Milan-born Puro Gusto cafe (1345 F Street NW) is uncorking the Italian way of life; cheerful, color-splashed decor; and a roster of simple all-day dining fare and aperitifs in D.C. with its first U.S. outpost, which opened Wednesday, December 15, near the White House and National Mall.
Puro Gusto translates to “pure taste,” and the cafe promises to recreate a casual Italian dining experience with its morning until evening offerings. The original outlet of Italian all-day cafe opened in Milan in 2006 before expanding to ten countries.
“Italians use a cafe differently depending on the time of day,” Frank Sickelsmith, head of Puro Gusto North America. To that end, Puro Gusto, like other Italian cafes, transforms to the diners’ needs throughout the day, from breakfast through cocktail hour.
It’s an all-day cafe, which isn’t easy to define, according to Sickelsmith. “I think it’s something you have to experience. [Puro Gusto] is more than one type of restaurant. Normally you’re a coffee shop or a sandwich place or a bar: We’re basically trying to be all three things.”
The all-day cafe just doesn’t fit neatly into a box because the cafe acts as something different to each person it serves.
“It depends on what you want to get out of this cafe,” Sickelsmith says.
The cafe opens as a typical Italian coffee shop for breakfast with Italian Lavazza coffee in traditional Italian coffee drinks like crema shakerato (espresso shaken with ice and simple syrup and topped with cream), along with non-Italian coffee styles like American-style drip, cold brew, nitro, plus a selection of hot teas.
The breakfast menu revolves around the cornetto, a traditional Italian croissant served in a variety of sweet and savory options, filled with items like egg and cheese, Nutella, or pistachio ice cream. Italian pastries, smoked salmon-topped PanGusto, yogurt, fruit, overnight oats, and fruit parfaits round out those options.
PanGusto, a proprietary bread created in Milan by Puro Gusto, anchors the menu. “Every city in Italy has different pizzas,” explains Sickelsmith. “We made [PanGusto] in Milano as our own version of pizza.”
PanGusto dough gets hit at a super-high temperature for 90 to 120 seconds, making for a crispy outside and a cloud-soft interior. When topped, it becomes a light pizza.
With a springy sourdough base, it becomes a worthy vehicle for flavorful toppings like margherita, pepperoni and mozzarella, fig and prosciutto, three-cheese and olive, and Italian sausage. The menu also includes salads, soups, and panini encased in PanGusto bread.
By evening, Puro Gusto eases into aperitivo mode. It’s a time to transition between work and home, or between work and dinner. Lighter alcohol options, like Campari spritz, Aperol spritz, negronis, and bellinis wash away the stress of the day and ease the transition between day and night. Along with those drinks, the cafe pours beer, Italian wine, and coffee-based cocktails. Small plates include strawberry and lemon ricotta, charred carrots, and Tuscan bean hummus.
For those in a rush, there’s a counter for grab-and-go salads and sandwiches, plus market items like candies, panetonne during the holidays, and Italian San Carlo potato chips in flavors like pesto and tomato.
Drenched in color, the cafe’s fun, lively interior will “remind you of a warm summer day drinking aperitivo in Milano or Roma or the Amalfi Coast,” Sickelsmith says. “As opposed to some cafes or coffee houses or bars where they are pretty dark, this one is really bright.”
Lots of attractive seating arrangements make it easy for visitors to use the cafe as they wish. There are communal tables, a long bar, and comfortable chairs around coffee tables.
The coffee tables are made of coffee grounds from the company’s Italian locations. The cafe’s color-speckled tables were made from recycled plastic bottles. As much as the furniture looks like something someone might buy for their own home, it’s also part of the company’s commitment to sustainability. A future U.S. location of Puro Gusto will have furniture made of recycled bottles and grounds from the D.C. location.
Puro Gusto takes the place at 1345 F Street NW of now-shuttered Maison Keyser, once blasted by The Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema who said Kayser “needs to run its recipes through the culinary equivalent of spell-checker.” (It lasted for 17 months before shutting its doors.)
“This first location [of Puro Gusto] in Washington D.C. brings our tried-and-true Italian concept into what is already a vibrant restaurant community we’re excited to become a part of,” said Sickelsmith. “We hope to become a fast favorite for locals and tourists alike seeking a welcoming place any time of day, and look forward to expanding further across the country in the years ahead.”
Puro Gusto’s opening hours are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.