When RusTeak, the most popular restaurant in College Park, closed this past July and moved three miles south, it all but cemented the underwhelming reputation of Edgewater Drive's moribund dining scene. When the clock strikes 9 p.m. in South Eola, however, residents aren't in their jammies cozying up to hot water bottles – they're spiffed and nursing their highballs.
There's a waking energy at places like the Stubborn Mule and Broken Cage, so it made a whole lot of sense for owners Brian Buttner and Jonathan Canonaco to move RusTeak to this less dozy downtown neighborhood. That they happen to own the Stubborn Mule and Broken Cage may have also facilitated the move. The pair took over the NOLA-inspired Menagerie Eatery & Bar before shuttering it to make room for RusTeak. We were told they amalgamated the staff of both restaurants, at least those who chose to remain in the industry. Now Buttner and Canonaco look like the Kings of Eola, dictators of South Eola's culinary path and complexion. It's not haute, and it's not beer and burgers, but somewhere in between lies the sweet spot where the pair of Culinary Institute of America grads like to play with their food.
I enjoyed playing around with the trio of sauces – gochujang, creamy wasabi and Korean barbecue – served with slivers of ahi tuna ($15), but beyond the fish dips, a garnish of Peruvian sweet-drop peppers lent the snap and pop to the crispy capers' crackle. When I saw "tomato jam jar" ($12) listed under the selection of apps, it got me thinking about the days when Nordstrom Café at the Florida Mall served it. I liked the creamy blend of house-made ricotta, pesto and tomato jam back then, and I like it now. RusTeak incorporates a spinach-almond pesto into the shareable and serves it with triangles of grilled naan (redundantly referred to as "naan bread" on their menu; please stop that). Back to those sauces for a moment: The Korean barbecue bore a striking resemblance in look and taste to the sauce on the kung pao cauliflower ($10). Not that it was subpar or anything. In fact, I thought RusTeak's KPC was one of the better veg versions of the classic chicken dish I've eaten, crushed peanuts and all.
The menu, for the most part, is identical to the one offered in College Park, with a few exceptions. One of the items, dubbed "The Catch" ($27), didn't feature Montana trout (you're welcome, sports fans) but, rather, pecan-crusted black grouper served over pearl couscous with blackened asparagus. The fish was given its due respect – not overcooked, not adulterated with a goopy sauce nor heavy-handedly sided with sweet potatoes. That said, the fish wasn't so much "pecan-crusted" as it was topped with a crumble of pecan pie filling. Not sure if I cared for the sweet complexion it gave the dish, but that couscous blended with a lobster thermidor cream sauce can fill my plate anytime.
And if you're pining for a burger, there are three 8-ouncers from which to choose. The "Swiss Army Burger" ($15) came fitted with everything from sautéed mushrooms and crispy onions to a demi-glace and, of course, Swiss cheese. Our assessment: a utilitarian and perfectly serviceable burger that would come in handy in times of extreme hunger.
Extreme hunger, I should say, was the exact opposite of what we felt prior to ordering dessert. But the apple tart ($10), with its apricot glaze and firm-yet-tender caramelized Granny Smiths, was a pastry tour de force. The addition of vanilla ice cream was utterly superfluous, but we devoured it all anyway. Seems the folks of South Eola were doing the same at RusTeak. It was nearly 10 p.m. and, as we looked around, they were still eating this place up.