Since it opened in the Essex Shoppes & Cinema in June 2010, Rustico’s has been known for its handmade pastas and family-friendly Italian comfort food. New chef Brent Leary plans to keep it that way — while adding plenty of extras. Leary started at Rustico’s last month, but when his wife and general manager Stacy Anne Leary joined the team, their vision of a “regional, extremely intimate local cucina” began to fall into place.
The chef promises guests will still be able to get their pomodoro over housemade linguine, but with the option of “L’Amante-style food,” he says, referring to the upscale Burlington eatery. This is likely to be no idle boast. Leary is a former New England Culinary Institute instructor who calls Bluebird Tavern’s Michael Clauss his best friend. He was planning to return to the Inn at Shelburne Farms restaurant as David Hugo’s sous chef before Rustico’s owners, Peter and Jessica Edelmann, snapped him up.
Rustico’s used local produce from the start, but Leary has upped the proportions. He buys 90 percent of his produce locally and says, “I feel very strongly about that farmer-chef relationship. I really believe it’s a key to your health to eat organically and eat fresh.”
Leary buys only local, prime beef for the steaks he dry-ages at the restaurant himself. He serves the 16-ounce PT Farm ribeye with homemade gnocchi and marchand de vin sauce.
For vegetarians, the chef gets particularly creative with a “mock bone marrow” vegetable trio. The dish features a beet, a celery root and a squash filled with their own pureed insides, mixed with local curds and cream, and served with traditional sides of parsley salad and capers. “They’re roasted on top and fatty and smooth in the middle,” describes Leary.
Whatever he’s making, Leary says it’s important to him to retain his classical French techniques. He admits that, because of his uncompromising standards, prices at the restaurant have risen by a third. However, Leary feels certain it’s worth it. “I peel my own tomatoes and make tomato sauce,” he says. “We do everything from scratch.”