Rusty Onion is a fresh take on pizza

The place was Carmella’s Pizzeria for quite some time, but it closed, leaving Rotelli’s across the street as the closest pizza joint. Then Rotelli’s closed, but back across the street, Carmella’s was being redesigned, and has since opened as the Rusty Onion Pizzeria and
Pourhouse.

(Above, from left) Jimmy Margiotis and Augustine Limon are creating magic at the Rusty Onion in south Charlotte’s Carmel Road area. Our culinary expert says it’s worth a visit.

(Above, from left) Jimmy Margiotis and Augustine Limon are creating magic at the Rusty Onion in south Charlotte’s Carmel Road area. Our culinary expert says it’s worth a visit.

You may know or at least know of the owner, Jimmy Margiotis. His father opened John’s Country Kitchen on Central Avenue, a Charlotte gathering and dining institution in the Plaza-Midwood area. Jimmy took over for his dad and continues to run one of the original Charlotte breakfast spots with his mom, Yia Yia Margaret.

Jimmy wasn’t fooling around when he decided to open another restaurant. He joined forces with Augustine Limon, who is the pizza chef and operating partner. Jimmy also chose a prime location: the Carmel Commons shopping center. The eatery that was there was originally two stores joined by a doorway midway between them, creating an undesirable bowling alley effect. The entire space has been completely redesigned and renovated from floor to ceiling. There’s a large, open dining room that surrounds an inviting “L”-shaped bar. You’ll find plenty of tables and a long banquette, making it easy to accommodate larger parties. Appealing custom concrete bar tops and floors are complimented by the custom woodwork of the shelving, tables and benches. The place has a very unpretentious feel, so you’ll be most comfortable in jeans or a jacket (lose the tie). The patio will be great on comfortable days and nights.

The menu represents a smart philosophy. Keep it centered on your main products and don’t stray too far unless you’re an expert, like with baklava. We’ll come back to
that.

Start with one of a handful of appetizers. The Queen City Wings are jumbo-sized, fried and tossed in your choice of one of their signature wing sauces: buffalo, barbecue, bee sting or garlic Parmesan. They arrive with bleu cheese or ranch, celery and carrots. The eatery’s namesake, the Rusty Onion, is a triple-caramelized onion invention served with a tasty cream dip and flatbread chips. Personally, I was very pleased with the calamari, lightly fried and served with such delicious marinara we had to get extra. And the pricing is very reasonable across the menu, as in the calamari for just
$7.

You can pick from a half dozen salads that can easily be a meal, or shared as part of your dinner. They include a signature Greek salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, kalamata olives, pepperoncini, sun-dried cranberries and crumbled feta cheese. It’s all topped with Yia Yia Margaret’s homemade Greek vinaigrette. Others include a Caesar; grilled or blackened chicken; a spinach, mushroom and bacon salad with gorgonzola and candied walnuts; and a buffalo chicken salad with grilled or fried tenders atop greens, tomato, cucumber, red onion, bacon, bleu cheese crumbs and bleu cheese
dressing.

The menu also offers some very good sandwiches, each arriving with your pick of hand-cut fries, hand-cut sweet fries or mac and cheese. The Sandwich of Brotherly Love has hand-shaved-in-house-daily beef topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers, provolone cheese and roasted red pepper mayonnaise. You can even get it the true Philly way with cheese whiz. A classic meatball sub is made with melted mozzarella and that delicious marinara sauce, and can be a tough choice versus the traditional Italian with capicola, prosciutto, salami, soppressata, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion and balsamic vinaigrette, served nice and warm. What I didn’t expect, and was quite pleased to find, was a really good burger. They are formed each day in house and you can taste it. The namesake version has a half pound of Angus beef and is topped with grilled onions, mushrooms, bacon, Swiss cheese and red pepper mayo on a soft bun. There’s even a black bean burger with spicy aioli, pepper jack cheese and
veggies.

The highlights of the menu are the pizza, calzones and strombolis. All good pizza items need to start with a very good foundation: the dough. The dough at Rusty Onion is a very good consistency so as to puff up along the edge of the crust and be thin in the center without being too thin. It gets a yummy char on the bottom. The toppings stay on the pizza when you pick up a slice even though it’s thin – I really like that. I also like the size selection for the pizzas. You can get them all in 10-inch, 14-inch or 18-inch, with the small specialty pies priced at just $10. Several of the other sit-down pizza joints around south Charlotte charge more and are not better. The ingredients are very fresh tasting and the sausage and meatballs are
wonderful.

The two I have enjoyed most are the Hot Carnivore – above the tomato sauce lays a combo of meatballs, Italian sausage and pepperoni, all under a juicy layer of melted provolone and crispy, crunchy bacon bits sprinkled on top. The other is the BBQ Chicken – tender bites of barbecue chicken with cheddar cheese, red onions and cilantro. In addition to the bakers dozen specialty pies, including a mac and cheese with a béchamel cream cheese sauce, you can build your own. Choose the size and the toppings and you’ll still have a reasonably priced pizza of your making without feeling gouged. Just as importantly for many of you, the Rusty Onion offers gluten-free pizza dough.

The strombolis and the calzones utilize the same dough as the pizzas and they really are scrumptious, with a delectably crunchy exterior and hot and steamy on the inside. Calzones come as three cheese, sausage, pepperoni or veggie. Or you can build your own. As for the strombolis, I very much enjoyed the meat lovers – with pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, chorizo, bacon and mozzarella. If you want a full dinner plate, there are a half-dozen entrée selections, such as cheese manicotti, meatball ravioli and homemade lasagna, either meat or vegetable. Each is served with a salad and
bread.

I don’t usually say much about dessert at a pizza place, but in this case, I must make an exception. The cheesecake is homemade in house and is a delectable example of traditional New York style, and it’s made with real Philadelphia cream cheese. It’s beautifully firm and tastes wonderful. The topper is the baklava, made personally by Jimmy’s mom. At only $3 per slice, you can have one there and take some home. It is as good as it gets!

The rest of the name, Pourhouse, also is befitting. You’ll find a long list of craft beers from local breweries. There are 24 taps on the wall for high-quality local beers. The beers are changed out as the breweries change what they’re creating. You can even choose any four beers off the draft list for $6 and create your own custom beer flight. There’s a full selection of bottled beers, as well.

Besides Augustine, and Jimmy and his mom, you also will see Jimmy’s wife, Maria, their daughter, Margarita, and son, Yianni, also working at the restaurant. With an entire family and an expert pizza chef, it’s a dedicated and passionate team that wants to make sure you have an enjoyable experience. Jimmy and his family have created a comfortably affordable and tasty establishment that could be around for a long time and really thrive. I have been pleased each visit and really appreciate live music done tastefully. You can hear it on the weekends; good live music in the form of a singing guitarist taking your requests and maintaining a reasonable volume. I know I’ll be back soon, for hot tasty pizza, cold local draft brews and good music. Oh yeah, and
baklava!

 

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings and food news, email
culinary@thcharlotteweekly.com
.

 

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