Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review: Al Forno, Providence RI

On just about any list of the best pizzas in Rhode Island, Al Forno is rated as number one. Al Forno's husband and wife team of George Germon and Johanne Killeenbeen began making their grilled pies more than 35 years ago, and they are recognized as pioneers of grilled pizza.

Naturally, Al Forno became my choice pizza destination on a visit to nearby Warwick. Unlike nearly every other legendary pizza restaurant, the pie is not the main focus here. Al Forno is an elegant upscale full service Italian restaurant. The pizzas are often shared by groups of diners as an appetizer.

Entrance from the parking lot in rear
Al Forno housed in an old two-story building, with several cozy dining spaces inside. I visited on a Tuesday night without a reservation, and had the option to dine at the bar or one of the small tables in the bar. I was intrigued by the other entree offerings, but of course kept my focus on the pizza.
Interior photo from
To start, I pondered a crispy cod cake appetizer, but the waiter steered me to a signature Clams Al Forno dish ($14.95). The littleneck clams were tender and swimming in a delicious broth that contained a lot of tomatoes and translucent onions; an excellent start to my meal.

Some of the pizza offerings were more creative than I was seeking (such as pies topped with corn or pumpkin), and I opted for a pepperoni pizza, priced at $23.95. The dough is a high-gluten mix that is not proofed for very long. It goes onto the grill roughly in rectangular shape, but I noted that mine had taken on the same kind of amoeba shape that my home pizzas often do.

The dough cooks rapidly on the grill and is then flipped (complete with grill marks now on the upper surface) for application of the cheese and toppings. Al Forno uses hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes and a blend of low-moisture cheeses, then a scattering of local herbs including basil and parsley. The finished pie is topped with another Al Forno signature touch, a handful of slivered scallions.

The pizza (which takes about 2-3 minutes from the time it hits the grill) arrives unsliced, and completely covers a 12-inch plate. I was provided a fork and a steak knife, which was the proper tool to cut through the crispy and chewy grilled crust. Do I cut slices and eat like regular pizza, or cut individual bites and eat the pizza like citizens of Naples do?  I did some of both, and it was equally satisfying.

The crust was wonderful. Golden crisp underneath (but without visible grill marks), it had a satisfying crunch and an al dente chewiness too. It was thin, dense, and delicious. Part of the preparation of this pie includes a drizzle of Tenuta di Capezzana olive oil, an intense olive fruit and peppery elixir that adds another layer of flavor.
Bar area dining room
If there were any topside grill marks, they were obscured by the cheese, sauce, and long thin slices of pepperoni. I had expected the traditional rounds of salumi, but the cured meat here was a much higher grade. The toppings extended almost to the edges so that there was little cornicione; I had expected to use the crusts to sponge up the remaining broth from my clams appetizer.
Underside of crust
All the ingredients were applied in an ideal balance. The San Marzano tomatoes brought an acidic zing; the cheese was earthy and dense but did not overload the thin crust. Each bite was rich and deeply satisfying. There were no wet or soggy spots.

I did have one very odd sensation - due to the density of the cheese and perhaps eating this pizza with a fork, I noticed a gustatory similarity to a good baked ziti or lasagna. 

I've had some very good grilled pizza once before, at Cambridge 1 in Massachusetts. There, the pie was superb with a crust that was light and delicate. Grilled pizza is no longer a novelty, but this pizza was unique among all of my pizza eating due to its flavor and dense texture combinations.

Al Forno Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The grilled pizza at Al Forno was flawless and lived up to its lofty reputation. Clearly destination pizza, and it's remarkable that any pizza maker can maintain this level of quality and execution for more than 30 years. Let's hope for 30 more.

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