Have you heard? Gusto Italian Grill is serving up fast casual Italian in Bethesda and Silver Spring!
I am shamelessly content in my NW DC bubble, but lately I’ve been really trying to branch out to other neighborhoods and (gasp!) even hop the metro to explore more of the DMV dining scene. When Gusto reached out with a lunch invitation, I knew it was a good opportunity for a trip to Bethesda.
After a spirited morning of watching Criminal Minds and sitting on the couch in various positions, I met my friend Shannon at the metro and we headed to Bethesda. Shannon is a fellow foodie and one of my only friends who is functional before 10:00 AM on the weekends. She also has the eating ideologies of Ron Swanson, so I was glad to have her as a tasting partner.
Gusto is a quick six minute walk from the Bethesda Metro Station, just around the corner from the Bethesda Row Movie Theatre. Two of the staff were posted outside the eatery offering free samples of their “Local Farmers” salad with sweet corn, avocado and locally sourced strawberries. We tried a few delicious bites, savoring the fresh greens and tart lemon basil dressing.
Gusto founder and CEO Joshua Grim hails from a 300-acre family farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He gets most of his produce and meats from regional farms and his authentic farm-to-table upbringing is evident in the menu and in the breezy, slightly rustic interior.
I was pretty hungry, so I beelined for the sandwich menu. Their counter is set up like many familiar fast-casual eateries, such as Chipotle, Cava Grill, and &pizza. The chef behind the counter recommended the Crispy Chicken Avocado, accompanied by one of their three “lifestyle salads.” Shannon thought about trying the “zoodles” (zucchini noodles), but at the last second decided on the Chicken Pesto Pasta.
My sandwich was tasty (juicy chicken, ripe avocado), but hard to eat. The contents were awkwardly stacked between thin triangles of tortilla, sort of held together by a toothpick. After smearing avocado across my nose and cheek I gave up and used a fork. The star of the meal was really the lifestyle salad – the greens and veggies were so fresh, and the dressing really complemented the tomatoes and feta.
Shannon’s huge portion of pasta was zesty and flavorful, but after a few bites we noticed that the noodles were stubbornly clumping together and tasted a bit overcooked. The few stray bits of sundried tomato seemed lost in the heap of carbs without adding much to the dish. She also noted that it was served with a cream sauce, which was not mentioned on the menu, and as lactose-intolerant ladies, we always appreciate a dairy disclaimer. Shannon mused that she would like to go back again, but maybe the next time she’ll try a sandwich.
All in all, I felt that the ingredients of our meals were stand-out, but they didn’t quite come together in the final product. Next time, I will probably order one of their salads as my main dish, which I felt were the strongest items on the menu. As I mentioned, I went for lunch with a friend, but they’re also open for dinner, and I can especially see Gusto’s appeal for a family outing – expansive seating, large portions, good prices and even a Kid’s Meal section of the menu. Gusto is open 11:00a-9:00p seven days a week at both locations.
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