RusTeak glides into College Park with a prodigious range of offerings, from steaks and flatbreads to a venison burger and sweet potato “tots.’’
John Deer sliders
In 2010, chefs Brian Buttner and Jonathan Canonaco opened a casual eatery in MetroWest called Teak Neighborhood Grill, focused on burgers, sandwiches and craft beer. Two years later, Teak begat RusTeak, a restaurant in Ocoee with a wider menu and, verily, it was good.
The two graduates of the Culinary Institute of America and Rosen College of Hospitality Management have since expanded and contracted their empire, selling Teak while opening a second RusTeak, in College Park. That venture has brought up the overall level of the neighborhood’s food scene on a main strip that can claim—along with impressive food from K and Paxia, and the casual dependability of Christo’s and Hubbly Bubbly—eight pizza places in less than a mile and a half.
I won’t bore you with the details of former eateries that have shuttered their doors at RusTeak’s location other than to say that the progression was downhill—from ahead-of-its-time, high-end Southern, to “Irish” pub, to yet another pizza place, which was involved in a legal battle over its name that was far more interesting than the food.
“Teak was more of a gastropub,” Buttner says of his and Canonaco’s previous venture. The menu at the two RusTeaks is more wide ranging, perhaps confusingly so, with a selection of flatbreads, sandwiches, burgers, entrées, pasta, salads and starters that encompasses both lunch and dinner—all at the same time. The food shows Southern, Mediterranean, New England, Asian, Italian and French influences, which is exactly the idea. “We take ideas from all over—just like America,” Buttner says with a smile. “We want to have an approachable menu. If you want a burger and a craft beer at the bar, we have that. If it’s date night, there’s a table in the back for a steak and good wine.”
Salad dressings, ketchup and pickles are house-made, as are the pastrami and sweet potato “tots.” Richly flavored roasted vegetables make their way to several dishes; the Gilroy flatbread ($11) showcases onions and root vegetables brought to their full potential in the oven and layered over rich roast garlic spread and stringy mozzarella. I might have used a creamier cheese myself, but I enjoyed the savory richness and thin, crunchy dough of the dish. The two owners pay attention to seasonality and fresh options, and the menu can change once a month. In the fall they offered a venison burger called the “John Deer” as either a full, hand-and-mouth-filling serving or three sliders ($14 and $13, respectively). With layer upon layer of lush flavors, this full-bodied burger stacks meaty venison, peppery arugula, smoky bacon, the creamy tang of dill Havarti and almost-sweet onion jam on a garlic brioche bun. Yes, a lot of tastes in one bite, but it works.
The menu returns to the oven for “Turnip the Beet” salmon salad ($14), roasted chunks of turnips, beets and squash mixed with fresh spinach and topped with a wonderfully moist grilled salmon fillet. And although the restaurant’s name isn’t pronounced “Rus-Steak,’’ there are steaks on the menu, and good ones too. The “Crabby” steak ($24) tops a flat iron steak with blue crab, an appetite-satisfying combo replete with tangy hollandaise and bacon mashed potatoes.
Flavors are big, and portions are even bigger, with ample sharing opportunities. RusTeak ably fills the space between fine dining and bar food while dipping a toe in both, and the neighborhood is better for it.
RusTeak is fully onboard the craft cocktail train. Along with a small but interesting draft beer selection and sizable wine list, the bar twists cocktail tradition with offerings ranging from a tartly refreshing nectarine and lavender shrub made with bourbon and peach vodka, to a candy-sweet gin confection combining strawberries, triple sec and jam.