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Side Dishes: Rustico's to open in Essex


Published June 16, 2010 at 9:16 a.m.

A hole left in the hearts of Essex townies by the closing of Foodee’s Pizza may soon be filled. A new restaurant is opening in its former spot at the Essex Shoppes & Cinema.

General manager Terry Raphael Murphy describes Rustico’s as a “funky but chic” Italian restaurant. Invitation-only events are scheduled for this week, followed by a soft opening for the general public before “the official grand opening with sky writing and balloons,” teases Murphy.

Murphy, a Rhode Island native, has brought with him a concept unfamiliar to most Vermonters. Rustico’s will offer homemade pastas and sauces family-style, in quarter-pound, half-pound and full-pound sizes. That’s common practice at high-volume Italian restaurants in his home state, says Murphy.

At Rustico’s, chefs will churn out pastas including orecchiette, linguine and farfalle bathed in sauces such as Bolognese, basil pesto and pomodoro. One dish, known as The Tour of Italy, includes tastes of all of the above. Sausage and meatballs will be sold individually, so diners can exercise portion control and dole out the meat as they see fit. Desserts and appetizers, such as antipasti platters and bruschetta, can be plated for one or two. As part of the Essex Cinemas’ expansion, fare from Rustico’s will eventually be available to moviegoers sitting in a special food-and-drink area.

Murphy says Rustico’s will join the Vermont Fresh Network and use many of the same purveyors as The Essex, with which the outlet/cinema complex shares owners. Rustico’s chef Anthony Grippo, a New England Culinary Institute alum, comes direct from Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern at The Essex. He also used to run the kitchen at Sugarsnap.

In the spirit of educating diners about local products, says Murphy, samples of the herbs and lettuces Rustico’s serves are growing in window boxes at the restaurant. The actual produce on the plate, however, will come from local farms.

The team is taking pains to make the new restaurant feel like it’s not in an outlet center. A glass-topped rotunda covers the space outside. The skylights will shield enough tables to seat 40. Plantings of flowers and veggies will obscure the view of the parking lot, says Murphy. All the better for a venture he hopes will “instill that sense of community that seems to be waning nowadays.”