Young and Hungry

Rustik Tavern’s Unusual Take on Neighborhood Grub

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.

  • bdale

    this place is the worst. i like your attempt at balance here, but trying to downplay how much the food sucks by saying something is "not-unpleasant" is a stretch. just say it's terrible. i had the christina pizza - there were hardly any toppings, it was mostly the horrible crust that you describe.

  • bdale

    i take it back.
    since i have no taste standard it is hard for me to appreciate anything in life.

    next time i will just get some chips from the convenience store across the street to satisfy my hunger and complain a lot less.


  • bdale

    yeah, carman has no taste standard. having a real conversation about rustik with annoying yuppies who moved to bloomingdale last year is impossible. also, walk 2 blocks to jam doung.
    just bc there aren't any restaurants in the area doesnt make the new yuppie hang out with "interesting" ingredients any good.

  • bdale

    i wonder if the issue here is the yuppie hang out or the food at a restaurant. :)

    jam doung is fine; not sure why that was brought up. i like their new sign too

    as for pizza, im curious what is the 10 out of 10 pizza in dc in your opinion... just don't say new york pizza on florida and n.capitol

  • eli

    I like Rustik. I don't order food bc it is tiny and expensive. I get one beer (also expensive) and go home. Please Rustik how bout some variety on that menu!

  • bloomingdale resident.

    hahahahhahahaha. great comments! i love rustik. if you don't, all the more space for me!

  • Karen

    I like Rustik...but also agree that the pizza crust needs some improvement. That said, I think it is a cosy space that the owners worked hard to open. They have received some suggestions, and a first bite critique from Tom Seitsma (of WP). I imagine (hope) that they are taking notes and will be improving. I am glad that Rustik is here...and as a 25yr resident of Bloomingdale, feel it is a HUGE improvement. Thanks

  • Don

    IMHO, the best pizza in DC is at Luigi's just south of 19th and M, NW. I always get the pepperoni, roasted red peppers and garlic. Anyone else have a fav pie place?

  • bloomie rez

    ONE the menu is very limited, not family friendly and not really appropriate for a neighborhood tavern.
    TWO - the noise level is WAY TO LOUD for a neigborhood tavern. I want to sit and talk and maybe catch a game
    THREE - patrons leaving the place forget they are in a neigborhood. This place is too loud. As much as people like to refer to 1st / RI as "downtown Bloomingdale" - it is a residential area.
    IN SUMMARY - I have been there 3x - first time was good (tasty food) #2 & #3 - terrible. the food went down hill (the pizza sauce and crust are different and now suck). This place needs to decide are they are a neighborhood tavern were people can get good food and a beer or are they a bar that serves some food - right now, they are doing both and not doing either one well.