It's kind of depressing to realize that you're turning into a cautious old biddy. I'm not talking about seatbelts and helmets (both of which I wear, though, dumbly, never in cabs). It's my adventurous spirit that concerns me: I'll head to almost any corner of the city to try a BYOB restaurant, but when it comes to buying that "B," I rarely stray beyond my own backyard (Hi, Provenance!
I'm pretty sure it stems from the fear that I'll show up unprepared and be forced to relive my Carlos Rossi days when nothing else is available. But caution, be damned! From now on, Zinny shops where she eats…even if that means those dreams of Thai and Alsace combos will meet a less-than-fruitful end.
When I went to meet Merle for a stick-to-your-bones dinner at Pizza Rustica, 3913 N. Sheridan Road in Uptown, I arrived empty-handed in more ways that one: sans wine and raincoat. Having been caught in a massive downpour wearing water-unfriendly jeans and a sweater, I hopped off my bike, sloshed my way into the restaurant and started drying my face with napkins…you know, the tiny flimsy ones that pizza places tend to stock.
I was no vision of loveliness, and I still had no wine. Luckily, I did have the kindness of strangers. The owner lent me an umbrella so I could zip across the street to Sheridan "L" Liquors, 3944 N. Sheridan Road. It's definitely a "package store," located just next to the L and split in two: one side with barstools, one side without.
I hit up the stool-free side and found a totally decent and sizable selection of wine reminiscent of what you'd find at Jewel: brands like Ravenswood, Pepperwood Grove, Yellow Tail and the like. I went to the section marked "Italy" (yes, the store even had some country nods) and grabbed an $11.99 bottle of 2004 Tiziano Chianti. The Sangiovese grape tends to be a safe pick with pizza, as its acidity allows it to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with tomato sauces. And while the store's shelves were stacked, I didn't get the impression that the owner had encyclopedic knowledge of wine, leaving me on my own, hungry and ready to grab at will.
Merle and I were finally ready to eat. The menu is modest: salads, sandwiches, basic pastas and pizzas. That day's specials—more intricate pasta dishes like artichoke ravioli with a red pepper-sausage sauce—were written in Italian on chalkboards, a quaint touch that helped elevate the decor above that of your average pizza joint (but just short of a romantic Italian dining spot). Being so near the train, Pizza Rustica lays claim to a huge take-out business, and the atmosphere was noticeably youthful—I kind of felt like I was back in college (just without, thank God, that Carlos).
Having decided to order in waves, we started with the Rustica salad and a patate rosmarino pizza. We popped the wine open immediately, and after a longish, conversation-filled wait, received our salad, a serving of baby spinach, artichoke, goat cheese and croutons pleasantly split on two plates. I think goat cheese would make freshly-mowed grass taste good, and it triumphed again in this case. The salad was a little uninspired (a jazzy dressing would have helped) but satisfying nonetheless.
But oh, the pizza! We ordered a "half" (slices and full sizes are also available) in anticipation of being hungry enough to try some pasta, but that was a big fat laugh, with an emphasis on fat. The huge serving of pizza came as a large rectangle cut into 16 modest pieces of potato rosemary heaven. I think it's pretty hard to mess up this particular combination, but the flaky, buttery, Venetian-style crust threw me for a loop. It was amazingly yummy, and tasted more like soft cornmeal than plain ol' dough. Thick potato slices and a healthy layering of cheese brought a robustness to the delicate crust, and the full-bodied wine was an appropriate, if not dazzling, match.
We munched and slowly drained the bottle, doing our darndest to polish off the pie, to no avail. Three lonely pieces got placed into a to-go container, the empty wine bottle got tossed, we paid our $22 bill (note: $1.50 corkage fee per person) and I peddled off into the night feeling downright adventurous…with my helmet on, of course.
Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants. If you know of a BYOB spot she simply must tipple at, let her know.