It doesn’t take much imagination to be transported from Pizzeria Rustica in Old Colorado City to a friendly Italian village — partly because of the rustic décor, but primarily for the food.
Granted, the focus is on pizza, made with imported flour, whose dough is hand-stretched before being placed in the wood-fired oven. Yet, the antipasti, salads, desserts and beverages also whet the appetite.
Stacks of flour sacks, imported cans of Marzano tomatoes and rows of Italian wines — in addition to Frank Sinatra tunes wafting through the sound system — help set the scene.
All the appetizers are appealing, from the smoked mozzarella to meatballs, from house-marinated olives to spiedini: mozzarella balls wrapped with prosciutto. We settled on the pagliasotti ($15) since it combined several components in one beautiful plate: caprese salad with fresh basil, finely cut salami, olives, flatbread, pesto, marinated mushrooms, thinly sliced new potatoes, polenta and marble-size yellow peppers that not only added more color but also a hint of heat.
The handful of salad options adds to the difficulty of making a selection, but we knew we wanted pizza. The insalata cuneo ($9) is a take on a wedge salad but, instead of iceberg lettuce, it incorporates baby romaine. It’s topped with bits of salami, blue cheese, diced tomatoes and a house- made white balsamic vinaigrette. It’s easy to share but also could be a meal unto itself.
The pizzas are also shareable, depending if one is being greedy. Fortunately, my dining companions, who made the selections, agreed to share. Had I been ordering, I was tempted by the daily special, which included grilled chicken, tomatoes, red onion and the house-made mozzarella. I hope it will appear on the chalkboard again. There is, however, a pizza with braised chicken on the menu: formaggi e pollo ($15.50) with rosemary, crushed Marzano tomatoes, red onion and pistachios. I am sure that could suffice.
The Cinque Formaggi ($15) is more than simply five cheeses, although only four are listed: sharp provolone, house-made mozzarella, fontina and gran padrano. The latter is nutty like Parmigiano-Reggiano. What makes this more than a cheese pizza is the roasted garlic that works its way to the palate like a slow-moving car in a traffic jam; however, it’s far more enjoyable.
The Verdure ($15) is essentially a veggie pizza with paper-thin zucchini slices, roasted red peppers and red onions, black Italian olives and those crushed Marzano tomatoes.
Pizzeria Rustica has a nice patio with plenty of shade for sunny days and heaters for cool nights. A wrought-iron fence separates it from the busy sidewalk along Colorado Avenue. While this makes for good people-watching, it’s difficult to ignore the noisy traffic of the main thoroughfare.
Service is exceptional, with patient explanations of dishes, water glasses kept full and empty plates seamlessly carried away. The only misstep we encountered was the espresso ordered with dessert. A lovely fresh peach with vanilla gelato ($7) was a wonderful way to end the meal. It had a depth of flavor suggesting summer and was neither too rich nor overly filling. Unfortunately, the espresso never arrived. It didn’t appear on our bill either, so clearly it slipped between the cracks of our server’s otherwise impressive attention. We’d reached a point where it didn’t matter anyway.
Pizzeria Rustica is not your typical pizza joint. The emphasis is on fresh, quality ingredients and thoughtful preparation, with the end result being a leisurely meal.