Saturday, October 23, 2010

“I Don’t Like Thin Crust Pizza,”

forcefully stated our campground host. “It tastes like cardboard. But if you like thin crust, you might like Rusty’s.”

We were desperate. We had been without decent pizza since we left Salt Lake City. And that pizza set the standard for all to follow. Yes, there was that unfortunate experience in Fort Langley, BC. (We spared you the ugly details.) And yes, there was the OK pizza in Vallejo, CA. But good pizza was not to be seen. Or to be eaten for that matter.

Granted, the campground host’s recommendation was not what one would call glowing. But you never know where you’ll find that hidden gem. So we arrived at one of the Bakersfield Rusty’s shortly after 2:00 p.m. hoping to combine a late lunch with an early dinner.

The “mini” chain of Rusty’s Pizza Parlors began in 1969 in the community of Isla Vista and has grown to sixteen outlets in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Bakersfield. All Rusty’s locations are locally owned and the company’s web site emphasizes the corporation’s commitment to community involvement.

When we arrived, the restaurant was totally empty but I realize that Chuck and I operate on a schedule totally our own so I was not overly concerned by the lack of business. After placing our order at the front counter, we found a seat in one of the high backed booths which, for some reason, were easy to get into and almost impossible to get out of.

Rusty’s promotes their restaurants as the ideal location of children’s birthday parties, and I suspect that was the reason for the bank of video games along one wall. Thankfully, they were blessedly silent that afternoon.

While pizza is the big deal here, Rusty’s does offer a short line-up of hot subs including: The Rusty’s with cotto and Italian salami, bologna, American and provolone cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, and Italian dressing; Canadian Style Bacon with Canadian style bacon, provolone, lettuce, and tomato; Meatball with sliced meatballs, spaghetti sauce, and mozzarella and jack cheeses; and Veggie with fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, black olives, and mozzarella and jack cheeses and your choice of Italian or ranch dressing.

And, like the subs, there is a short list of specialty pizza combos. These include: the Garden Special with fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, and black olives and, on request, jalapenos or pineapple (Shoot Me Now!!); the Rusty's Special with pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, olives, onions and sausage with anchovy or bell pepper on request; and the El Diablo Fuego (The Fiery Devil) with Ortega green chiles, chorizo, Canadian style bacon, pepperoni, onions, tomatoes, and black olives with jalapenos or pineapple (Not Again!) on request.

We decided to keep it simple and ordered a large, thin crust, sausage pizza and requested that they go light on the cheese. The day’s special was a free order of battered potato wedges with every large pizza. Yes, we also thought this was strange.

The wedges came out first with four cups of ranch dipping sauce and were barely warm and not at all crisp. The heavy batter was way too much when one plans to share a large pizza, so I decided to take them home for later. (They were stored in our refrigerator and were thrown out two days later.)

Finally the pizza arrived. It resembled what I consider to be the mid-west style of pizza with the sauce and toppings extending to the edge of the crust. This means that you don’t get those bubbly crust edges which can be wonderful if the dough is light and yeasty and dreadful when the dough is dense and heavy. But the crust wasn’t as thin nor was it as crisp as the typical mid-west pizza. The kitchen responded to our request for light cheese and the pie had just the right amount of cheese. (What is the right amount of cheese you ask? Whatever Chuck and I decide is the right amount.) And the sausage came as small pieces rather than slices.

Rusty’s was better than your average Pizza Hut (that’s not saying a whole lot), but it will tie us over until we reach San Diego where we hear there is a great pizza stop. Anyway, Rusty’s gets a 3.5 for its temporary easing of our pizza craving.

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