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Pizza and Wine

Zarletti’s newest success

Jun. 25, 2008
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EntrepreneurBrian Zarletti recently opened his third local restaurant. The first was Cafe Zarletti, located in South Milwaukee; the second arrived as the even simpler-named Zarletti, in downtown Milwaukee; and now Rustico has been added to the scene. All three restaurants offer Italian fare in casual settings, though Zarletti is the most upscale.

Rustico, like Cafe Zarletti, is more affordable. Rustico is billed as a pizzeria-enoteca, an Italian term for restaurants that specialize in wine. The eatery occupies the former Riverwalk Bistro in a prime Third Ward location. The layout remains much the same, with one bar near the entrance and another on the lower level, overlooking the Milwaukee River. The color scheme has been brightened up, making the dining room more inviting. The menu, not surprisingly, focuses on pizza. Other choices include pastas, salads, panini and antipasti. The key to a great pizza is in the crust, although attention must also be paid to the toppings. The pizzas here are Italian classics like the Bianca, with four cheeses, the margherita and the Toscano, as well as 10 others. You can also design your own with any of the ingredients available. The crust is one of the finest in this area, obviously made by hand and not a press. It is thin in the middle and thicker at the edges with an overall light texture.

From such a fine start, Rustico keeps the ball rolling. A perfect example is the Napoletana ($10.95-$14.95). The city of Naples is considered by many to be the best location in Italy to find a great pizza. This is a fitting tribute. The zesty tomato sauce is applied thinly, along with fresh mozzarella. The paper-thin slices create a perfect backdrop for the anchovy fillets and the chile pepper that animates the sauce.

Pasta is one of the highlights at Zarletti, and it’s a pleasure to find their signature pasta della nonna ($9.95), with its great tomato sauce, among the five choices at Rustico. A tricky pasta to make is the prima vera ($12.95), which can often be a dull vegetarian affair. This is where grilling the vegetables becomes critical. It may do little for the carrot, but it helps to maximize the flavor of the zucchini and eggplant. The penne is cooked just right and the creamy bechamel sauce with a hint of white completes this lovely pasta.

The antipasti tend to be simple. Fried eggplant ($7.95) is perfectly good, comprised of strips that are not oily at all. The novel fried olives, which are pitted and coated in a thin breading, explode with tart flavor. The house salad ($3.95) is a simple affair, with leaf lettuce and tasty garlic croutons tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. The only moderate disappointment is the campo di fiori ($6.95), a sandwich of pizza crust bread.

The bread could be better; the panini, listed on Zarletti’s lunch menu, are far superior. Wine is the beverage of choice, with 15 varieties sold by the glass ($6- $10). There is also a thoughtful list of bottles ($24-$115) that focuses on Italian vintages and a small number of wines from the rest of the world.

It appears that Rustico will be the third success for Brian Zarletti. Even though the place is very new, everything is running smoothly, which is a sign of experience. Expect Rustico to be around for a long time.

223 N. Water St. (414) 220-9933 $$ Credit Cards: All major Smoking: Lower level Handicap Access: Yes

Rustico | Photo by Tate Bunker


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