Pizza in a carpark

Canberrans have a strange obsession with eating good food in carparks.

Brodburger has moved on from its humble little caravan, but Pizza Gusto now appears to be the epicentre of no frills, straight out-of-the-box dining in Canberra. And because a consistently good-quality product is being offered, punters have shown they’re happy to attend in droves, even if it means sitting in a carpark in Lonsdale Street to do so.

The Braddon incarnation of Pizza Gusto joins the original Red Hill mothership, straight into the midst of the fiercest competition. Owners Colin and Ailsa wanted to expand into a growing area of Canberra, offering a simple product that was both affordable and of top quality. Are they succeeding? The initial flurry of business seems to resemble wood-fired proof that the best place to open up shop is next-door to your main rival.

Despite their relative geographical proximity, Gusto is much closer to the Italian & Sons school of pizza-making than Debacle, and to my mind, that’s a good thing. But then again, the takeaway focus takes a bit from Crust around the corner, so you’ll forgive me if I was a little confused the first time around.

The pizza dough itself is very good. I’m told that it’s triple-proven (risen), which means there is less idle yeast by the time the dough hits your belly, and the Tuscan-manufactured Alfa wood-fired oven produces the perfect mix of crisp crust and doughy centre.

After a reasonably thorough investigation, here are my picks. A classic Margherita ($16) is a good, light option; it’s everything you’d expect from a quality tomato passata and fresh basil. The Gusto ($20) is deliciously simplistic and a well-known classic: ultra-thin slices of prosciutto are layered with mozzarella and baby rocket.  The Arrabiatta ($20) of Calabrese salami and chilli is a valued offering for any chilli fan.

Some things could use a bit of polish however. Fresh rosemary on the Bianco ($9) instead of dried would put it in a different league. I think that the Supremo ($20) could do without pineapple. I do wonder whether the eat-in boxes are sustainable, and having a few on one table can prove a challenge. Then again, for a food where cutlery is a superfluous formality, I can see arguments for both sides.

Is it affordable? Without starting a debate about the relative incomes of different students, I reckon that Gusto sits in the more affordable range in a town with a severe shortage of middle-tier dining.

Pizza Gusto is unpretentious, relaxed and focused on the right things. It only opened its doors three months ago, so we’re definitely mid-honeymoon, but the ways things are looking, we’ll remain there for a while.