662 Burke Road Camberwell, Victoria 3124
By definition, ''pizza restaurant" means casual, usually local and relatively affordable. But defining "pizza" is trickier, with each restaurant developing a signature method of making, baking and topping.
Rome has its super-skinny crust pizza; Naples its thicker crust (not more than 3mm mind, according to the slightly OCD rules of the association formed to "protect the true napoletana"). And within Melbourne's thousands of pizza joints, there are distinctions, too.
Daniele Rigoni's pizzas are somewhere between the Roman and the Napoletana style, and now found in Camberwell since Rigoni sold Pizza Espresso in Templestowe after 10 years behind a pizza paddle.
He now works the floor, but his recipe for pizza is good. The dough proves for 36 hours and makes a light base, slightly thinner than a napoletana. It's then hand-stretched (look mamma, no rolling pin) into a round base, topped, then baked in a showpiece, gleaming red, relief-tiled oven fuelled by redgum (for its slow-burning heat).
They're all one, large size (12 inches, but who's measuring?), and toppings include an elegantly simple margherita of tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh, whole basil leaves. The signature speck pizza is tomato-less, built from an olive-oiled base and layered with fior di latte and thin shavings of speck (like prosciutto, but smoked rather than dry-cured), and scattered with small daubs of gorgonzola, its richness mellowed slightly by pieces of pear. Their physical sizes may be the same, but, characteristically, the speck is a much bigger pizza.
The cooking is all out in the open, towards the back of the huge, block-long, split-level room. The front dining room has an '80s-esque atrium-like entrance (a bit blowy near the door, and echoey) that gives way to a sleeker, spare room with dark furnishings leading to that Ferrari red oven. Also back there is Rigoni's business partner, Baze Spirovski, who makes the pastas and mans the grill.
From the grill comes salmon steak, with just a thin, opaque-cooked outer layer, the inside blushingly raw - maybe too raw for some tastes. And it's from here you'll find the $28 burger. Intrigued? It's a pretty basic beef patty topped with melty stracciatelli mozzarella and served with glistening red strips of roasted capsicum. At dinner it's served open-style with rosemary roasted, cubed potatoes. Both bread and potatoes were missing from ours on one visit, but a second lunch-time visit brought a more trad, tasty burger - in a bun, with salty fries - for almost half the price.
There's heavy cutlery, some fine ingredients, and sunny service, which nudges Rustica into the classy-casual end of the pizza restaurant spectrum.
Do … Look for seasonal pizza specials, such as fig, prosciutto and gorgonzola.
Don't … Ask for a Hawaiian.
Dish … Speck pizza.
Vibe … Polished, famiglia-friendly pizza palace.
Note: Corkage $10 a bottle
The Age Good Food Under $30 is available at selected bookshops and newsagents and online at theageshop.com.au for $9.99.