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Food Dude

Oct 13 , 2011
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And the Ultimate Pizza winner is… Gusto Pizza!

By Jim Duncan

Co-owner Joe McConville takes The Stallion out of the oven at Gusto Pizza, 1905 Ingersoll Ave., Suite 106, 24-GUSTO. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.

Pizza has been part of Des Moines’ dining scene since Noah Lacona started serving them in 1947. For most of the time since then, people have been arguing about who made the best pies, with no clear verdict. After all, food arguments are necessarily subjective. Every human has a unique combination of 2,000 to 8,000 “taste buds,” each of which can be more or less sensitive from one person’s tongue to another’s. Seeking a consensus to settle this pressing issue, Cityview followed up last year’s Ultimate Sandwich Tournament with an Ultimate Pizza Challenge. More than 4,000 votes were cast for their favorite sandwich. More than twice that number of votes were cast this year, demonstrating just how passionately people feel about pizza.

We planned on starting off with 32 pizzerias but couldn’t discipline ourselves. We ended up with 42, and we still heard from several folks who were upset we hadn’t included their favorite place.

During each round of voting, we also received a large number of gripes from people who just couldn’t believe their favorite pizzeria had been outvoted. In the first round, the leader received nearly twice as many votes as the runner-up. They did that with just 9.8 percent of the vote. That means that more than nine out of every 10 voters voted for someone else. Maybe that’s why no one had ever tried to do this before — it’s inevitable that any result will piss off far more people than it will please.

The next three rounds of voting produced different leading vote getters. By the time two finalists were selected, Pagliai’s and Gusto had stepped up their “get out the vote” campaigns. My check at Pagliai’s last week came with a bar code — to scan my vote with a smart phone. Gusto was offering to distribute free pies at Nollen Plaza if they won.

Free pizza outsmarted the smart phone. Gusto came from behind in the final 12 hours to win. Though names of their pies reach back to the Roman Empire and the Renaissance for inspiration, Gusto is the most “new fashioned” pizzeria in town. Partner Tony Lemmo, a grandson of Noah Lacona, also owns Café di Scala, paragon of Italian slow food. Though Gusto is definitely a pizzeria, unusual touches of elegance are applied — cannoli are otherworldly good, with scratch made ricotta fillings from a local dairy; soups of the day are made with scratch stocks; their beer list is cutting edge. In another nod to contemporary tastes, vegan mozzarella and gluten-free crusts are offered.

Superb slow foods like La Quercia prosciutto find their way on to pies — with pears, marinated figs, blue cheese, and mixed fresh greens on “Il Figaro” for instance. Though Lemmo has sworn he will never serve a “de Burgo” dish at Café di Scala, Gusto makes “de Burgo” pies with shrimp, Roma tomatoes, two cheeses, and the iconic basil and garlic sauce of Des Moines. Slow roasted chicken featured in three of the most popular pizza as well as on the fusion “Thai Kwon Dough.” Seasonal specials I enjoyed included a “Harry Caray” pie with Niman Ranch brats and brown mustard sauce, plus chives, onions, parsley and a mix of cream cheese and goat cheese. Another featured rillettes, arugula, truffle oil and Tallegio, a legendary smear-ripened cheese.

A single pasta dish, Lou Ann Lemmo’s lasagna, was served in a marvelous marinara that perfectly complemented its three cheeses. Sandwiches were as classic and inventive as pies. Salads delivered fresh greens and five homemade Italian style dressings. Garlic-fennel vinaigrette stood out at what is now officially Des Moines’ Ultimate pizzeria.

Side Dishes

Prairie Meadows Chef Patricia Weidner won the Iowa Restaurant Association’s “Top Chef” prize for the second year in a row. Aaron King (Dos Rios, Catering DSM and Big City Burgers & Greens) placed second. CV

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