Friday, June 24, 2011

Bad timing, great pizza

For the last three years I've worked as a school librarian for a charter school here in the city, and for two and half of those years our school was located just east of North Capitol Street in a part of town that didn't have much to offer. Big Bear Cafe and a corner deli were the only options and if we wanted to do happy hour, we had to hop on the bus and head downtown.

Picture this: it's 3:45 on a Friday which means it's almost time to get the most alcohol we possibly can for the least amount of money. Estelle and I, being vehicularly challenged, are going from classroom to classroom, trying to gauge who's coming out, but more importantly who's driving. We know what it feels like to take two buses and walk 5 blocks to just miss the end of $1 happy hour at Nellie's. We have to find a ride! Some weeks are easy: everyone's coming out and getting out and even home is a breeze. Other weeks, we find ourselves doing the Metrobus two-step or just walking and calling it "exercise".

One week, while making the trek to the bus stop, we noticed a newly renovated brownstone with papered over windows that reeked of gentrification. It was clearly a new restaurant or bar and we couldn't wait to see what it would be. But we did wait. By the time the place opened, I was elbow deep in boxes, packing tape, and book dust because the school was moving over winter break. The place, that arrived too late to be my default but that I'm happy for all the same, is Rustik, an aptly named restaurant and bar that serves up cold beers and delicious brick oven pizza.

I recently paid Rustik a visit, with the intention of writing a review and drowning my stress in a Yuengling and some piping hot pizza. Rustik feels rustic, but not in a woodsy way. The exposed brick and a rich wood bar are warm, while the wall murals that remind me of the graphic novel Coraline lend a sense of fun that is creative and certainly hipster.

My friends and I arrived just after 5, and took a seat at the high tables near the windows where we were served room temperature water (the ice delivery hadn't arrived yet) by our very apologetic waitress. The ice soon arrived, our water was chilled, and we proceeded to enjoy some cold beer with little to no distractions as the restaurant was nearly empty until about 7. When people did start to come in, I was amazed by who came in the door: young edgy families and intrepid home owners, pushing their blond babies in strollers and greeting each other familiarly. It felt like I had entered a secret sanctum, where the white people of Bloomingdale shed the invisibility they used on the streets and magically appeared to one another. My friends and I found ourselves in the racial minority for the first time in that neighborhood (but certainly not in the city) and we wondered where else in the area this strange magic took place.

As I was dining with vegetarians, I tearfully passed on the Christina, a pizza topped with pear, goat cheese and prosciutto and opted for the Going Green, an intensely flavorful pizza with roasted garlic sauce, watercress, and mozzarella. I cannot exaggerate how much this pizza blessed my spirit that day. When it was put down in front of me, the smell that reached my nose was mind-blowing, so much so that the fact that it was fresh out of the oven and the cheese was literally bubbling did not stop me from diving in. My friend ordered the Margherita that was good, but no match for my choice. They say sharing is caring, but I had a hard time sharing that day.

Visit Rustik during happy hour, where beers are $2 and small selection of pizzas are available for only $4. Go early if you want the place to yourself, or come a little later to people watch. A dime for every plaid shirt or barefoot child will make you a millionaire.

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