FREDERICTON – RustiCo., a new restaurant featuring cooking from a wood-fired oven, opened Wednesday night in the former location of Mexicali Rosa’s.
Mike Babineau, co-owner of the new downtown restaurant, said they hosted a soft opening Tuesday night and people were really impressed with the food and the renovations on the formers Mexis restaurant.
“It was really great to see people last night who hadn’t been here since Mexis,” said Babineau in an interview with Huddle. “They came in the door and to see their eyes wide open and mouths open and the expression on their faces when they saw the food come out. That was a satisfying experience.”
The woodfire oven is the centrepiece of RustiCo. and “the big thing was pizza for sure” at the soft opening, says Babineau.
But he says they have a broad menu that includes a variety of salads and appetizers, and dishes featuring fish, pork chops, and steak. They also have paella dishes that are “amazing,” says Babineau. “They take a little bit longer to cook but they’re [worth the wait],” he said.
The new restaurant is large, seating 180 indoors and another 150 on the patio and employing more than 60 people, but Babineau says the emphasis will be on taking the time to prepare quality food.
Babineau says Head Chef Vedhas Deshmukh, who is originally from India and moved to Canada six years ago, is setting a high standard for food quality and service.
“We want people to enjoy the freshness of the food, the quality of the food, and experience the true flavours,” said Babineau.
Deshmukh cooked and helped develop menus at popular restaurants in Halifax like Chives Canadian Bistro and 2 Doors Down. He then moved to Toronto and worked at The Carbon Bar, Patria and most recently helped open the Peruvian restaurant Mira in downtown Toronto.
RustiCo has two kitchens – one with a brand new Marra Forni Neapolitan Brick Oven that will bake the popular Neapolitan style pizzas and also a regular kitchen that was used in the old Mexis.
People commonly associate pizzas with wood-fired ovens, but Deshmukh says the menu will be broad and he will use it to make Mediterranean-style dishes and food from other culinary traditions.
“The wood-fired pizza will make a small part of the menu,” Deshmukh told Huddle earlier this spring. “I want to use that oven for as many things as I can.”
RustiCo. will buy many of its ingredients from local and regional suppliers, but it will also bring in specialty ingredients from other countries to distinguish the menu from other area restaurants.
“We’ll source items out of Spain, India, Japan, trying to bring in something new because we still want to provide a new experience for people,” said Babineau. “We’ll have a good blend of flavours that we don’t have in Fredericton right now.”
Babineau says they’re also doing most things at the restaurant so the meals are fresh.
“We’re making pretty much everything in-house,” he said. “Our bread and burger buns are made here. We’re really trying to make everything we possibly can in-house to make sure that we’re providing the freshest of ingredients.”
RustiCo. will also feature a small brewery that will make several beers that will be served in the restaurant and sold in growlers and crowlers. Babineau says the equipment is arriving in August and it will open sometime in the fall.
Babineau purchased Mexicali Rosa’s late last fall with his business partner Gabby Elzayat. They decided to close after determining the cost of renovations and rebranding would be too high, and they would be better off opening a new restaurant.
After they decided to open a new restaurant to replace Mexis, they approached friends and experienced restauranteurs Krista Neves and Kyle Lennie of The Snooty Fox and the Monks and Jonesie food truck, and Frank Neves, formerly of Cannon’s Cross Pub, to partner with and bring this new concept to life.
The name – a mash of the words “rustic” and “company” – is evocative of the atmosphere they’re trying to create in the new restaurant, said Babineau spoke with Huddle in May.
“It has the rustic feeling with the pizza oven. It has the rustic feeling with the decor on the inside,” he said.
Banner image: A crowd of enthusiastic diners gathered at RustiCo. for its soft launch Wednesday night in Fredericton. (PhilipRoman Photography)