June 23, 2011

Dining in Des Moines: Gusto Pizza Co.

NOTE:  I apologize for having to post a lot later in the day than usual.  Our cable service, including our cable Internet, is out right now.  Things will likely be disrupted for a few days until the never-dependable Mediacom people get things working again, but we'll be doing our best to keep our schedule of posting at least once daily. 

At my workplace, we often have representatives from pharmaceutical companies drop by to provide us with informational presentations about their products.   These often also include a free lunch, plus the representatives generally leave medication samples for our medical staff to dispense.  These are passed along to some of our clients who aren't able to afford their medication.  All in all, it's a pretty good deal.  We hear about upcoming medications, new research, changes in prescribing guidelines and so forth, mentally ill individuals get access to medications they might otherwise not be able to afford, and my colleagues and I get a free lunch out of the deal.

A couple months ago, one of the representatives brought several pizzas from a new place:  Gusto Pizza Co.  In addition to more typical offerings, the representative provided us with some of Gusto's specialty pizzas, including the Thai Kwon Dough, a Thai-flavored pizza with spicy peanut sauce, chicken, carrots, peanuts, bean sprouts and cilantro.   I liked the slices I tried,  but it wasn't until last night that Juli and I finally got around to visiting Gusto.

Gusto has a fairly good number of offerings for a place that advertises themselves mostly as a pizza place. In addition to appetizers, salads and, of course, pizzas, they offer sandwiches, desserts, wine,  a wide range of beers and both fountain and artisan sodas.  The pizzas,  though, are the centerpiece  of their menu. 

Gusto features a wide range of pizzas, plus a "Create Your Own Gusto" option, in 10 or 14-inch thin-crust pies.   They also offer gluten-free crust in the 10-inch pizza, and vegan mozzarella for a small additional extra charge.  Some of their pizza specials include the Vincent Van Goat, with maple-glazed ham, Genoa salami, goat cheese, rosemary olive oil, capers and fried peppers, the Pizza de Burgo with garlic butter, sauteed shrimp, tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella and romano, the Duke with smoked BBQ brisket, colby jack, red onion and cilantro and the West of Philly, with alfredo cream sauce, skirt steak, roasted red peppers, onions and relish, plus the Thai Kwon Dough, which I described above.  The make-your-own ingredient options are quite diverse, including artichokes, meatballs, blue cheese, figs, pears and a diverse assortment of cheeses. 

We ended up ordering some garlic butter bread sticks with red sauce, a pizza and dessert.  After considering the various pizza options, we went with a 14-inch Spartacus - red sauce, Graziano Bros. Italian sausage, pepperoni, mozzarella , cremini mushrooms and banana peppers - without the peppers but with Romano cheese and fresh basil.   Although that was plenty of food, I couldn't resist trying out their desserts.  In addition to gelato and cannoli, they offer a revolving selection of chocolate desserts.   I selected with the German Chocolate Brownie, though the other "chocoholic" offering - a white chocolate brownie with Heath bar topping - was also tempting. 

There are several good things to be said about Gusto.  First off, our pizza was excellent.   We would have liked the crust to be a bit more flavorful and distinctive, but it was serviceable.  The toppings, in contrast, were truly excellent:  fresh mushrooms and cheeses, generous portions of quality meat, and a flavorful sauce.  The pizza was perfectly cooked and quite satisfying.    The dessert was also excellent, not to mention a great bargain:  $4 for a brownie big enough to provide ample portions for two people. 

We also appreciated that Gusto uses and offers a lot of quality locally-produced items.  In addition to Graziano Bros. sausage and La Quercia prosciutto, they serve an assortment of Millstream beers and sodas, plus an assortment of Iowa-brewed beers, including some from Peace Tree Brewery.

Gusto is mostly a serve-yourself place along the lines of a fast-food restaurant - you place your order at the counter, fill your own drinks and seat  yourself, though the wait staff does bring your order to your table when it's finished cooking.  As such, we didn't interact much with the employees, but the interactions we did have were pleasant.  Juli forgot to bring her umbrella with her when we left, and one of the staff rushed out to return it when she found it.  We really appreciated that.

There were, however, a few things we didn't really like about Gusto.  The decor can charitably be called "modern" but I found it stark and uninviting.  One wall included three big-screen TVs, but none had the captions on, which resulted in them being mostly a distraction or an annoyance.  Plus, the open seating arrangement and more-than-ample space resulted in the restaurant being pretty loud.   The volume of the piped-in classic rock music was a bit too loud, and even over the music, pretty much any sound carried through the entire restaurant.  This last quality was brought home all too vividly when a couple of rather self-absorbed young women seated themselves near our table and launched into a discussion of their romantic adventures that we were able to hear just as clearly as if they'd been sitting with and talking to us.   The restaurant wasn't too busy when we were there, as we arrived a bit early for the dinner rush, but I would imagine the noise level would be quite unpleasant when the place is more packed.

We recommend the food at Gusto.  Everything we've tried was quite good, and their interesting selection of high-quality toppings makes Gusto stand out among the local pizza offerings.   We'd rank it as our second favorite local  pizza, right after Bordenaro's (see also http://www.bordenarospizza.com/ ), and while we like Bordy's excellently-crisp crust better than the Gusto crust, Gusto's premium toppings are of much higher quality.  We were less pleased with the restaurant itself, with neither the decor nor the noise level being to our liking.   The restaurant wasn't distracting enough to keep us from enjoying our visit to Gusto, but in our opinion  the  food at Gusto outclasses the ambiance of the place by a wide margin.    

Gusto Pizza Co. is located at 1905 Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines.  Hours are Monday through Thursday 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 to 11 and Sunday 4-9 pm.

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