’re slow roasted with smoky, sticky barbeque sauce that gets me licking my fingers, and they’re accompanied by a chickpea salad and minty yogurt sauce. The salad is a perfect balance for the rich meat and zippy sauce, and the yogurt isn’t too minty.
As I’m enjoying this, Karina, Alden, and Mel are all losing their minds over the mussels, and I have to admit, that polenta with the bleu cheese and chorizo business was INSANE. Polenta done wrong can be so bad, but this was ever so right. Karina would like me to tell you that she very nearly put her whole head in the bowl to lick up the last of the goo. And I would not have judged her for that.
So a successful dinner after a shaky start! What now?
Dessert, of course.
Vanessa is a big fan of the cupcake (of cake in general, really—or more specifically, of frosting), so it being her birthday sphere (TM Mr. Chileman) and all, we mosey across the street to Buzz Bakery, home of such delights at the Red Velvet Cupcake and the 9:30 cupcake, which is basically their reimagining of the Ding Dong (which I refuse to call “King Dons”). Tonight, Vanessa orders an individual red velvet cheesecake (which is so light it’s almost like mousse) and a tiny cupcake (birthday sphere, she can do what she wants). Melissa gets the caramel bread pudding, on which they pour EXTRA caramel sauce, I order peanut butter mousse tart. This is how I feel about it:
So the week ends up pretty well. Happy birthday girl? Yep.
Happy hour(s)? Indeed.
Happy tummy? Oh hell yes.
The Penguin: http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Reviews/5051/penguin-drive-in
Photos courtesy of Melissa!