People talk to me about food. Even before they know I run a food website. I think they just see a fat guy and think, “I bet this dude enjoys eating.”
Chris Shilling knows what I do, though. He’s even helped me eat my way through a restaurant for a review. So it was with all seriousness that he approached me about a brunch spot he didn’t feel was getting enough love.
It’s not like Pizzeria Gusto is unpopular. Far from it. On weekend nights, it’s not uncommon to find yourself waiting for a table. (Sneak next door for a quick drink at The Pump Bar, if you need to pass the time.)
But I don’t generally think of pizza for brunch. I think about pizza at every other time. Lunch. Dinner. Middle of the night. While showering. While showering in the middle of the night. Sometimes, mid-kiss, I pull away and look into the woman’s eyes and I think, “Pizza.”
Yeah, I’m single. Why do you ask?
At Chris’s urging, I grabbed a friend (the incomparable Nathan Gunter, managing editor of “Oklahoma Today”) and made my way to Gusto Sunday morning.
JUICY RUMOR: There’s talk Gusto might begin opening for Saturday brunches, too. Let us hold hands and pray for this to come true.
I am not a rich man, unless you’re one of those “You are what you eat” people, in which case, by the transitive properties of me eating a lot of rich foods, I have become rich myself.
What I’m trying to say is, eating food costs money. So I have to make choices. Hard choices. Not “Sophie’s Choice”-level choices, but still.
So when I look at Pizzeria Gusto’s brunch menu (sitting right beside the restaurant’s extremely good lunch and dinner menu, which you can also order during brunch), it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to get.
When it came to drinks, though, there was no choice. The Holy Maria! ($7) is a spicy Bloody Mary with calabrese pepper-infused vodka, olive juice, Sriracha and chili flakes. I didn’t find it particularly hot, but it was mighty tasty.
Nathan, blessed friend, decided to get the Gusto Benedict ($12) with crispy pork belly.
Every restaurant puts its own spin on benedicts and Gusto chose wisely to use focaccia as a base. It’s a fluffy, porous bread that is almost perfectly suited to soak up hollandaise and egg yolk. Diners can choose their protein. Smoked salmon, fried chicken, roasted mushrooms or crispy pork belly.
Nathan chose extremely correctly. The pork belly came in substantial slices, with a good fattiness that crisped up nicely. There’s a great smoky flavor, too, which is important going up against the richness of the eggs and sauce. Add in a pile of rosemary roasted potatoes and you’ve got a breakfast that’s both decadent and satisfying.
I am a sucker for grits. Oh, sorry, “polenta.” Which is fancy Italian for grits. So when I saw nduja sausage and polenta ($11), there wasn’t really a choice. Our server looked into my eyes and she knew.
I also said it out loud, just in case. I’m not going to mess around with telepathic ordering and end up getting a bowl of granola.
What came to the table was absolutely gorgeous in a haphazard kind of way. It’s hard to get too precise designing a bowl of grits, so you get that lovely “rustic” look.
The polenta is the base layer with dollops of nduja — a spicy, spreadable Calabrian pork sausage — and roasted peppers and onions spread on top. There’s fresh spinach, which wilts in between the polenta and the fried eggs on top.
While I’m usually a savory boy when it comes to grits, there’s a mild sweetness to the corn that I really dug. The peppers and onions caramelized, too, giving another burst of sweet and spice. Nduja had a lovely heat, but not one that sticks around long, especially with the fat from the egg yolks soaking into the dish.
There’s so much more on the menu. So much more. But while my heart cried out to get the short rib hash and the black pepper and Parmesan frittata and the fried chicken and biscuit and and and. Seriously, it’s a murderers row of brunch treats, in that eating all of them in one sitting would definitely kill me.
But we had to try something sweet, because it just seemed right. Also, who’s going to say no to a cornmeal lemon-ricotta waffle ($9) for the table? (Shout-out to Ian Karmel, father of “pancakes for the table,” the most baller of brunch moves.)
Much like in gnocchi, ricotta gives the waffles a pillowy quality that is impossible to resist. On top were fresh berries (blue, black, straw) and some sweet whipped butter. It probably didn’t need syrup, but I don’t need a bunch of Lego mini-figures. It doesn’t mean I don’t want them.