A couple of weeks ago, I met my friend David for lunch at a new place in Brookwood Hills with a neat shtick. Raging against the trends of cooking over gas, which even many of the barbecue joints in Atlanta do, Gusto! loudly and proudly grills their chicken, mushrooms, and shrimp over wood. If this takes off, it will certainly lead to awkward questions. If these guys can successfully cook over wood – there’s a small stack of hickory right in the middle of the restaurant to emphasize the point – then everybody can. Get your acts together, ‘cue joints.
Gusto! is located on Peachtree Road, across from Piedmont Hospital. It’s next door to the CVS and there’s a free parking lot behind the buildings. I arrived just before David and got to enjoy the aroma inside the restaurant. I do want to clarify that this certainly isn’t “low and slow” barbecue that they’re smoking, but quickly-cooked proteins directly over the flames, but even though guests will be ordering something quite different, the scent is quite similar. I couldn’t wait to dig into my sandwich.
The menu at Gusto! is really simple. Guests have a choice of either a rice bowl, a salad, or a sandwich on either toasted crispy bread or in a steamed wrap. Then you pick your protein and have fun with seven “gustos,” which are customized flavor profiles incorporating a sauce, toppings, and a garnish. I chose the spiced tomato tzatziki gusto on a chicken sandwich. This comes with a very mildly spiced tomato sauce along with cucumbers and chickpeas in a yogurt dressing, and then topped with something called Curious Carrots.
Honestly, I didn’t think that the sandwich really needed the carrot garnish – it is a salad made from freshly grated carrots, lime juice, cilantro and toasted cumin and mustard seeds – but I was interested to learn that this salad was actually the first thing on the menu. Gusto! was founded by Nate Hybl, a former NFL quarterback from Hazelhurst GA (he saw some action with Cleveland and Jacksonville) who entered the restaurant business, moved to Atlanta, and has worked manager positions at some local places like Little Azio and The General Muir while developing recipes like his carrot garnish on the side. His restaurant has the feel of something that wants to grow; even though there’s only one Gusto! right now, it looks like the first in a chain. Unsurprisingly, therefore, among the names on the behind-the-scenes team, I notice the inclusion of a “brand leader,” Ed Howie, with a long resume including operations and marketing postions for Chick-fil-A and Atlanta Bread Company.
Despite the garnish leading Hybl’s inspiration, I didn’t think that my sandwich needed it, and the late-80s Top 40 that was piped in was entirely too darn loud. David had a rice bowl with chicken and the Buffalo buttermilk blue gusto and said it was quite good and enjoyably spicy, but he and I had to shout at each other to be heard and ended up leaving rather than listen to “Man in the Mirror” any longer than was necessary. It wasn’t just us. See, each sandwich comes with free sweet potato chips, or guests may select a slightly more expensive side. But I am allergic to sweet potatoes (of all things), and while I appreciated them substituting a salad for the chips without charging me extra, the fellow who took my order, the girl who made my meal, and the third person who rang me up all had to bellow at each other. Then when I told the cashier that I had a sandwich with a salad, she yelled back to the middle person, “No, that should be a salad, not a sandwich!” and I had to wave them down. If the music is causing prep mistakes and guests want to leave quickly, it’s too loud.
It was a good sandwich, maybe a couple of steps away from great, but it left me interested. I’d like to go back sometime soon and try a different gusto, although I will certainly take my meal to go before I let Paula Abdul beat up on my eardrums any longer. Ouch!
You can see all the restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s a terrific resource for anybody visiting Atlanta or planning a road trip through the southeast!