Two separate Italian eateries open in Modesto, Riverbank CA

Get ready to be extra certain about which new Italian restaurant with “Gusto” in its name you’re going to in Stanislaus County.

Two new Italian eateries, one in Modesto and one in Riverbank, have opened with similar-sounding names but entirely different owners, chefs and menus. Gusto Italiano in north Modesto’s Village One and L’Gusto Cucina Italiana on Riverbank’s Atchison Street have both debuted in the last few weeks.

Both are serving fresh, scratch-made food. Both have owners with long roots in the community. And both are in cozy, intimate spaces. But the similarities largely end there, as the two restaurants offer purposefully different takes on Italian cuisine.

Gusto Italiano opened on the corner of Sylvan Avenue and Claus Road in mid-June. The fine-dining restaurant, in the former Rusty Red Grill space, delayed its opening by more than a year because of the pandemic. But since welcoming people inside last month they’re seeing steady crowds.

Owner Calogero Sacco first moved to Modesto some 30 years ago to open an Italian restaurant. But when those plans fell through he opened Cornucopia Natural Foods on Coffee Road instead, which is still going strong more than 25 years later.

Sacco’s parents both immigrated to America from Sicily, and his longtime dream was to bring their authentic Southern Italian cuisine to the region. He found his perfect chef and business partner in Italian native Biagio Capua, who came to America about six years ago to work in his brother-in-law’s San Carlos Italian restaurant.

Southern Italian cuisine highlighted in Modesto’s Gusto

With co-owners Sacco and Capua in the house you can expect to hear plenty of Italian spoken back-and-forth in the kitchen. Capua comes from Calabria, which along with Sicily make up Italy’s two southern-most regions. You’ll find a menu filled with real-deal Southern Italian dishes, with heavy emphasis on fresh in-season vegetables and seafood.

“You’re not going to find spaghetti and meatballs with Italian bread here,” Sacco said. “We’re trying to make the experience like we are in Italy together to eat dinner. We want this to be an experience coming in here.”

Instead you’ll find pappardelle al cinghiale (a broad, flat pasta served with a wild boar sauce), risotto alla pescatora (seafood rissotto with mussels, clams, shrimp and rock cod) and scaloppine di vitello ai funghi porcini (veal in mushrooms and white wine). Did I mention it helps to brush up on a little Italian to order?

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Risotto alla pescatora at Gusto Italiano in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

To add to the experience, the menu is organized just as you’d find it in Italy by specific courses including antipasti (appetizers), primi piatti (pasta, rice dishes), secondi piatto (entree dishes likes steaks and fish) and dolci (dessert). The pasta and rice dishes run about $19 to $26, with entrees ranging from $22 to $32.

Expect the menu to rotate with the seasons. Fresh-made pasta from the Bay Area is used in the ravioli, tortellini and lasagna dishes. In the future, Sacco said they plan to make their own pasta in-house as well. All the sauces are scratch made, as is most of the rest of the menu. They also offer gluten-free pastas.

Sacco said while he had finished renovations on the space and was ready to open last summer, he waited until California lifted its pandemic restrictions last month in order to allow guests to come in and enjoy instead of try the food for the first time from takeout boxes.

The simply adorned space has an open kitchen, so you can watch Capua do his work. The restaurant can seat about 35, and has a small staff of about seven.

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Owner Calogero Sacco talks with diners Flavia Cruz and her daughter Lily, 14, at Gusto Italiano in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

Its opening makes Gusto Italiano one of the few upscale independently owned restaurants in northeast Modesto. You’ll find a selection of mostly Italian wines to pair with your dinner as well. Sacco plans to expand to lunch in the fall.

“Everything is downt
own in Modesto, so we wanted to bring something special to the east side of town,” he said.

Gusto Italiano, at 3948 Sylvan Ave. in Modesto, is open 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information call 209-567-2901 or visit www.facebook.com/gustoitalianomodesto.

Italian favorites the focus of Riverbank’s L’Gusto

Travel almost exactly four miles north of Modesto’s Gusto Italiano and you’ll find Riverbank’s L’Gusto Cucina Italiana. The new eatery in the former space of the short-lived Asian-Mexican sushi restaurant Yugo Sushi Bistro opened at the start of July.

But you might already be familiar with chef-and-owner Sergio Alonso’s food. The Riverbank resident has been a chef for 25 years and worked for years in some of the area’s most popular Mediterranean restaurants from Papapavlo’s and Papapolloni in Modesto (and formerly Oakdale), working alongside his brother the owner.

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Chef Sergio Alonso prepares dinners at L’ Gusto Cucina Italiana in Riverbank, Calif., on Wednsday, July 21, 2021. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

Still Alonso said he wanted to branch out on his own and after realizing there were no other Italian eateries in his hometown, he decided to focus on Italian favorites. While his recent background is in more Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, he said he’s worked in Italian and French restaurants in the Bay Area in the past.

During the pandemic, he decided to make the move, and took about four months to renovate the small space. The added touches of bar shelving for their wine selection and banquet seating has upped the ambiance, and like its Modesto counterpart this is a white tablecloth restaurant with a more upscale, though still casual feel.

L’Gusto can fit about 25 inside and another 20 outside. Word of mouth has grown on the spot with new people coming in each day on recommendation from friends.

With his broad cooking background, Alonso said he is focusing on making high-quality popular Italian dishes. His sauces are all from scratch. He plans to start making his own pasta once the restaurant is more established.

You’ll find familiar favorites like chicken fettucini alfredo, pasta carbonara, chicken piccata, eggplant parmigiana and cheese manicotti on the menu. Pastas run $14.95 to $19.95 and entrees are $14.95 to $34.95. You’ll also notice a few Mediterranean favorites from his Papapavlo’s/Papapolloni days as well, like the saganaki appetizer (Greek flaming cheese) and gryro plate.

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Chicken picatta at L’ Gusto Cucina Italiana in Riverbank, Calif., on Wednsday, July 21, 2021. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

L’Gusto has a large pizza oven for fresh pizza with dough made daily, and a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches. You’ll also find handmade desserts like crème brûlée and chocolate mouse.

“Wanted to do something simple but good,” Alonso said. “I’ve been doing this more than 25 years, so I decided to do something for me and my family. This is a family business, I am working with my daughters and my wife. I make all of this for them.”

His 10-year-old son, Serio Jr., plans to be its next chef, Alonso said.

The restaurant runs with a small five-person staff of mostly family. They’re open for dinner daily, but they also want to expand to lunch in the future. You’ll also find specials on the menu every day.

L’Gusto Cucina Italiana, at 3543 Atchison St. in Riverbank, is open 4 to 9 p.m. daily. For more information call 209-502-7272 or visit www.lgusto.com.

Coincidental similar names for new Stanislaus restaurants

So how did two entirely separate restaurants in different cities wind up with such similar names? Chance, of course.

Sacco picked Gusto Italiano (which translates to “Italian taste”) more than a year ago to emphasize his restaurant’s authentic cuisine. Alonso picked L’Gusto Cucina Italiana (which translate to “the taste of Italian cuisine”) by asking his family, who suggested a name from the popul
ar Pixar animated movie “Ratatouille” and its head chef character named “Gusteau.”

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Nathaly Alonso serves diners Keri and Mark Langley of Oakdale at L’ Gusto Cucina Italiana in Riverbank, Calif., on Wednsday, July 21, 2021. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

With their differing specialties and menus (Gusto in Modesto on genuine Southern Italian food and L’Gusto on the most well-known Italian dishes), I suspect there will be plenty of hungry customers for both. Having sampled dishes at both spots, the quality is top-notch no matter where you go.

Sacco said he’s not worried about people getting confused, and said their differing styles set them apart. Alonso agreed, and thinks Stanislaus County is big enough for both to succeed.

“When I came up with the name and was about to open I found out there was another one in Modesto. It’s almost the same name,” Alonso said. “But there is plenty of room for the two. I hear good things about the other guy. He’s going to do really good and I respect that.”

All that’s left now is to eat. Buon appetito, Stanislaus County.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs multiple times a week. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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