Sunday, April 17, 2011

Five Miles to Gusto or No Eats till Spartacus

After a particularly harried workday, I resolved to take a bar crawl out from E. 30th over by the Fairgrounds, slowly making my way home downtown, bar by bar. It’s not a trek that I haven’t done before, but in buzzed state that night I kept up the long march to a tasty conclusion.

Jumping off the No. 1 bus, my immediate destination was the Main Gate Bar & Grill on the corner of E. 30th & University, a neighborhood bar which I’ve frequented since the 80s. The Main Gate has had its share of owners over the years and I’d pretty much written it off when it had became a racing-motif joint.

That dark period has long passed and now the Main Gate caters to a biker crowd along with the plethora of folks from the neighborhood and beyond. The Main Gate has live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Main Gate also offers up sandwiches, fryer food, and on weekend mornings they serve up biscuits and gravy which boast a well-seasoned, peppery white sauce loaded with sausage [see blog post].

On this occasion I opted for Jim Beam and a draw of Michelob Amber Bock while I unsuccessfully tried to help a fellow patron place a classified ad with my iPod Touch.

Nursing a bottle of San Pellegrino I started my trek west, making my next stop at the East 25th Street Pub, a half-block north of Grand. Bellying up to the bar, I instantly struck up conversation with a friendly biker. I spotted an unopened Jim Beam Black and ordered up a well-poured glass of that.

Aside from the big-ass 22 oz. bottles of Bud offered here, the “Pub” also serves up some big-ass sandwiches. A crowd favorite is the enormous Italian sausage patty sandwich, but burgers, cheese-steaks, and sandwiches feature prominently on their menu. Being a Grinder fan, the sausage patty holds no appeal to me, but it is fun to watch it being made. Definitely grab a stool near the grill to enjoy the labor involved.

Next stop was at Ron’s Dawg House on E. University, across the street from the Anderson Erickson dairy cows. Lucking on happy hour I enjoyed dollar draws of Amber Bock and Fat Tire.

Avoiding the lure of Taco John’s, I scooted down Hubbell to Stranded by the Tracks, a little hole-in-the-wall cinder block joint across the street from Leachman Lumber. Yet another bar that’s changed hands, and names, over the years. Here I slowly quaffed a huge 24 oz. can of Budweiser while conversing with one of the regulars.

After leaving, I realized that making further pit stops at Ellis Island or Kelly’s Little Nipper, would have put me past a point of inebriation I would not have been comfortable with. So I focused solely on the walk, with the occasional illicit pee break, in anticipation of whatever repast I would snag upon crossing the river.

Along the way I had the notion of walking the extra mile to Gusto Pizza for a nosh. Gusto Pizza opened recently on Ingersoll, a block east of M.L. King, to much anticipation and fanfare, mainly to the power of social media marketing, and the reputation of their earlier incarnation as Frank's Pizza in Dogtown.

Walking down Grand. The faux sounds of raptors piped from the Principal Group's rooftops to scare away crows fill me with unease.

Gusto and their pizza quickly became a favorite among dominant culture’s hip crowd, while sparking a renewed interest in pizzas served around the Metro: both fresh new tastes and familiar family favorites.

Usually shunning what’s new and exciting, I figured enough time and hoopla had passed for me to give Gusto a try. Also, a raging booze-fueled hunger didn’t hurt.

I pretty much had my mind made up on what I to order: the famous Spartacus, with red sauce, Graziano's locally made Italian sausage, julienned slices of pepperoni, mozzarella, pickled banana peppers and sliced cremini mushrooms. With a limonata in the belly fueling my need for solids, I also ordered Meatball Skewers for starters.

The meatballs were decadently good; firm, flavorful, and meaty. I could never get enough of these balls in my mouth. The bed of red sauce was of particular note. It had the texture of slow-cooked tomatoes with notes of paste to round the flavor and bind the sauce: very rustic and conservatively spiced. My one lament was not having the sauce in a dipping bowl so I could easily slurp up the dregs.

Expecting something exotic I was pleasantly surprised with the Spartacus. The pizza is a homage to the old-school Italian thin-crust served up at places – like Chuck’s, Noah’s, and Bordenaro’s to name a few – but with a few tweaks to the crust and sauce that make it unique, and toppings perfectly proportioned to compliment each other.

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