Owner and head cook Colin Lagos. Photo: Melissa Adams
If you haven't eaten at Pizza Gusto, either in Red Hill or Braddon, you may be wondering why we're reviewing what is really a takeaway with basic sit-down facilities. If you want to eat in, you take your pizza box to a table, grab a napkin and pay $1 for a glass to drink your BYO out of, and that's it.
But if you have eaten there, perhaps you won't wonder. The reason Pizza Gusto deserves discussion is because it produces great pizza, and because it is part of a general loosening up in Canberra eating that is good for all of us.
Gleaming stemware, tablecloths and muted music are all very well, but this is not the type of experience you want every night, quite apart from the impact on the wallet and the waistline. Civilised food culture means that the food you get on the street - or just off it in this case - is just as exciting (dare I say sometimes more exciting) than the plated-up culinary works of art delivered indoors. In the past 15 years, pizza in Australia has started to come of age, or perhaps I should say has started returning to its roots. At its best, pizza one of the simplest, most balanced, and easy-to-eat foods there is, and it is good for you.
Pizza at Gusto, simple and good. Photo: Melissa Adams
There is still plenty of the ''mega meat, cheese-stuffed crust, every order comes with two litres of coke'' stuff about, but there's more good pizza too. Served as it is in its home, Naples, pizza is blistered dough, with a few clean and assertive toppings (perhaps just tomato and a dollop of fresh ricotta) folded in two and eaten in one hand.
Its crisp, singular simplicity is a revelation, which you either love, or think a bit dull.
The rise of decent pizza, better coffee, and all sorts of more relaxed and authentic eating in Canberra is making the city a more exciting place to live.
With two shops now, husband and wife owners Colin Lagos and Ailsa Franklin-Browne have decided to just do one thing, and do it properly - pizza. It is hard to talk about Gusto without talking about the new life creeping all the way up and down Lonsdale and Mort Streets in Braddon. The car repair joints, bike and adventure gear shops are now well interspersed with good places to eat and drink, as well as dress and design shops and galleries.
Building on a food tradition started by Cornucopia bakery and O'Stratos Greek Taverna, the Trimboli family has settled in at the bottom of the street with their funky Italian and Sons, with a more causal place soon to open around the corner. Relative newcomer Lonsdale Street Roasters has really added some life to the street with the best coffee in Canberra and great cafe food. They are about to open a second place right next to Gusto.
But to the pizza: dough is a critical part of real pizza, much more than just a vehicle for too many toppings. At Gusto it is triple proved, to give it extra lightness. Made with extra virgin olive oil, fresh yeast and flour, the dough rises and is punched down several times, leaving the yeast almost exhausted by the time it reaches the oven.
Also the wood oven is critical, with really high temperatures essential to get the flavour and texture just right. The Gusto oven sits at more than 400C. A capricciosa ($19) features a smear of good tomato, thinly sliced ham and mushroom, and a little artichoke, which adds a lovely savoury edge to this comforting flavour combination. Patate ($17) is a white pizza (no tomato) with very thinly sliced pontiac potatoes, mozzarella, garlic, oil, sea salt and rosemary. In both, the base is crisp and thin, slightly blistered at the edges, with real substance. No crusts are left over here, as the dough is one of the highlights. All the pizzas are 33 centimetres, and have eight slices, enough to feed two if you aren't really hungry.
The arrabbiata, with good calabrese salami and chilli on top of the regular tomato and mozzarella, is once again simple and clean with a decent chilli hit. If you want more on top, there's a supreme, with salami, ham, pineapple, mushrooms, vegies and olives and the excellent Gusto has freshly shaved prosciutto and rocket over bocconcini and tomato.
A handful of calzones ($13-$14) or outside-in pizza (topping inside the crust) provide variety and a smaller option.If you must have dessert, a salty pizza base topped with nutella (chocolate and hazelnut spread) is the only option, and it is a good one.
A tiny selection of Italian soft drinks, and mineral water, are available with plastic cups and the bottle shop next door provides BYO. A wine glass costs $1 to hire and the owner Colin Lagos will tell you all about the pizzas, between pulling them out of the oven, if you want to know.
You can book one of the four little tables inside, and in summer an outside spot.
Don't go to Gusto if you want service, dozens of options or a wine list. Do go if you want simplicity and quality.
That's what Pizza Gusto does, and does well. One word of warning - the place is so dim inside and out that it's not easy to find; even standing right in front of the place, you might wrongly conclude it's closed. Persist. It's open, just under the radar.
Summary: Pizza Gusto is focused on one thing, good wood-fired pizza, made simply with high-quality ingredients and a minimum of fuss. It does the job very well. An absolute favourite.
Wine list: n/a
Value for money: 3/5
HOW WE SCORE
11 something went wrong. 12 not so great tonight. 13 fine for a cheap and cheerful, not so for a place that aspires to the top end. 14 good. 15 really good. 16 great, when can we move in. 17-20 brilliant. The stars are a quick reference to the key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score out of 20.
Catriona Jackson is director of communications and external liaison at the Australian National University and a food writer.
- 02 6257 7508
- Cuisine - Italian
- Prices - Pizzas under $20
- Features - BYO
- Chef(s) - Colin Lagos
- Owners - Colin Lagos and Ailsa Franklin-Browne
- Cards accepted - Cash
- Opening Hours - Wednesday to Sunday, 5pm to 9pm
- Seats - 16 inside, and 40 outside (during daylight saving)
- Author - Catriona Jackson