Throughout Downtown Kalamazoo, there are many local bars, cafes and restaurants, all ranging from affordability to savory dining experiences. While many would prefer relaxing in a bar setting, or talking at a cafe, ultimately a night out at a desirable restaurant can lead to the best conversations and experiences.
Rustica combines both these traits inducing a unique and enriching atmosphere as well as a high standard of food quality.
Walking down through the Kalamazoo Mall, Rustica stands out from the modern businesses surrounding it. First opened in 2009, owners Bill Weier and Saad Mandwee created a restaurant with a low-key, vintage style to it, yet holds a savory punch. Below the roughly painted sign with the restaurant’s name and symbol, an antique bicycle, the restaurant advertises itself as “Rustic European Cuisine.” Despite some questions as to what that exactly means, it remains clear that it doesn’t matter, as no matter what the customer orders, they will be satisfied.
Walking into the restaurant from the dimly lit downtown area is greeted with a stark contrast. Almost everyone is dressed in a collared shirt or a formal dress and the restaurant’s dress code introduces a formal, yet vintage feel to the place. From the plates to the wine glasses, the establishment introduces a sense of seriousness in its tone, unlike neighboring businesses. I was greeted by a courteous and polite waitresses, who instructed me that our table would be ready in a couple of minutes.
While calling ahead is almost a necessity to avoid an hour long wait, it wasn’t too much of a hassle as the staff are able to accommodate and plan for your arrival within a reasonable amount of time. Despite this, the waiting area for the table is quite cramped, allowing for a maximum of five people to stand before you may be in someone’s food or on the street. While this may not be a big deal during the summer months, waiting during rain or snow can lead the customer to feel irritable before they even enter the building.
However, all this is forgotten once seats are taken and the waitress greets everyone.
The restaurant is quite small but its vintage decor and furniture make it comfortable and warm. The staff is very patient and understanding, and they excel in making the customer feel comfortable. A nice touch is how the waitresses didn’t write anything down, whether it be orders or requests. While this is standard in many European restaurants, it makes the customer feel more important and more respected as the waiter remembers what you ordered and who you are, instead of writing it down and forgetting about you.
In addition, the owners can be seen walking around, greeting each customer, and maintaining food delivery, which is lacking in other restaurants in the area. While the dining experience can feel cramped if the resturant is full, I recommend reserving reservations for later in the night as the crowd dissipates, and it is a more relaxing and comforting experience.
The menu itself is exquisite and expansive. Combining inspirations from French, Italian, Spanish and other European cuisine to American trademarks and flairs, Rustica cements its food from European routes yet familiarizes enough to the taste of the local crowd. Whether that be from combining scallops, mussels and other seafood common in Mediterranean and Spanish dishes, to layering flavors found in both French and American cooking, Rustica prides itself on offering a variety of accommodations without losing its quality.
Some of the most exceptional dishes I have tried on their menu include the Braised New England Lamb Shank, Pan-Roasted Michigan Chicken Breast and the Bouillabaisse. All of these dishes are simple and well put together, but offer enough exotic experiences so no two things on the menu looks or tastes the same. In addition to the outstanding taste, the presentation of these dishes are phenomenal as well. Receiving each dish is examining a piece of artwork as pan roasted vegetables not only offer flavor, but add a symmetrical appearance to the dish as they are lined out carefully around the main appeal.
In addition, the serving size for most of the dishes is excellent. The meal doesn’t feel overcrowded on the plate, but it doesn’t feel empty. Each one of them are cooked to perfection whether that be from the flakiness on the salmon to the moist cut of chicken. Most of these dishes also excel because of their uniqueness. One of the most notable examples of this is the Roasted Bone Marrow, which is presented on a wooden plank containing three, eight inch bones, split and roasted. Extremely unique in its presentation, dishes like these offer more to customers than just the satisfaction of their taste buds. While many would argue Rustica’s prices are on the expensive side, it is important to consider the diverse choices and unique atmosphere alone are unparallel to anything one would find in the surrounding area.
One of the reasons it is on the expensive side is that Rustica strives to cook with as much local meat, produce and bread as possible. This creates a sense of community and a three dimensional attitude toward the restaurant itself. Whether that be chicken from Otto’s Poultry in Middleville, Michigan (44 miles away from the restaurant), to Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery in Fennville, Michigan (49 miles away), Rustica is committed to using fresh, local food to make their delicious meals. This makes the business feel similar to a farmer’s market as they constantly advertise entrees and appetizers with locally grown products.
Rustica excels at every level: food quality, service and customer satisfaction. While the building itself is small and can feel cramped at times, it is easily forgettable as everything else make up for it. Rustica may not be the best restaurant when it comes to affordability, but it is the best when it comes to overall satisfaction.
Whether it is the local food on your plate or the romantic, rustic setting, Rustica is one of the finest eating establishments in Kalamazoo. Once you give it a chance, the only regret you will have is that you didn’t visit sooner.
For more information regarding reservations or the menu, visit: www.rusticakzoo.com or call: (269) 492-0247.
By: Brian Hall
- I am a senior in high school and the Business Manager of the newspaper. I enjoy running, skiing, and hanging out with friends and family. Next year I will be attending Colby College, a small liberal arts school in the heart of Maine with intentions to explore different educational opportunities.