Rust Tavern is Worth Saddling Up For

Chef Brian Dowling, formerly of Hoboken’s Park and Sixth, has opened an impressive gastropub in Hopatcong.

Pork chop at Rust Tavern. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

Although the vibe at the newly-opened Rust Tavern feels more like you should be in a high-prairie saloon than a lake-town gastropub, its cowboy charm is a refreshing change from the usual NJ roadhouse. Wide plank floors, paint-chipped walls, tin ceilings, rusty old horseshoes, beaded-fringe lampshades and cowhide upholstery all complement the rustler theme throughout the 68-seat restaurant and bar.

As soon as guests step in the door, they are greeted by glowing glass cases full of cold brews and huge slabs of meat that get the mouth watering. In addition to beers, there are a dozen or so wines from California and Argentina, as well as cocktails that include a number of Latin style combos, like a refreshing pisco sour and the Jose Jose mix of tequila, lime, agave and grapefruit soda.

Created by chef/owner Brian Dowling, formerly of Hoboken’s Park and Sixth, the food menu is served at booths, tables and high-tops and offers an eclectic mix of salads, shared plates, mains, burgers and sandwiches.

For starters, the Thai curry P.E.I mussels were bathed in a nicely-spiced lime-ginger coconut milk and topped with crispy shoestring fries that soaked up the sauce without losing their crunch. The unusual lasagna eggrolls were another great balance of textures with short rib Bolognese stuffed into crusty wrappers alongside marinara cream sauce.

Thai curry mussels at Rust. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

The grilled, bone-in, loin pork chop arrived a bit under done, but our super-friendly waiter quickly rectified the situation. It was tender, juicy and flavorful all on its own, but topped with a runny fried egg that mingled with the sweet pepper and potato hash, it was sublime.

Another meaty and satisfying option was the soy and vermouth-braised short rib, tossed with little toasty chunks of Gorgonzola potato waffle and served with a slightly bitter bok choy that offset the richness of the dish.

Despite being a meaty menu, there are nice vegetable options, like Brussels sprouts hash and roasted zucchini with ginger-garlic tomatoes and lemon ricotta, that can also be ordered with chicken, salmon or shrimp for an up charge.

Bread pudding donuts at Rust. Photo by Suzanne Zimmer Lowery

The dessert menu is still in development, with only one option available during our visit. Fortunately, that single dish of two bread pudding donuts was yet another glorious example of a culinary balancing act, offering dark-brown crunch on the outside and a moist, custardy interior that was served with a not-too-sweet scoop of ice cream.

With the fun atmosphere and funky menu, the chuck wagon at Rust is well worth saddling up for.

Rust Tavern, 47 Maxim Drive, Hopatcong, 973-288-1777. Open Wednesday-Thursday 3pm-midnight, Friday-Saturday noon-midnight and Sunday noon-11pm.

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