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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gusto, Alexander St.

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Somebody recently clued me in to Gusto, a small restaurant on Alexander St., in the same building that houses the Old Toad pub. I sort of knew there was a restaurant in there, but I'd never really paid it much attention.
It turns out, they offer pizza - eight different specialty pizzas. So off I went one day at lunchtime, with a couple of friends.
While I was sorely tempted by the Salame pizza (Genoa salami, homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella and marinated artichokes), I went with my usual default option, the Margherita, which was described as topped with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil.
It had a pretty thin crust, which was very crisp, and in fact downright dry. The edge was quite crunchy. There were some small round indentations here and there on the underside, suggesting that it had baked on a pan with those little nubs that I guess are supposed to help the crust get crisp by allowing steam to escape from underneath.
The crust on mine was not exactly crisp, but as I mentioned, it was a bit dry. It was not crackerlike, and the interior did display indications of a decent rise. This was not a dense crust, in fact it was on the airy side, but it was certainly more crunchy than chewy. The underside was browned, and I picked up just some slight toastiness in the flavor and aroma.
Judged as a Margherita, this wasn't world-class, but it wasn't bad. It was topped with stringy processed mozzarella and sprinkled grated cheese (parmesan, I think). The sliced tomatoes were pretty decent - they were sowewhat sweet, in contrast to some of the flavorless, pale things that pass for tomatoes at so many restaurants. In addition to the fresh tomatoes, the pizza was also topped with a moderate amount of sauce, which was welcome. The duo of fresh tomatoes and sauce helped balance out the dry crust. Topping it all off were some shreds of fresh basil, which appeared to have been added when the pizza came out of the oven (probably a good idea - if you add the basil before baking, it tends to just turn black and lose most of its flavor).
Gusto's other pizza offerings include polpetta (meatball), pepperoni, bianca (white), portabello, vegetale (veggie), and melanzana (eggplant) pies, as well as daily specials. One of my companions ordered that day's white pizza special - I don't recall what differentiated it from the regular white pizza on the menu - and based on my forkful I thought it was pretty good. It was brushed with olive oil, and fresh garlic was among the toppings. Bake anything with olive oil and garlic and it's going to taste good.
For whatever reason, that pizza was not as well done underneath as mine, nor did it seem as crunchy or dry. A combination of the olive oil and shorter baking time, perhaps.
I do wonder, though, about the crusts. After we ordered, my friend noticed an employee carrying a stack of what appeared to be frozen, or at least premade, pizza crust disks.  Gusto's menu also says that "all pizzas are available on white, wheat or gluten free crust." That leads me to think that they're using some sort of premade crusts. I don't say that in an accusatory way, it's just an observation.
If you're not in the mood for pizza, Gusto, which opens at 8:30 on weekdays, also serve breakfast, and the rest of the menu includes soups, salad, panini, pasta (after 5 p.m.), and desserts. It's also a pleasant space, with high ceilings and windows that give it a bright, airy feel.
As for the pizza, it had some pluses and some minuses, but on the whole it was pretty good. The dry, overly crunchy crust was the biggest negative for me, but the overall flavor was good, and as I mentioned, the tomatoes and sauce helped balance out the crust. Judging by my friend's white pizza, my dry crust may also not have been typical of Gusto's pies. So while it didn't transport me to pizza heaven, I did like it, and I'll give it an above-average B.
Gusto, 277 Alexander St. 232-7810
Mon. - Thu. 8:30 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. Closed Sundays except for private parties.

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