“I don’t want to influence you unduly,” whispers the man walking through the restaurant on his way to the pub quiz at Patsy Dan’s, “but this is the best pizza in Ireland.”
There’s a lot of good pizza in Ireland these days. Earlier this month, Galway’s Dough Bros was ranked 79th in the annual World’s Best Pizza ranking, a list previously ranked by Cirillo’s in Dublin – so that’s quite a bold claim. But since I can’t say I’ve eaten at every pizzeria in the country, I’ll reiterate that Rusty Oven’s version is among the best in the nation.
It’s early evening and we had to wait a while for a table as the place is a jammer. Unfortunately – or maybe it’s a good thing, since some of us (e.g. me) tend to take these things too seriously – it means we’re too late to take the pub quiz. As compensation we sit outside on Main Street and watch the world go by. The day before we met the people from the table next to us at lunch at the Fisk Seafood Bar in Downings. We take this as a good sign.
Not sure how the space performs when the temperature drops, but on the warm night of our visit, The Rusty Oven operates a seamless indoor/outdoor setup with a few booths that larger groups can take on. Sitting at a corner table next to the open kitchen, we have a lovely view of the pizzaiolos at work, expertly stretching and twisting dough above their heads before assembling the toppings and shoving the pizzas into the cavernous wood-fired oven.
We had a smaller version of one of these ovens to play with while on vacation in Italy earlier this summer and didn’t find it as easy as these guys make it look. Our attempts would certainly not have made it onto a “best of” list.
Every table is occupied — there’s a lot of generational groups — and the pace is hectic, but the staff seem like a happy bunch. You’re more than tolerant of the little boy here who burns off excess energy by climbing under the table and hurtling through the restaurant at high speed, pausing only to show off a few of his nifty dance moves when a song comes along that he likes.
He calms down as the antipasti board — a generous pile of serrano ham, salami, chilli-garlic olives, homemade aioli, brie, Fivemiletown goat’s cheese, organic leaves, a balsamic olive oil dip, and signature sourdough bread “Muckish Wild” – arrives. That’s a whopping amount of food for €18, less than the price of a starter in some restaurants these days.
My friends have been here before and know to order the garlic bread too. It comes as strips of sourdough flatbread topped with a warm old-school garlic-parsley butter and is absolutely delicious. Now you know too.
The sourdough pizzas are excellent. The Rusty Oven makes its batter by hand, using only organic Shipton Mill stone flour, water and — I love that detail — La Baleine sea salt. Then they put it through a 72-hour leavening process with a natural sourdough starter.
In high season, they bake hundreds of pizzas every day, each one as good as the last.
We try three different versions. The Margherita is topped with a seriously flavorful tomato sauce made with slow-roasted San Marzanos, Irish mozzarella and basil, while the Popeyes get spinach, ‘Nduja and mascarpone, and the Funghi gets some – yes, you guessed it – mushrooms. The batter has real flavor, the crust is nicely patterned, and I love that a family restaurant in a resort town goes through the trouble of sourcing really good ingredients without the need to climb from the rooftops over its “artisanal” scream references.
All I know about the history behind the restaurant is what the boards on the wall say. It originated in 2013 and started out as a mobile trailer in the yard behind the pub. Back then, Pub Cat was her best customer, wine coolers were Noreen Devine’s cooking pots, and the suitors ate in the leaky old cowshed.
I don’t know how much the prices have gone up in recent years either, but it can’t be much as our bill for four adults and two children (we shared five pizzas) with a couple of bottles of decent wine (the Colline Verdicchio for €25 and a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Serrano for €29) and soft drinks are only €154.
That’s a remarkable value for food of this quality. The Rusty Oven is a stylish but unpretentious establishment and I wish every city in the country had a place like this.
The Margherita pizza costs €11.
Salads, pizzas and desserts for two cost €60 before drinks or service.
The rusty furnace, Main Street, Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal, therustyoven.ie
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/the-rusty-oven-restaurant-review-i-cant-claim-to-have-eaten-in-every-pizza-joint-in-the-country-so-ill-say-this-version-is-among-the-nations-finest-42009219.html The Rusty Oven Restaurant Rating: “I can’t say I’ve eaten at every pizzeria in the country, so I’d say this version is among the best in the country.”