Some names are golden.
Google. Amazon.com. i-anything.
When it comes to Tucson dining, the name Scordato is legendary. From the long-gone Scordato's Restaurant opened in 1972 by family patriarch Jim Scordato Sr., to son Daniel's popular, long-standing Vivace and newer Vivace Pizzeria, the name is synonymous with quality Italian food.
So it's no surprise that when Gusto Osteria opened three months ago with Joe Scordato's name attached, the east-side eatery generated buzz. Another son of Jim Sr.'s, Joe helped owner Glenn "Gus" Gerson create a simple, Italian comfort-food menu and turned over his recipes. You'll find the Scordato influence all over - tied to the stuffed mushrooms, a pork entree, the meatballs. But Gusto isn't Joe Scordato's place. It's also not to be confused with Guiseppe's Ristorante Italiano, which Joe Scordato opened on the Northwest Side a couple of years ago and then sold.
Though Gusto is not technically a Scordato restaurant, it does the name proud.
Tucked back in the Safeway shopping center at North Sabino Canyon and East Tanque Verde roads, Gusto has an ample patio set away from the always-busy parking lot and a pleasant dining room decorated with pieces from local artists.
A weekday lunch visit started off promisingly with a large antipasto appetizer ($8.95) that could easily have been lunch. The usual suspects crowded the platter - prosciutto, spicy capicolla, salami and spears of aged provolone with a pleasant bite. The dish also offered up plenty of fun surprises, like thin, wonderfully smoky, crunchy asparagus spears, garlicky sauteed spinach, salty Kalamata olives and an oniony caponata. The antipasto also came with dollops of tangy goat cheese and crostini. See what I mean about it being lunch all by itself?
After that massive app, some would have thrown down their napkins and just taken their entrees to go. But the penne with sausage ($12.95) - a customer favorite, said our server - looked too yummy to not sneak a bite. Or two, or three, or heck, who are we kidding? It was nearly demolished. Perfectly cooked pasta swam in a marinara sauce sweet with perfectly ripened tomatoes and red peppers. Italian sausage, with just the right fennel kick, added some oomph, as did a light blanket of melted mozzarella. The sauce was watery - we're guessing the pasta wasn't drained all the way - but even that couldn't mar an otherwise well-done dish.
The eggplant Parmesan sandwich ($8.50) was a real gutbuster. Thick, meaty slices of the vegetable were coated in a seasoned breading and topped with that lovely marinara sauce and served on a thick, toasted roll. But the sandwich was completely upstaged by the side - Parmesan potatoes. They were incredibly addictive. Basically thick-cut potato chips, they were a crisp, deep golden brown and slathered with Italian seasoning and thin ribbons of Parmesan cheese. This is a snack to crave. Constantly.
Our only complaint with lunch was that service was sluggish, inexcusable with so few tables occupied. A follow-up dinner visit, on a busier evening, featured a much more attentive server, who even chivalrously shook our bottle of pesto-flavored olive oil that accompanied the complimentary toasted-on-one-side-only focaccia bread.
Gusto's dinner options were every bit as satisfying as lunch, starting with those famous Scordato stuffed mushrooms ($5.95). Four caps brimmed with earthy mushrooms sautéed until they were silky and topped with toasted bread crumbs and melted Parmesan. Lip-licking good.
As was the chicken Giovanni ($14.95). Pounded thin and sautéed, the chicken breasts were extremely moist and tender. The white wine sauce was buttery and just kissed with garlic. Couldn't find a trace of lemon in the sauce, as the menu promised, but we didn't at all feel slighted. The vegetable-flecked, fluffy rice on the side ate like a meal itself.
Now, another brief notation in Scordato history before we talk about the braciole. Joe Scordato, back in 2000, actually had a restaurant not too far from Gusto. Called Trattoria Guiseppe, it was the precursor to Gusto with hearty, casual Italian food. On that menu was an impossibly good, impossibly cheap braciole, which featured fork-tender beef wrapped around a stuffing and covered in a red wine-spiked tomato sauce that was lick-your-plate good. It was a flash-bulb memory dish. Seeing it on Gusto's menu produced a heart-skipping moment. Could it be the same? Could it be as good?
Oh yes, it could.
A mammoth plate featuring a trio of beef rolls on a bed of fettucini, the braciole ($18.95) was, indeed, the same incredibly tender meat wrapped around a stick-to-your-ribs stuffing of sourdough bread, Romano cheese, garlic and a healthy dousing of olive oil. The rich sauce, dotted with strips of green pepper, was every bit as savory as we remembered.
Gusto has a pretty small dessert menu, mostly ice cream, and a Dolce Patricia cake ($4.50) that we were too curious to pass up. The yellow cake was dense, quite moist and layered with a melt-in-your-mouth custard. A chocolate frosting, with no real discernable chocolate taste, covered the slice, which like the rest of the food served at Gusto, was big enough to serve at least two people.
No matter what you order, you won't leave Gusto hungry - that's for sure.
• What: Gusto Osteria, 7153 E. Tanque Verde, 722-9487, gustotucson.com
• Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; closed Sundays.
• Wine list: Features about 20, mostly Italian, wines.
• Noise level: Just fine.
• Vegetarian options: Several.
• Gluten-free options: Yes, ask.
• Family call: Don't most kids think pasta is its own food group? There isn't a kids menu, but the restaurant will serve noodles however the kiddos want for $4.95.
• Reservations: Suggested.
• Price range: Dinner entrees range from $9.95 to $20.95.