With a new seasonal menu launched back in April and the occasional off-menu special having evolved into a much-anticipated near-weekly attraction, I decided to give our regular food critic Olive Waldorf a break while I revisited a restaurant I first reviewed shortly after it opened.
Rustica’s: A Globally Inspired Kitchen, at 307 N. Timberland Drive in the former Tasty Kream Donuts shop next door to Grease Monkeys, is flat-out cooking it up, putting their own worldly twist on an eclectic rotation of homemade plate lunches, occasional take-and-bake casseroles, salads, desserts and more.
Among several new menu items is my current addiction, the salad trio, which gives diners the option of Rustica’s apple walnut chicken salad, broccoli salad, grape salad, spaghetti salad or cheddar pecan salad on a bed of spring mix with sliced tomatoes and butter crackers.
The delicious chicken salad boasts crunchy chunks of apples, celery and walnuts, while the zesty spaghetti salad with diced onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and seasonings in an Italian dressing makes a great option for the ever-expanding vegetarian set.
For a touch of sweetness, I always choose either the grape salad, with juicy jumbo red and green grapes in a sweet, pudding-like cream cheese mixture topped with a walnut and brown sugar crumble, or the broccoli salad, highlighted by cranberries, bacon bits and green onions in a sweet, creamy dressing I could absolutely drink.
And I always get a scoop of the cheddar pecan, a creamy, mild pimiento-cheese-minus-the-pimientos with just the right amount of mayo balancing the contrast of the crunchy nuts.
The salad trio is served on a bed of spring mix (or, occasionally, a bed of spinach) with three crucial slices of the ripest red tomatoes you’ll ever see, topped with a dash of salt and pepper and a hint of vinegar and oil — just one of the many small touches that show the care that’s put into every dish they serve, right down to what some would consider a garnish. And trust me on this: Nothing is just a garnish at Rustica’s; there’s intent and thought given to every ingredient, so be sure to clean your plate!
The restaurant also offers take-and-bakes on occasion, so it pays to follow their Facebook page or simply ask next time you’re in the restaurant (or at their convenient drive-thru window). I buy a pan of the chicken spaghetti every time it’s offered. Very reminiscent of Sarah Stevens’ version from Sweets and Eats, where Rustica’s owner Tress Padron cut her chops, this creamy, cheesy concoction benefits from the addition of mushrooms, unlike most varieties you’ll find. Savory chicken and dumplings also are in the rotation, as is a recent stacked beef enchilada casserole with spicy seasoned taco meat with a kick, enchilada sauce and plenty of melty cheddar cheese layered between corn tortillas.
And diners usually have something new to sample each week in the form of their weekly specials, which have ranged the gamut from a “Rayburn Tacklebox” with American fried catfish and all the trimmings to meatloaf with marinara sauce, creamy mashed potatoes and sweet green beans seasoned with bacon and brown sugar, to mammoth glazed pork spare ribs, potato salad, sweet smoky barbecue beans and a fried roll.
More adventurous palates can occasionally enjoy such global cuisine as tender chicken and spinach enchiladas with sour cream sauce and melted cheese, Mexican rice with peas and carrots and succulent Mexican squash or my personal favorite: pungent Peruvian grilled chicken on soft flatbread with a snappy cucumber and avocado salad, seared onion and bright Peruvian green sauce that had me rolling up to that drive-thru for five days straight.
A recent special was a tangy, melty Reuben sandwich bursting with corned beef, baby Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and homemade Thousand Island dressing toasted up on marbled rye bread — a sandwich Lufkin has been sorely lacking since Cracker Barrel quit making theirs and one I’m hoping is as good at our newly-opened McAlister’s Deli. I ordered mine with a side of Rustica’s extraordinarily scrumptious in-house fries: large rectangles of hand-cut skin-on fries perfectly cooked for those who like their fries soft, then lightly seasoned for a fry so good you could eat it plain, although I devour mine with ketchup.
Also new to the menu is the heavenly, creamy no-bake cheesecake on graham cracker crust with a homemade blueberry or strawberry topping. But once again, be sure to check out their Facebook page or inquire as to what desserts are available so as not to miss out on such occasional specials as their recent take on Tiramisu, with layers of chocolate cake soaked in espresso, layered with light, boozy zabaglione custard filling and dusted with cocoa powder. I don’t like coffee but I must have been by for three slices of Tiramisu the week if was offered. I’m also a big fan of their rich, decadent Tuxedo Cake, boasting layers of moist chocolate cake, vanilla cheesecake, dulce de leche and bittersweet chocolate buttercream frosting.
Rustica’s is definitely a great place to — as their motto says — eat local, eat the globe. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information or to place a to-go order, call 632-4099.