Rustico - Brunch with an Italian Influence

While I was in college, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy for a semester. It was one of the best experiences of my life: the culture, the history, the wine, and of course, the food. When it comes to Italian restaurants in this country, I have found some places that live up to the tradition of Italian cuisine. Other times, some places just miss the mark. I decided to see if Rustico in the Third Ward would satisfy my craving for a great rustic Italian influenced brunch.

I gathered group of friends to come with me for this brunch outing. Chris, David, Jason and Tony all met me at Rustico one Sunday morning. We all had to park in various locations around the Third Ward, but that is the norm for any restaurant in this tightly-packed neighborhood. Located on the west side of Water Street, Rustico's weathered wood sign gives the impression that this restaurant has been in place since the building was erected in the 1880's.

By the time I got to the restaurant, the guys had already ordered a drink at the bar and were waiting for me to be seated. We all walked through the restaurant to be seated on the back patio overlooking the Milwaukee River. Having the Riverwalk come right through the outdoor seating area gives one the chance to do some interesting people watching as well as boat watching. We sat at the table and our server, Jesse took our drink order. I ordered my usual with a twist: coffee ($2.50), water and a blood orange mimosa ($7). This twist of the normal brunch drink used juice from a blood orange, and it did provide a nice extra sweetness to the drink. However, I would have wanted a little more in the glass for the price. Chris and Jason ordered a bloody mary piccante ($7). Tony ordered a bloody mary verdue ($7). The piccante bloody used Van Gogh Vodka infused with garlic, pepper, and onion. Chris and Jason both enjoyed it, however they said it could be a little spicier for their tastes. Tony's bloody mary was made with Van Gogh Vodka infused with lemon and cucumber. He enjoyed his bloody, but said that it was definitely too spicy for his taste.

We took a moment to look over the menu and tried to figure out who would be ordering what. We were all very indecisive this morning, and we all wanted to try something different. Jesse was very knowledgeable of the menu and answered all our questions while we were trying to determine what we wanted to have brunch.

Tony ordered the Frittata Classica ($7.95). This three-egg frittata was packed with Italian sausage, green pepper and onions. Topped with some mozzarella cheese and sprinked with basil, the entree also came with a side of breakfast potatoes and wheat toast. Tony asked for a side of sour cream to use as a dipping sauce. Upon his first bite, he enjoyed the frittata. It was loaded with mix-ins and was more than enough for him to eat. Sadly though, he said his potatoes were undercooked and rather hard to eat.

Chris had decided to try the Frittata Rustica ($7.95) to see what the difference would be. Starting off the same with three eggs, this frittata had pancetta, onion and zucchini wrapped in it. Topped with asiago cheese, the entree was servered with the same undercooked potatoes. He felt that the dish was good to eat, but nothing really to "write home about." The pancetta came in little bits and he thought it would be more prominent like the Italian sausage. Also, the undercooked potatoes could have been a little fluffier and not so dense.

Breaking a little from the egg-based dishes, Jason ordered the Breakfast Pizza ($10.95). This 12 inch pizza was placed in front of him, and I think I heard an "oh my god" escape his lips before the server walked away. The large thin-crust pizza looked really good, even with the cracked egg in the middle. The pizza was ham, mozzarella and provolone with the egg. It was missing one thing though we all decided: a sauce. It was a nice pizza, but Jason was looking for that creamy, tang of a tomato-based sauce along with the standard Italian seasonings. The crust was nice and thin, but it was lacking in true Italian flavors. He did end up taking home two enormous slices.

David took a complete departure from a typical brunch offering and decided to order the Breakfast Burger ($9.95). Sitting in at a pizzeria, I was surprised to see this on the menu and was really excited to see what it was going to look like. This Angus burger was topped with a fried egg, pancetta and Hollandaise sauce. Served with the same side of potatoes as the frittatas, the plate looked a little empty. It could have used some more potatoes or something just to fill the plate. David said that the burger was good, but the pancetta flavor never really came through. The egg, Hollandaise and burger flavor overpowered it too much. He said that he would choose something else of the menu next time.

I wanted to get something that I knew would keep me full throughout the day. I ordered the Breakfast Calzone ($10.95). The massive half-moon entree was set in front of me, and I knew this was going to be a large meal. Probably taken from the same crust as Jason's pizza, my calzone was packed with Italian sausage, mozzarella, two eggs, basil and onion. Served with a side of tomato sauce, this calzone had just the perfect amount of flavor and portion. I really enjoyed my calzone. I think it was the perfect blend of a traditional Italian entree with a brunch influence.

If you are in the Third Ward area and are looking for a brunch with an Italian influence, think about checking out Rustico. For around $15 per person, this restaurant will satisfy your brunch craving. Other than a lack of parking, this restaurant has some great specials on the other nights of the week, so think about stopping by for their pizza.

Until next time, hope you had a great weekend and happy brunching!

What have been your experiences at Rustico? What are some other good entrees? Respond below in the comments!

All the details you want to know: (on a five star rating)

Rustico (***½)
223 N Water St.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 220-9933
Rustico on Urbanspoon

Brunch hours:
Sunday: starting at 10 a.m.

Atmosphere: *** (pretty good)
Long, narrow wine cellar feel in an old Third Ward building

Food: ** (ok)
Hit or miss on the entrees

Service: ***** (awesome)
Attentive, friendly and knowledgable

Drinks: ***½ (pretty good)
Blood Orange Mimosa - **** (very good)
Bloody Mary - *** (pretty good)

Price: *** (pretty good)
Around $15 a person with a minimal leftovers.