Luke and I came down from our snowshoe backpacking trip on Sunday and we were voracious. We decided to hit up the next restaurant that got two 1’s in our binary voting system: 1 for yes, 0 for no. If we each said 1, that resto won.
Gus’ Pizza was it. 346 Hardisty Ave; Hinton, AB, Canada; T7V 1E8; +1 780-865-4232.
Let me first make a comment on the name, Gus’ Pizza. As an editor, I appreciate the nod to grammar. Gus’s would also be correct, but why be redundant if you don’t need to?
Anyways, we weren’t sure if it was open because the open sign wasn’t on, but the door was unlocked so we headed in. The restaurant was empty except for a wizened old lady that looked like she was straight off a Mediterranean hillside, complete with head covering, white hair and wrinkles. Not long after we sat down, another man came in and called her ‘Grandma,’ so I thought she might be a regular fixture there.
The tables were laid out very nicely and I felt guilty that we walked in with our camp-fired, sweated-in clothes and hiking boots. But soon Gus himself came to take our order and from the very start he made us feel right at home.
He brought our drinks, apologizing that he wasn’t a great server but the restaurant wasn’t actually open yet. Apparently it didn’t usually open until 4 p.m. We got there about 2:30.
Luke asked Gus how the pizza was and Gus said it was great and then headed off to the back. I made the mistake of mentioning our health kick.
Gus came back and we ordered, I the rainbow trout dinner ($11.50, including vegetables, mashed potatoes and garlic toast) and Luke the zucchini sticks to start and the Chef’s salad after.
Gus seemed incredulous that we didn’t want to try the pizza so we mentioned our health kick. He told us that the spinach-feta pizza was healthy and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We were pretty adamant ourselves, though, and finally he acquiesced. Or so we thought. This back and forth all happened in very good humour, cajoling like your grandma might when you turn down her cake or cookies and she wants to fatten you up.
Gus went back to the kitchen and returned with Luke’s zucchini sticks…and a plates of the most delicious cooked green bean and tomato appetizer I’ve ever tasted. He said they were just like his mother used to make and we should try them. We laughed and agreed, and Gus told us that he was going to give us a pizza to take home with us, his treat. We protested but he wouldn’t have it, so we left it at that and set to work eating.
The beans were a simple mixture of beans, onions tomatoes and some spices simmered together in a way I’ve never had. It certainly wasn’t a complex dish but it was absolutely delicious. You could taste the love. And the zucchini sticks were obviously hand-battered and served with some sort of delicious handmade yogurt-dill dipping sauce, perhaps tzatziki.
Once we were done that, Gus came back to make sure we were satisfied and clear our plates. For someone who ‘wasn’t a great server’ Gus was one of the most attentive, perfectly timed servers I’ve ever had. Probably didn’t hurt that we were the only ones in the restaurant except Grandma, who Gus would also talk to and check on often. He even brought her a bowl of popcorn.
When our actual meals came, we were both pleased but by that point I wasn’t surprised. The food looked like a home-cooked meal and was absolutely delicious. For the whole meal I felt like I was visiting a Greek uncle (even though I’m not Greek and I’m not sure Gus is) who was lavishing us with heartfelt food.
My trout, complete with head and tail, was served with the expected mashed potatoes (real, not powdered) and garlic toast and the vegetables weren’t the frozen mixed veg I feared. It was more of the delicious green bean-tomato mixture.
My photo quality sadly doesn’t do the meal justice, but you get the picture. The trout seemed to be rubbed with a mixture of spices and then lightly fried. The skin was crisp and the meat inside was tender, not chewy or tough. Cooked to perfection. And the only bone I found was from a fin I accidentally ate. Not a single bone found in the entire rest of the flesh, which seems like magic to me. I love fish but can’t stand digging out the bones. Gus absolutely did justice to my rainbow trout, which is my favourite fish for nostalgic reasons (first fish I ever caught when I was a little girl).
Luke was also very satisfied with his chef’s salad, which is saying a lot because he’s a big guy. The salad had eggs and ham and a mixture of other healthy stuff in it.
So we happily ate our delicious meals and were very satisfied. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the pizza, if that was an idle promise or what, but we shouldn’t have wondered.
Gus came to clear our plates with to-go pizza box in hand. He placed it on the table and opened it for us to see, adding that he’d put only half of the regular amount of cheese on it to make it healthier, along with feta and fresh spinach. The pizza looked and smelled absolutely delicious and Gus was amused by our obvious appreciation.
Gus gave me a huge mitful of Ouzo candies and we settled our bill, which seemed very reasonable considering the amount of food and the excellent service (it didn’t include a pizza on it, by the way) so Luke left a $20 tip. Gus deserved it.
Gus is a wonderful example of a restaurant owner who goes above and beyond the norm to make his customers happy. This was the first time I’ve been to his restaurant but it certainly won’t be the last. It will definitely be a staple stop on our way home from future outdoor trips. It would be well worth even a day trip out from Edmonton sometime, if you are looking for something different to do one afternoon.
I hope you give Gus’ Pizza a try. We did and we loved it!