Three-quarters of a quart of Macaroni and Cheese! And so I faced my first major dilemma as a restaurant writer.
I organize my diet and my life by a series of spreadsheets. I’d already eaten my allotted quantity of dairy product for the week. But Dan Marino, co-owner with Bob Cruz of Pizza Rustica, had suggested take-out Mac and Cheese. What to do?
I accepted, picked up fried chicken and a couple of ears of corn on the way home and sat down to watch the Yankees and eat dinner. I had some fresh rosemary. It complimented the dish well, and by the time New York had smashed Chicago I had eaten all of the mac and cheese and filled my dairy allotment for another week.
Dan was raised on Long Island. Was he Yankees fan? And would I be, I wondered, a fan of his secret dough recipe, secret sauce, New York style pizza?
Aaarggh! Dan is a Mets Fan! But he is in a mixed marriage; his wife Adele is a Yankees fan. Truthfully, I used to be a Mets fan. And the Savannah Sand Gnats, who are Pizza Rustica customers, are a Mets affiliate. Dan used to get out and see some games; before the restaurant opened that is.
At lunch the next day I had three different slices of pie and an Italian Soda, a custom drink of which they make several variations, that Stephanie one of Dan’s staff had suggested. She poured hazelnut flavoring into a cup and added soda water.
We debated, ice or no ice. Another dilemma: I went with no ice. The drink was unique, good.
Our conversation was all over the map. Dan used to work for Singapore Airlines. He’s been to Italy of course and amongst other countries Australia, Brazil, Malaysia and China.
He commented, “I was always interested in people’s different styles of cooking. What they used, why they used it.”
I recollected a former girlfriend’s story about eating cats in Japan. Dan, who owns two chow-lab mixed mutts hadn’t seen nor done that, but had been to rat and bat markets in Asia where you could buy live product and bring it home to cook.
Dan didn’t partake but did recall an experience with a client: “Actually the B.B.Q. rat wasn’t that bad. If a client takes you out and you’re there you have to at least try a bite.”
I laughed. The things we do for our jobs; rat or no rat, cheese or no cheese, ice or no ice.
Dan and Adele have been here in Savannah for four years now. Dan says he draws energy from the water (Marino in Italian means from the sea) so Savannah is a good fit. It’s also close to family, and Dan and his wife like to keep family close.
The wall behind the counter at the restaurant is homage in black in white photography to them. Hopefully there will be some new pictures on that wall soon. The Marinos are adopting a child from China. The process is six months underway and while it might be as long as a year before everything is finalized and they can make the trip to pick up their daughter there is a glow as Dan speaks about his family.
Naturally Adele and Dan own a house here which they’ve restored and naturally it came with its own Savannah Ghost.
“We had clean pots and pans on the stove. I heard a big crash,” he relates. “Now, the dogs were with me, my wife was upstairs. I went to the kitchen and all of the pots and pans were stacked up underneath the window... sometimes we’d find all of our utensils outside...”
I asked if the ghost was still around and Dan said, “Everything was really happening in the kitchen. The last time we went to Italy we brought back some holy water put it in the kitchen and it stopped.”
Now I don’t know about ghosts, but I like to eat. Often. I’m a fan of Pizza Rustica’s pies. And Dan is letting me share a sauce secret: Of the three tomatoes he uses, one is an ultra-high end Stanislaw brand from California. And another secret: He doesn’t pre-cook his pizza sauce, it cooks while the pizza cooks!
There is of course another key; something not so secret. I don’t remember how it came up exactly but at some point Dan laughed and said “I try to live a happy life.” It shows. And it carries over to the terrific staff and the flavor of his food.
I try to live a happy life, so I’m going to go back and feast on a Pizza Rustica meatball and cheese sub. That sauce features a San Marzano tomato that is grown in volcanic soil in Italy. As it should be the meatball recipe is on a classified, need to know only basis.
Just like the Yankees, Dan puts lots of thought and effort into getting everything just right, including making 300 pounds of pizza dough during pre-opening trials in order to adjust to Savannah’s atmospheric conditions. And the effort’s paying off: The Yankees are a lock to win The World Series and Dan and his staff at Pizza Rustica are a lock to serve up quick, fun, flavorful, great value for the dollar meals.
Pizza Rustica is in the same space occupied by Precinct Deli at 1514 Bull Street 4 blocks south of Forsythe Park. 912-235-4804,
www.pizzarusticaga.com. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; 4-11 p.m. Saturday and 4-9 p.m. Sunday.
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