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Gran Gusto: big crowds, and a pizza that actually trumps the margherita

I'm happy and I'm sad, the word is out on Gran Gusto.

On the heels of MC Slim JB's piece last December in the On the Cheap column (http://thephoenix.com/Boston/Food/536... ), Robert Nadeau wrote a review that was published last week in the main restaurant review column (http://thephoenix.com/Boston/Food/676... ).

The effect was perceptible: the place was jam packed this weekend. They've been steadily hiring to keep up with the bigger crowds, but there's now a sense of controlled (sometimes barely controlled) chaos I've never seen before.

The good news is that so far anyway, the chow is as good as, maybe better than ever. Just as Nadeau's column says, the pasta dishes that were good last year are now great, and the desserts are actually worth having. I'll add that it's one of the only restaurants I know where the nightly specials are actually, you know, special (highlights from the past few months: pan-fried halibut in saffron butter over garlicky spinach, grilled baby octopus and broccoli rabe, any pasta dish with fresh vegetables).

But my new love on the regular menu: the tartufata pizza. It's essentially their already devastatingly good pizza margherita with black truffles added, both baked into the pizza, then shaved fresh on top.

For selfish reasons [I'm something of a curmudgeon who loves great food, but often hates crowds], I'm sad that the secret is out. But I couldn't wish success on a worthier restaurant, and for equally selfish reasons, I'm thrilled that it looks like my go-to Italian restaurant will be sticking around for a while.

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  1. I would very much like to try Gran Gusto, but can't seem to get a clear picture on where it's located. Most times I'm traveling by the T. Is it within walking distance of Harvard Square?

    12 Replies
    1. re: Pegmeister

      It's across from Danehy Park, a 15-20 minute walk from the Porter Square T:

      http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&amp...

      1. re: finlero

        you can also take the 83 out of porter square. get off at rindge ave and reed street, cross the street, turn right, and sherman street will be on your left

        1. re: galangatron

          The point, unfortunately, is that the restaurant location is poor for direct access by the MBTA and it is otherwise squirreled away in a non-descript office-ish looking building, hidden in a mostly residential area of North Cambridge. While I feel finlero's pain on crowds ("Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded." - Y. Berra), this is a notoriously isolated location that has seen at least one other decent restaurant fail (Tartufo). It's even harder to get there from Mass. Ave. currently, since the most direct turn-off, Walden Street, is STILL blocked for re-construction of the railroad bridge. If you are driving north on Mass. Ave., careful your Google map does not send you that way if you do point-to-point directions. You'll have to go down to Rindge like the bus.

          1. re: Bob Dobalina

            It's not a bad bike ride from downtown..:) and worth getting there by whatever means necessary.

        2. re: finlero

          Or a 10-15 minute walk from Davis. Head down Day or Chester, cross Mass Ave. to Rindge, to Sherman.

          1. re: Aromatherapy

            She's a fast walker! You can also take the 74 or 78 bus up Concord - Get off at Walden (might be able to go further, but that means walking through the park, Walden is fine) turn right on Walden, left on Sherman. Quick walk!

          2. re: finlero

            FWIW, I thought the Walden St Bridge was still available for pedestrians if coming from Mass Ave (note from the Red line Porter stop, Upland is just as convenient -- just cross over to Walden when you get to the small park). I haven't been on foot in at least a month, but I did actually go across it after cars were blocked off.

            Red Line: would suggest taking Upland (and a good option for cars), turn right at the 3-way stop and small park. Mass Ave Buses: the Rindge Ave option, walking down Pemberton (Mass Ave/Rindge intersection) or most likely Walden is still fine.

            You can also take the Concord Ave buses out of Harvard for a slightly shorter walk (about equal with Rindge). Quicker if you go one stop past Walden and cut across the ballpark below Danehy.

            Its possibly a shorter walk from Alewife than Porter across Danehy Park if you know where you are going (details on request in private email so the mods don't bounce me). However, adding the additional T time and making sure you reckon the right ways, Porter is probably the better subway option.

            1. re: itaunas

              All this talk of walking sounds great going out, but just terrible coming back after. ;-)

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                Go with a friend! Easy walks with someone!

              2. re: itaunas

                the bridge is open to pedestrians. walked over it about a week ago.

                1. re: itaunas

                  I used to live halfway between Gran Gusto and the Alewife station and I think it's a very easy walk between the two - probably 10-15 minutes through very quiet and cute neighborhoods. I wouldn't go through Danehy Park though when the neighborhoods next to Rindge Ave are so pleasant.

                  I'm so excited that Gran Gusto's getting so much attention! I really hope they continue to thrive!

                  1. re: cambridgejen

                    Thanks for all the info on location. I don't mind a 15-20 minute walk at all!

            2. Gran Gusto is my Italian restaurant too--it feels more Italian than any other--BUT the Saturday before last the pizza came to us soggy, gasp!, and the thin veal piccata slices were tough. I didn't say anything because my non chowish DC already teases me about food, but I thought they should know that if they are attracting discerning patrons, they had better not let things like that happen, whether it's a busy Saturday night or not. They may be hiring new servers, but those two particular crimes were committed in the kitchen....

              I love the place, and want it to succeed.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cassis

                I'm sorry to say that I agree with cassis. We went a few months ago with great expectations and were also greeted with soggy pizza that was burnt on the edges. How this was achieved I do not know......all I know is we are hesitant to return.

                1. re: Science Chick

                  I have to say re the pizza, obviously what happened is that after its 4 minute blast at 800o, or whatever, it sat and waited for the veal (we asked for them to come together). Otherwise their pizza is light, fresh, delicious. But it's their apps that shine: I've only had the squid salad and the carpaccio but both were perfect: simple, fresh, perfectly seasoned and composed. Give them another try on a quieter evening, I'm going back Wednesday!

              2. While friendly enough, the service at GG is inconsistent and often painfully slow. Let's hope that the recent crowds don't put even more pressure on the service. I hope they do well, but think that this spike may be a short lived bump from the recent review. The location is just too out of the way for most to find or go to regularly.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Gabatta

                  They were doing just fine on a late-summer Monday night before the review. I think they get a lot of neighborhood people.

                2. It's nice to hear that they're doing so well, especially given their status as my current favorite pizza in Boston. I'm quite partial to the Diavola, but the tarufata sounds decadent as well.