Executive chef Brady McDonald (right) works with sous chef Bobby Castle in the kitchen of Basta Pizzeria Ristorante.
For Executive Chef Brady McDonald, the journey towards opening Basta started with a simple dish of gnocchi al pesto. One night in 2004 while visiting his brother Adam, who was studying abroad in Italy, McDonald had an epiphany. “We got takeout from a neighborhood restaurant and sat in his apartment eating gnocchi and pasta. It was the best meal I had ever eaten,” recalls McDonald. “It changed my life. Right then and there, I slammed my hand down on the table and said, ‘I am going to learn how to make this!’ ”
Fast forward seven years. After a stint in 2008 at a one-Michelin-starred restaurant in Florence, Italy, McDonald decided to put the cooking techniques and passion for Italian food he’d picked up during his time abroad to good use. He partnered with Jack Piper and James Adrian, owners of Iowa City’s Atlas and Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack, to open Basta on July 13, 2011.
Basta, which means “enough” (not too little food, not too much—just the right amount), serves modern Italian fare in a gorgeous downtown setting that’s equal parts elegant and modern industrial. “We wanted a casual place where people felt comfortable with a mix of colors and textures,” says McDonald. “The mix of dark-stained wood, white marble, wood and metal chairs, steel barstools, and white tile really makes a beautiful combination.” The tables were crafted in Kalona by an Amish family, and the dramatic back bar was made by a local craftsman.
The desire to provide customers with locally sourced goods didn’t stop at the décor, however; McDonald buys produce, specialty meats, and other ingredients from local suppliers as often as possible. He gets Basta’s oyster and shiitake mushrooms from Brein Osborn of Anything but Green Gardens in Vinton, and buys sprouts, fresh produce, and herbs from James Nisly of Organic Greens in Kalona. In addition, McDonald and his culinary team handcraft all of Basta’s bread, pasta, desserts, and ricotta and mozzarella cheese daily. The result? Deliciously fresh dishes, teeming with flavor and local soul.
Basta Pizzeria Ristorante in Iowa City, near the Old Capitol Building
When you walk into Basta, the first thing you’re hit with is the inimitable aroma of fresh, authentic Italian cuisine. But the real magic happens with the first bite—of one of Basta’s signature Napoli-style pizzas, with chewy, tender-crisp crusts; of the bestselling Butternut Squash Ravioli, featuring a sweet, creamy filling, roasted broccoli, mushrooms, sage butter sauce, and pine nuts; or of the decadent yet not-too-sweet Chocolate Budino, served with house-made gelato and finished with sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Whatever you pick, your palate is bound to be dazzled.
Thanks in part to its central location, but also to its lively, welcoming ambiance, Basta caters to a wide range of diners, from college students and professors on lunch break to 20- and 30-somethings on romantic dates. Families, older couples, and happy hour regulars, who can catch half-off drinks from 4-6 p.m., are just as commonly found at Basta as the college set. Come mid-April, Basta’s patio will be open, so diners can enjoy the fresh air and views of the old Capitol while catching up over cocktails and calamari.
Basta is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, visit Basta Pizzeria or call 319-337-2010.