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Questions about Highland Kitchen & Gran Gusto

I'll be taking a friend out for a casual birthday dinner and he's narrowed it down to these two. We haven't been to either yet. If it's Gran Gusto, I plan to finally try their pizza, but I don't see any desserts on their menu. Do they have any? If so, what do you recommend? Also, I was thinking of the eggplant parmigiana as an appetizer. Has anyone had this?

At Highland Kitchen, has anyone had the mac & cheese? Is it soupy or more the baked, crusty kind? Would a double order be about the right size for an entree? Again, didn't see any dessert or cocktail menus. Do they have them? Any recs?

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  1. The one thing I know for sure is that Highland Kitchen has cocktails, and damn good ones too. I've had a few and they've all been well crafted, especially their None but the Brave, made with dark rum, cognac and allspice dram.

    I'm pretty sure they have desserts at both, but I'm not 100% sure--haven't had any.

    1. We order the mac & cheese for our toddler on every visit to Highland Kitchen. It's definitely of the baked, creamy variety, neither crusty nor soupy, and is perfect for her. Not sure I'd order it as an entree, even a double, but that's just me.


      1. note that highland kitchen is more likely to be loud and crowded, gran gusto quiet and sedate. i really like the pizza at gran gusto, but our last dinner there was a real dud, so i'd go with highland kitchen, myself.

        1. Gran Gusto definitely has desserts, which tend to be pretty authentically Italian, which is to say quite good, but understated and not overly sweet. They make a great chocolate almond cake (not iced, more of a coffee cake kind of thing), as well as an excellent tiramisu. Never had a bad dessert here, but know it's more about doing the basics well, as opposed to blazing a trail.

          The eggplant parm is, again, a real Neapolitan take on the dish. Very good, particularly because their red sauce is one of my favorites in town, probably second only to Pomodoro. I'm not a huge eggplant parm fan, but I like GG's about as well as any I've had.

          The two restaurants are really strikingly different. I think Highland Kitchen feels more classically celebratory for a birthday. Very good cocktails, terrific jukebox, and a generally young and hip clientele. While we Americans have brought Italian food into our country and made it our own, Gran Gusto strikes me as more of an ethnic restaurant, much in the same category in my head as Baraka Cafe and Floating Rock.

          1. Gran Gusto is not sedate, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. The decor is very colorful, the staff is very friendly--ok, one of the waiters very spontaneously kissed me as I left once, but I do speak Italian--and the noise level is just high enough but not too high. They make a big fuss for birthdays, you might call ahead so that they can prepare something. The cuisine is very authentic, nicely presented. Some very good wines (Dolcetto, Barbera) reasonably priced. My favorite appetizer is the beef carpaccio with artichokes; the pasta dishes are very good, the pizzas are very simple, very light--I would certainly go there for a birthday celebration.

            1. I've only been to Gran Gusto and I think it would be a wonderful birthday choice, although there may be a wait on the weekends. Not sure if they take reservations. But their pizza is very tasty. And I love their special cheese appetizer. I forget what it's called, but it's the center of fresh mozzarella and it's amazing. I had it with proscuitto, but it can come as a salad or with bread. I think it's an option as a white pizza too. It's not always available, but be sure to get it if it's on the menu. And their ricotta pie is so good. Subtle, but well executed.

              1 Reply
              1. re: makonna

                The fresh cheese is called stracciatella, and I agree it's awesome. Tastes like something in between just-made mozzarella and a plate of fresh cream. Particularly good served with speck and their homemade bread.

                Apparently they overnight it from Southern Italy, which means it's about as fresh as you can find here. The bad news is it's not always available.

              2. Thanks, everyone. My friend chose Highland Kitchen. We went tonight (Sunday) at 8:00, and it was busy, but we were seated right away. He asked for the one open booth, which I thought for sure they'd say was reserved for parties of 3 or more, but they gladly gave it to us. The service continued to be good and friendly throughout the meal.

                I had an Elderflower Margarita (a margarita with St. Germain liqueur instead of Cointreau), which was just like the one I make at home: a winner! I wish their cocktail menu had some more gin, brandy and rum-based drinks on it.

                My favorite dish of the night was my appetizer, the sweet potato leek soup, rich and flavorful, although not quite as great as the potato leek soup at Greet Street. I then had a double order of mac & cheese (it's a side). it was thick (not soupy, thankfully) with bread crumbs. Not sublime, but very good. It would have been better with less pepper. It had onions in it, which was a nice flavor addition.

                For dessert we shared the banana bread pudding. I Ioved the first two bites. It was hot (as was all the food here), and the moist sweetness of the bread was great with the rich vanilla ice cream it came with. After that, though, it became too sweet for me. I don't know if it was the caramel sauce, or if the bread itself had molasses in it. Also, the custard part was under the bread, not integrated. And there's my usual dessert complaint of giving only three bites of ice cream for a 12-bite dessert. This was the only dish I didn't finish. Now I wish I'd had the brownie sundae, but if bread pudding is on the menu, I can't resist trying it.

                DC had the caesar salad and the pulled pork sandwich with fries. His review, "Good bar food." (Warning: they put the cole slaw IN the sandwich.)

                I was looking forward to the juke box, but the music sounded very muddy. Maybe it was the way it combined with the din, or maybe bad accoustics. Overall I thought the place had a nice vibe, though. As others have said, not a destination, but if I lived in the 'hood, I'd go back. Same friend is going to take me to Gran Gusto next month for my birthday, so none of your recs on that have gone to waste.

                EDIT: Two more things I like about this place: 1) the free parking lot in back, 2) the prices ($40 before tip for 2 apps, 2 entrees, 1 dessert and 1 cocktail).

                5 Replies
                1. re: pollystyrene

                  THANK-YOU pollystyrene - for MONTHS I've been saying that the Mac & cheese was way peppery at HK and no one has agreed with me. (It was delicious otherwise).

                  I feel so vindicated, you made my week! (Clearly, with me, it's the small things)

                  1. re: heathermb

                    Well, obviously our palates are working at a higher level than those of all the other mac & cheese-heads. It is delicious otherwise. In fact, it's probably my favorite one right now. I can't say I've really liked the versions at Green Street, Parish, or Redbones, and I'm still searching for one that will make me swoon. Have you tried the m&c at Picco or Figs? I know Zon's is well thought of, but it's too far away for me.

                    I'm glad to have made your week. That was easy!

                    1. re: pollystyrene

                      I've not had Figs but I have had Picco and it's pretty amazing. A friend and I ate there last week and she had the Mac & Cheese with bacon. Three bites in she looks up and says "Do you know what would make this better?......Nothing!!"

                      1. re: heathermb

                        I couldn't ask for a better endorsement than that. Thanks! I guess Blumie will have to add a little pepper to his Picco mac & cheese.

                    2. re: heathermb

                      Although I have not had it, the fact that there are those who describe it as "too peppery" make me REALLLY wanna try HK's mac 'n' cheese!