Once again, a shout out to my friend Jeff "Burph" Versteegh for turning me onto a new pizza restaurant in Des Moines - Gusto Pizza Company. Located on Ingersoll Ave. just west of the downtown area (see map), Gusto Pizza opened earlier this year and offers a number of signature pizzas, eclectic beers, and other offerings in a modern urban industrial setting. I stopped in one cool early spring evening to have a pizza at Gusto Pizza Company, hoping that Burph didn't steer me wrong.
The history of Gusto Pizza dates further back a couple three years with a popular pizza place over by Drake University by the name of Frank's Pizza. In a little over two years of business, owner Tony Lemmo (who also owns the upscale gourmet Cafe di Scala in Des Moines) had a good following of people for his gourmet style of pizzas. But many people complained that parking around the University Ave. pizza joint was a pain in the butt. Lemmo and co-owner Justin Gross announced that Frank's would shut down while they looked for a new building.
Gross was an attorney by trade and after Frank's closed he went back to practice law full-time. Lemmo, in the meantime, hooked up with two friends - Joe McConville and Josh Holderness - who had extensive experience in the restaurant business. In 2010, they formed the partnership that would open Gusto Pizza Company in early 2011.
Armed with the old oven - as well as the same sauce and dough recipe - from Frank's Pizza, Lemmo, McConville and Holderness came up with a number of diverse and interesting pizzas to put on their menu. Their signature pizzas include such interesting toppings as pears, dried figs, goat cheese, skirt steak, bean sprouts, spicy Thai peanut sauce, and beef brisket.
Open until 10 p.m. through the week (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 9 p.m. on Sunday), I pulled into the parking lot along side Gusto Pizza Company a little after arriving in Des Moines around 9 p.m. that evening. I went into the restaurant and there were, maybe, four or five other people that were in the place. A number of flat screen televisions were on the walls - some of them were tuned to sports, but one of them above the bar area had a classic black and white movie playing from the Turner Classic Movies network.
The main menu for Gusto Pizza Company is located above the beer cooler full of interesting beers, some from obscure microbreweries around the Midwest. In addition to pizzas, Gusto Pizza Company also offers a menu for sandwiches, a couple pasta entrees, salads and appetizers. Like Gusto's pizza, most of the items on their food menu is made from scratch.
If you're a regular reader of Road Tips, I'm not a very adventurous person when it comes to ordering pizza. The idea of dried figs, spicy Thai peanut sauce and bean sprouts doesn't sound all that appealing to me. So for guys like me who aren't willing to try one of their signature pizzas, they have a "make-your-own" menu of toppings to put on either a 10" or 14" pizza (7" personal pizzas are also available that are served with a side salad for $7). And like many good pizza restaurants around the Des Moines area, Gusto Pizza Company uses Italian sausage from Graziano Brothers meat market. It's some of the best Italian sausage I've ever had. I ordered a 10" pizza with Italian Sausage, Pepperoni and mushrooms.
However, when it came to what kind of beer to order, I was a little confused and undecided what to get. Even though they show that they have Budweiser products on their beer menu, they didn't have any that night. The only beer they had that I recognized as a main stream American beer was Schlitz. And I'm not too certain as how main stream Schlitz really is. The guy who took my order at the counter asked what kind of beer I liked and I told him that I was more of a pale ale kind of guy.
He pulled out a bottle from a brewery in Knoxville, IA - Peace Tree Brewing Company's Hop Wrangler India Pale Ale. When he was telling me about it - very hoppy and had a good forward taste - I remembered a friend of mine telling me last year about a new brewery in Knoxville. I immediately wanted to try it. Actually, it was very good.
While there were numerous seats and tables open, I decided to sit at the bar to be able to watch a little television and to have a good look into the still busy kitchen area. Gusto Pizza Company does a brisk carry-out business, similar to the type of business Frank's Pizza used to do when it was in business.
When the pizza came out, I was ready for another Hop Wrangler IPA. The guy who brought the pizza out asked me if I liked the beer. "Yeah, I do," I said. "I heard this brewery down in Knoxville was pretty good."
The pizza, itself, was a hand-tossed crust with a liberal amount of toppings. The mushrooms were absolutely fresh and had a great taste to them. The pepperoni was salty and went great with the beer. And even though I do like Graziano Brothers Italian sausage, Gusto Pizza Company uses the ground up style Italian sausage. Although it wasn't a deal breaker, it was still somewhat disappointing to have a pizza with ground sausage.
But the crust was chewy and held up very well with all the toppings, sauce and fresh mozzarella on top. The tomato sauce had a good sweet and tangy taste to it. While I can't quite call it a great pizza, I thought the pizza at Gusto was very good.
One of the guys working behind the counter came over and was asking me how the pizza was. I told him that it was very good - it was, other than the ground sausage. But that's just my tastes and expectations. We got to talking about the interesting beers they offered at Gusto Pizza and it turned out the guy I was talking to was Josh Holderness, one of the partners. He told me that his goal was to eventually have over 60 percent of their beers they offer come from Iowa breweries. "We try to support a lot of the local businesses as our food and drink sources. There are some good beers being made around Iowa. We'd like to include many of them as we can."
I asked him if he was familiar with the brewery in Newton - Madhouse Brewing Company - and the one in Davenport - Great River Brewery. He said that he was familiar with the one in Newton, but not the one in Davenport. He said, "Like you, I like a good forward and hoppy beer. The one from Newton (Past Time Pale Ale) is a little too sweet for me. I mean, it's good. But I don't like beers where you can taste some sweetness along with the hops."
I told him to see if he could find some of the Great River Brewery's 483 Pale Ale. It's a very forward tasting American pale ale - more hoppy than you'd find with most American pale ale's. He said he try to get over to Eastern Iowa at some point to try some. I may just have to bring him in a six pack on my next visit.
I asked Josh when they had opened for business and he said it was late January. I do have a rule that I don't go into restaurants for the first three months they're opened, but I wasn't disappointed in the pizza in the least. Well, maybe save for the ground sausage which reminds me of Quad City-style pizza, which is not very good. But Graziano Brothers Italian sausage is so fresh and flavorful that I can look past that. Josh was telling me that as soon as the weather got better, they had a number of outdoor tables and chairs coming and would open up the patio area for dining. That would be a nice touch.
While I'm a little more partial to the pizzas at traditional Des Moines pizza places like Chuck's, The Tavern, and Noah's Ark, there's no doubt that the freshness of the toppings on the Gusto Pizza are top notch. The sauce and crust were very good. Burph hardly ever steers me wrong and Gusto Pizza Company was no exception.