Photo: Connor McCourtney
The word “gusto” in Italian means taste or flavor. That is, if it is pronounced “GOO-sto.” The correct pronunciation of Gusto, the name of the new pizza eatery near Ingersoll and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, is entirely up to the observer to decide how to say it. Of course, the other pronunciation of “gusto” (GUH-stoh) is an adjective that can be defined as “enjoyment or vigor in doing something” or “zest,” often used by directors when encouraging actors to give more feeling to a scene or line. Both versions fit Gusto Pizza Co. perfectly.
Monday, Jan. 31, was the grand opening of Gusto, although they held a soft opening on Sunday night, using social media as the only method for promoting the event. Upon entering the restaurant on a Monday evening with a friend, there was a lopsided ratio of about five customers to eight employees, which made the place feel very spacious. The restaurant seats about 70, and owner Josh Holderness mentioned, that come, spring there will be patio seating for 60 more.
After ordering and sitting down, the upscale, modern décor and casual atmosphere grew on me. The restaurant was well-lit, but not too bright, and the frosted windows at eye-level while seated drew my attention inside rather than out. The high-definition flat screens playing black-and-white movies coupled with iconic photographs of Frank Sinatra and the woman depicted in the Mona Lisa added a distinctive charm to the place, reminiscent of Frank’s Pizza in Dogtown, a previous venture of owner Tony Lemmo.
Lemmo opened Gusto with friends Holderness and Joe McConville. Lemmo wanted something different than what he had at Frank’s, which was located just across from The Dublin Pub on University Avenue.
After ordering at the register, we took a number and sat down to wait for our food. When it arrived, our waitress explained about the name pronunciation as well as the menu and what Gusto is all about. The most interesting items on the menu are the quirky “signature pies,” which range from the Thai Kwon Dough pizza with Thai peanut sauce to the Il Figaro with pears and dried figs. The wide range of toppings reminded us of Fong’s Pizza, located downtown off of Court Avenue. However, the presentation and options seem more refined at Gusto.
My friend and I decided to sample various items off the menu, ordering breadsticks, the Spartacus pizza and, for dessert, chocolate hazelnut cannoli. The breadsticks weren’t filling, but were quite good for $4. We chose the 10-inch pizza ($9-$10), but a 14-inch is also available ($15-$16).
The Spartacus was special, as it included local Graziano Brothers’ Italian sausage, as well as banana peppers, pepperoni and mushrooms, topped with mozzarella cheese with a rather tasty red sauce. The cannoli was definitely worth the trip. Besides the signature pies, Gusto offers a comparably priced build-your-own pizza, in addition to salads, pastas, sandwiches, desserts and an eclectic array of sodas, San Pellegrino drinks, wines and beers.
Even though Gusto impressed us with the quality of the food, but the prices may make it difficult to become an affordable stop for college students. It offers eat-in or carry-out if you call ahead of time, and for now, doesn’t offer delivery.
Holistically, Gusto Pizza Co. is a great place for a casual dinner with friends, a lunch with family or a first date. It isn’t incredibly expensive, but the atmosphere is relaxed (and the music soft enough) to allow for good conversation. This restaurant could be a unique study destination, although there is currently no Wi-Fi and no specialty coffees are to be found. It is conveniently located close to downtown Des Moines, but also not too far from campus. It can be considered a decent alternative to Jethro’s, Paul Revere’s or Dogtown establishments, especially if you want to get a little farther off campus and experience a different crowd. For a special lunch, try Gusto Pizza Co. between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, for $7 one can receive a 7-inch pizza and a side salad, known as “Gusto Pronto.”