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Gran Gusto, Cambridge: the best Neapolitan pizza in Metro Boston

finlero Dec 5, 2007 06:48 AM

After a number of favorable reviews here and elsewhere, I finally had the opportunity to visit Gran Gusto in Cambridge.

The starters and pasta were very good, some of the better Campanian food I've had around town. And their rather sizable, mostly Italian wine list was surprisingly serious, featuring a number of Brunellos, Barolos, and the like in the $100 range, as well as plenty of value-oriented offerings well under $50.

But the pizza! Ohhhhhhhh, the pizza...

Whenever I try a new pizza place, I like to give a nod to the scientific method and order the same thing: a plain pizza margherita. Gran Gusto's was absolutely superb:

Sauce: bright and fresh, applied lightly and evenly.

Cheese: real buffalo mozzarella, again applied lightly, keeping a good balance.

But best of all, the crust: without a doubt the most wonderful crust I've encountered in the city. Astonishingly light and airy, clearly cooked in a blazing hot oven to build a thin, crisp exterior around the moist inside.

Finished with a nice amount of fresh basil, this pie was the real deal. At $12, not exactly a steal, but considering the quality of the ingredients, certainly not highway robbery either.

I've had some reasonable takes on Neapolitan-style pizzas around town. Antico Forno's is decent. Amelia's is Jekyll and Hyde, but fairly Jekyll on a good day. But nothing else I've tried in town can touch Gran Gusto. It has instantly become my go-to place in Boston for Neapolitan pizza.

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  1. DavisSquare RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 06:55 AM

    So I guess you liked it then :).

    1. hiddenboston RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 07:24 AM

      How does it compare to Regina's? If it's even close, I'm there, and soon!

      10 Replies
      1. re: hiddenboston
        finlero RE: hiddenboston Dec 5, 2007 10:53 AM

        Two very different things.

        I love Pizzeria Regina; it's certainly one of my favorite American-style pizzas in town. Good blend of cheese, great sauce, and a bready, chewy crust. Their pizza margherita is good, but it isn't Neapolitan; it's an American pizza crust with margherita toppings.

        Gran Gusto's pizza is much more Italian in style. This hinges on two things: a much, much lighter crust, and fresh, simple ingredients. I've seldom met a pizza I didn't like, but personally, I'd take a great Neapolitan pizza over an American one 4 times out of 5.

        1. re: finlero
          hiddenboston RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 11:28 AM

          Yeah, it's true about Regina's having a bit more of an East coast American crust than a traditional crust. I guess I was thinking more in terms of, which place would you rather go to for a margherita pizza, but I wasn't very clear about that (par for the course on my part!). Gran Custo is close to where I live, so I'll have to get there soon, perhaps to grab a pizza to go.

          You might like the pizza at the Pasta Market Cafe in Malden, as it is a true Neapolitan pizza with a light crust, fresh basil, sauce, and sliced mozzarella on top, slightly burned on the bottom, and about as simple a pizza as you'll find. I loved it when I tried it a few weeks ago.

          1. re: hiddenboston
            itaunas RE: hiddenboston Dec 5, 2007 11:38 AM

            Except that Gran Gusto is an actual wood-fired oven (a pretty small one), while Pasta Market is gas -- the gas oven its hard to get over 600F, wood can do over 800F easily. Finlero -- do you have any idea how long the bake was on the pizza? I have eaten at Gran Gusto twice, but didn't see any of the pizzas go by and we were wanting a lighter meal of main courses. Their wine list is great and its a great addition to the neighborhood. I was hoping for a few more secondi options and some small plates to go with the wine offerings, but they seem to be changing their menu fairly regularly. They also seem to be very accommodating to requests.

            1. re: itaunas
              finlero RE: itaunas Dec 5, 2007 11:43 AM

              No idea about specifics on the bake, but from the taste, I'm guessing it's short and extremely hot. The staff is nothing if not gregarious; I'm sure they'd be glad to tell you.

              As far as the margherita at GG vs Regina, personally it's no contest, definitely GG. But again, I love Regina for its more American-style pies.

              1. re: finlero
                hiddenboston RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 11:47 AM

                Wow, high praise indeed. And wood-fired ovens are a relative rarity in the Boston area (much more common in NYC). I'm liking the sounds of this more and more...

                1. re: finlero
                  itaunas RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 11:56 AM

                  I think Antonio would have let us bake our own pies if we had more time. :-) They had a smaller fire going at the time, but depending on the thermal mass of the oven, it still would have been quite hot. I had planned to go back again to specifically try the pies and drink wine, but your review makes kick myself that I didn't already order one and probably won't be able to go by there for a few weeks.

                  1. re: itaunas
                    finlero RE: itaunas Dec 5, 2007 11:58 AM

                    Oh man, it's all built up now! Still, definitely looking forward to hearing what you think.

            2. re: finlero
              b
              bella_sarda RE: finlero Dec 9, 2007 10:42 AM

              I have not tried Gran Gusto and I'm not trying to start an argument here, but I thought it should be pointed out that perhaps the more fair comparison would be between the GG margherita (which the OP says is in the Neapolitan style) and the Regina Neapolitan pizza, which is not the same as the Regina Margherita pizza. The former has a thinner crust, much less cheese, and is much more (dare I say it) authentically Neapolitan than their Margherita, which kind of makes sense!!

              1. re: bella_sarda
                finlero RE: bella_sarda Dec 9, 2007 11:18 AM

                Interesting, I didn't realize Regina had these two different options. Do they appear to use a different dough for the Neapolitan? Or do they just roll their standard dough more thinly?

                1. re: finlero
                  b
                  bella_sarda RE: finlero Dec 10, 2007 12:28 PM

                  My best guess would be that they just roll it more thinly. But that is just a guess. Time to go and sample the pies side by side!!!

          2. yumyum RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 07:35 AM

            Where is this magnificent pizza making machine?

            1 Reply
            1. re: yumyum
              gini RE: yumyum Dec 5, 2007 07:45 AM

              90 Sherman St
              Cambridge, MA 02140
              (617) 441-0400

              Here's more reviews:
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/460788

            2. Bob Dobalina RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 08:05 AM

              I wonder how that $100 Barolo would stand up to that pizza? ;)

              1. MC Slim JB RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 08:21 AM

                You know you're not keeping up with your to-try list when you realize a new place (Gran Gusto) has opened in at the location of another place you'd been meaning to try (Tartufo's at the Brickyard) but never got around to before it closed. Maybe Tartufo's was doomed by its misbegotten apostrophe -- or maybe it was run by a Mr. Tartufo?

                5 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB
                  hiddenboston RE: MC Slim JB Dec 5, 2007 09:59 AM

                  It's a pretty unfortunate spot for a restaurant, IMO. At least with Jose's (on the same street), the place is lit up enough so that you see it a few hundred feet beforehand. But the spot where Tartufo's used to be--and where Gran Gusto now resides--is nearly invisible, and is gone in a flash as you drive down the narrow Sherman Street, trying to avoid smashing into cars coming the other way.

                  1. re: hiddenboston
                    finlero RE: hiddenboston Dec 5, 2007 11:00 AM

                    Agreed, it doesn't have location location location, which was a big part of Tartufo's downfall. I thought Tartufo's food was great, much better than Trattoria il Pulcinella nearby, for example, but no one was ever in there.

                    When I went, Gran Gusto wasn't packed, but there was a steady stream of patrons, even on an off, chilly night, giving me hope that it will stay around awhile.

                    And to MC Slim JB:

                    > You know you're not keeping up with your to-try list...

                    I think I speak for all of us in saying that if there's one thing we hate about you, it's how little experience you have with the Boston restaurant scene.

                    1. re: finlero
                      MC Slim JB RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 12:15 PM

                      It is possible that I am somewhat limited by the places that are willing to accommodate my Jazzy Power Chair.

                      But it does seem like the pace of openings accelerated a bit this past year, or at least the ones I thought looked interesting enough to want to visit. In addition to a "hot list" of places I really want to try, I now maintain a "warm list" of places that I ought to try, but for some reason am not really excited about, and so know I'm not really likely to get to them soon unless forced to by a business obligation.

                      Example: Tavern on the Square. They're about to open a second location (old Rustic Kitchen, Porter Square), and I haven't eaten at the first one. And judging by the consistent reports of mediocrity here and elsewhere, I doubt I'm going to dine there before it closes and becomes something else. Likewise, I suspect it'll be a while before I dine at the Seaport Morton's on my own dime. Not fair, maybe, but I've got to do triage somewhere. I think it's a mistake to spend all your time trying new venues; there are too many pleasures in being a regular at a few favorites, too.

                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                        c
                        chilibaby RE: MC Slim JB Jan 1, 2008 06:13 PM

                        Agreed with YY. Tavern on the Square should go on the COLD list (both locations).

                        1. re: chilibaby
                          j
                          jajjguy RE: chilibaby May 20, 2008 07:02 PM

                          Seriously. Don't clutter your list.

                2. Luther RE: finlero Dec 5, 2007 05:05 PM

                  By "Neapolitan" do you mean it's small and you eat it with a fork and knife? Or just that it's softer and more charred than the "Neapolitan-American" NYC style? Anywhere famous in NYC you can compare to?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Luther
                    finlero RE: Luther Dec 5, 2007 06:18 PM

                    Somewhere between neither and a bit of both.

                    It is personal-sized, you can eat it with a fork and knife, and it is softer than what I've encountered in NYC. That said, I'm not much of a New York pizza expert.

                    Honestly, pretentiousness be damned, by Neapolitan, I meant it was extraordinarily reminiscent of pizza I've had in Napoli (and, more strangely, Bologna, but that's another story). Yes, it was served pre-sliced, but otherwise it seemed like it could have been beamed to my table from Southern Italy.

                  2. a
                    adams_jo RE: finlero Dec 7, 2007 11:23 AM

                    Right on. This pizza is a must try.

                    Just a comment on location though. On first glance, it seems like a bad/strange/unfortunate location for a restaurant. But....once you know about it and where it is, it is actually a pretty good location for the patron: (1) you can park in back for free, (2) in season there is seating outdoors in front of the restaurant, and (3) if you have kids there is a nice playground across the street.

                    1. s
                      smtucker RE: finlero Dec 7, 2007 11:47 AM

                      Planning an early Sunday dinner here following an annual Messiah outing. Anyone know the hours of operation?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: smtucker
                        MC Slim JB RE: smtucker Dec 7, 2007 11:50 AM

                        Per menupages.com:

                        Mon-Thu: 12pm-10pm
                        Fri-Sat: 4pm-11pm

                        Looks like closed Sundays.

                      2. g
                        Gabatta RE: finlero Dec 7, 2007 12:24 PM

                        Does anyone know if they serve alcohol? At least beer and wine?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Gabatta
                          Bob Dobalina RE: Gabatta Dec 7, 2007 12:45 PM

                          OP indicates yes.

                          1. re: Bob Dobalina
                            Sal Monella RE: Bob Dobalina Dec 9, 2007 06:17 AM

                            They definitely serve beer and wine.

                        2. p
                          Posenose RE: finlero Dec 9, 2007 11:04 AM

                          One of my pet peeves for some time now is the lack of good take-out pizza in Cambridge (with the exception of Armando's, which is good, but it would be nice to have another place to go.) Would this work for take-out pizza, do you think? Emma's crust, for example, is far too thin for take out-- by the time you get it home, it's cold and hard.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: Posenose
                            a
                            adams_jo RE: Posenose Dec 10, 2007 05:25 AM

                            Unlikely. The pizza cools off quickly b/c it's thin and not oozing with cheese. May be worth a try though...and I'm not sure if it could be reheated in an oven.

                            1. re: adams_jo
                              p
                              Posenose RE: adams_jo Dec 10, 2007 11:27 AM

                              Hmmm. Thanks. Any other suggestions for good take out pizza in Cambridge?

                              1. re: Posenose
                                DavisSquare RE: Posenose Dec 10, 2007 11:31 AM

                                You might try City Slicker Cafe in Somerville. It's a very different style of pizza with a short, tart-like crust, and it can sometimes be too greasy; we've had less than stellar pizzas the last couple of times we've gotten it. When it's on, though, it's fantastic. It's run by the people who used to own Urban Gourmet in Ball Square.

                                -----
                                City Slicker Cafe
                                588 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

                                1. re: Posenose
                                  finlero RE: Posenose Dec 10, 2007 12:58 PM

                                  Have you tried Village Kitchen, just down Huron from Armando's? The crust is thin, but they add a bit of olive oil to the dough, which has always kept things moist enough for my epic trek home to Somerville.

                                  Their pizza margherita is a sort of American/Italian hybrid. Thin crust, homemade sauce, fresh basil, but bagged mozzarella cheese. The result is a good pizza that can make a nice, if rather infrequent change of pace from Armando's.

                                  Incidentally, the rest of their menu is quite good. Homemade, fairly healthy soups, good entrees and pastas, a few good sandwiches. You can find better in town, but it's really a nice addition to the neighborhood.

                                  And I agree with DavisSquare; if you haven't tried the pizza from City Slicker, it's worth a go. Not for everyone (I love their entrees, but I'm not a tremendous fan of the pizza), but it's pretty excellent for what it is.

                                  1. re: finlero
                                    hiddenboston RE: finlero Dec 11, 2007 04:41 AM

                                    Village Kitchen....That's the Il Buongustaio folks, right? I used to love going to Il Buongustaio for pizza a few years back before they closed.

                                    1. re: hiddenboston
                                      finlero RE: hiddenboston Dec 11, 2007 05:56 AM

                                      Yes, exactly. Musical pizza: they moved from the old Emma's space, across the street to the old Real Pizza space.

                                      The pizza is the same as it was when it was Il Buongustaio, which is to say pretty good, if not quite as good as Armando's or Gran Gusto.

                                      1. re: finlero
                                        MB fka MB RE: finlero Dec 11, 2007 07:03 PM

                                        i never liked their pizza much when i lived in that 'hood, but some of their other cooking (side dishes/salads, esp.) highlights their north african roots. nice people for sure.

                                  2. re: Posenose
                                    Alcachofa RE: Posenose Dec 21, 2007 10:10 AM

                                    Depending on which side of town from Armando's you are, I would recommend Stella's in Watertown. I preferred it overall to Armando's (although I do like Armando's sauce).

                                    1. re: Alcachofa
                                      StriperGuy RE: Alcachofa Dec 31, 2007 01:29 PM

                                      I way prefer Stella's to Armando's. Honestly I just don't get why Armando's rates at all...

                                      1. re: StriperGuy
                                        Bob Dobalina RE: StriperGuy Jan 7, 2008 08:26 AM

                                        For me, it's the properly breaded and fried eggplant for pizza topping.

                              2. s
                                smtucker RE: finlero Dec 20, 2007 05:50 PM

                                With the kid home for the winter break, we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try the pizza at Gran Gusto. We stepped into the restaurant and the place was packed with extremely well-dressed people all carrying glasses of wine. Silver platters were being circulated by young waiters. Darn, they were closed for a private party!

                                The hostess explained that she would be unable to serve us, and we stepped outside. As we stood there at the entrance, deciding between Quindoa and Greek Corner as our back up plan, the owner rushed out to apologize. Of course, no apology was necessary, who can be angry that a new restaurant is packed on a Thursday night?

                                He asked us to return tomorrow, "or even the 23rd, a Sunday when we are never open." He then continued that he would be open on the 24th and perhaps even the 25th. I said, "you should be with your family on Christmas." He replied "the snow and my restaurant. That is my family."

                                Call to confirm, but it sounds as though Gran Gusto is a viable option during the holiday weekend.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: smtucker
                                  MC Slim JB RE: smtucker Dec 21, 2007 05:17 AM

                                  The host/owner is awesome, a very hospitable man. I hope that place does better than Tartufo.

                                2. b
                                  Bostonbob3 RE: finlero Dec 21, 2007 10:43 AM

                                  Is Gran Gusto owned by Tutto Italiano?

                                  That's what I heard, but don't know for sure.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Bostonbob3
                                    maillard RE: Bostonbob3 Dec 21, 2007 11:25 AM

                                    Looks like it: http://www.thetuttoitaliano.com/

                                    1. re: maillard
                                      b
                                      Bostonbob3 RE: maillard Dec 21, 2007 11:53 AM

                                      Heh. I guess I should have thought of that. (And I fancy myself a good googler).

                                  2. Aromatherapy RE: finlero Dec 31, 2007 12:51 PM

                                    THANK YOU. For the record, they are not open New Year's Day.

                                    1. Sgt Snackers RE: finlero Jan 5, 2008 10:12 AM

                                      Based on this rec, we tried the place a couple of nights ago for dinner ... though for some reason we weren't in a pizza mood, went for apps and pastas instead. Food was good but not great. Starter of wild boar sausage and cannellini beans was rich, meaty, very nice. Grilled calamari with mushrooms was just about perfect, wonderful texture -- though I found a quill in one of the squid (suggesting they could be fresh and cleaned at the restaurant). No big deal.

                                      Linguine with lobster fra diavolo was good, great lobster flavor although the meat was slightly overcooked. Tagliatelle alla bolognese was less exciting than I was hoping, pasta not quite al dente -- though this is hardly the most complex thing on an Italian menu, when done right it can be VERY good. I'd give it a 6/10. Service was good - 'gregarious' is a good adjective. Nobody told us about the specials but heard the waiter mention several to the next table.

                                      Nice wine list (mostly Italian, lots of Tuscan reds but leaning a bit too much towards chianti classico in my opinion). Don't recall if they had beer or not.

                                      Hmmm... I'd put the food below Sagra and Pulcinella, but this is not based on the pizza of course, which we'll definitely try the next time.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Sgt Snackers
                                        finlero RE: Sgt Snackers Jan 5, 2008 03:09 PM

                                        Interesting, but not surprising. On a recent visit to Gran Gusto, one of my more cynical friends ordered the gnocchi; at the end of the meal, when I asked him how it was, he smiled and said, "I've already forgotten."

                                        I'd say my own pasta experiences there have been closer to a 7/10 or 8/10 when grading on a reasonably chowish curve, but aside from the pizza (and perhaps the wine list), the only real standout I've had is the grilled calamari starter, simple, tangy, and light.

                                        Absolutely first rate Campanian-style pasta and secondi might be something of a rarity in Boston restaurants, but I think our status quo is actually pretty good. Having said that, with a little training, this stuff is so easy to cook at home that I seldom order it out. Either way, I wouldn't send people across town to Gran Gusto for anything except the pizza.

                                        1. re: finlero
                                          m
                                          monicall RE: finlero Jan 5, 2008 06:29 PM

                                          I dined at Gran Gusto last Thursday. My dining partner and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience. The bread was excellent, and I ate way more of it than I should have. The caesar salad was smothered in cheesy goodness. I had the eggplant lasagna which had a delicious and straight-from-the-garden tasting tomato sauce and my DP had the meat lasagna which was also very good. Next time we'll be trying the pizza, but we felt these offerings were quite worthwhile as well.

                                      2. b
                                        bear RE: finlero Jan 29, 2008 05:42 AM

                                        Does anyone know if Gran Gusto has a website?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: bear
                                          finlero RE: bear Jan 29, 2008 07:26 AM

                                          To my knowledge, the closest thing is Tutto Italiano's website:

                                          www.thetuttoitaliano.com

                                          And what the heck, let's link it to places.

                                          -----
                                          Gran Gusto
                                          90 Sherman St, Cambridge, MA 02140

                                        2. a
                                          abattoir RE: finlero May 20, 2008 08:23 AM

                                          we finally made it out to gran gusto last night. it was a comical evening. while i hope it was because the restaurant was significantly understaffed, the service was abominable.

                                          Walked in, were barely acknowledged, finally led to a table, seated and ignored for the next 10 minutes. finally bread and water were served. overhearing the 4 next to us complain that they had been there 30 minutes and had yet to receive their salads, we probably should have left, but did not.

                                          Another 5 minutes pass and the server asked if everything was okay?-- as in-- are you enjoying your meal. mind you, we had yet to be offered drinks, beyond water, or told the specials, if there were any. informed the server of this (strange since he was the only server) he promptly took our order : carpaccio, caesar, tagliatelle bolognese margherita pizza. we were told that the resto was out of buffalo mozza.

                                          food was fine. nothing to rave about. nothing to overtly criticize. the service was just so awful we could not help but get a laugh out of it. The meal also took over 2 hours-- not, mind you, as a result of us loitering and having a grand experience. Definitely would not go back. I would much rather go to Upper Crust or some other pizza joint.

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