Hunter Walker gets us seriously hungry for some grilled pizza in Providence.
Al Forno means "from the stove" in Italian, a style of cooking from northern Italy that uses a wood-fired brick oven. So it's a fitting name for Providence, Rhode Island's Al Forno's restaurant, an elegant eatery whose grilled pizza is legendary. When they debuted their gourmet take on Italian comfort food in 1980, Al Forno chefs Johanne Killeen and George Germon were credited with being the restaurateurs to bring the dish from Italy to America. Since that time, the grilled pizza has become an acclaimed, often imitated, Providence original.
The unique oven-grilling gives the restaurant's signature margherita pizza a salty, crisp, and deliciously charred crust. The pie is covered with fresh grated Pecorino Romano, Fontina and massive gobs of savory, sweet tomato sauce. The whole thing is topped off with a delicate smattering of green onions that balance out the many flavorful notes in the dough and sauce. The pizza is light, complex and utterly deserving of its reputation as one of the best around.
The grilled pizza seems huge at first glance, but it's only an appetizer, and if you're sharing it with even one other diner you'll find yourselves finished far too soon. Thankfully, the rest of Al Forno's menu lives up to the excellent introduction provided by their famous first course. All the dinner items served at Al Forno use subtle seasonings that allow the natural tastes of their top quality ingredients to shine. The entrees are divided between exquisitely prepared pasta dishes, roasts, and gamy grilled meats. Go for the grilled stuff: the hardwood-fired game is smoky and succulent. For pasta lovers, I recommend the Fettucine alla Chitarra, which comes paired with a tender house ham. Make sure to save room for the desserts, they're all made to order. I have a serious weakness for their chocolate-filled crepes, which come drizzled with chocolate syrup and swimming in a cool crème anglaise.
Al Forno is located in a waterside industrial nook on South Main Street near downtown Providence. The view isn't much, but inside, the updated farmhouse décor feels like a cozy, country osteria. Though the atmosphere is decidedly upscale, the friendly staff and first-come-first-served reservations policy make it a safe place for casual diners. The last time I ate there, my date and I arrived dressed down and rain-soaked mere minutes before closing time. Nevertheless, we were still welcomed with open arms.
Al Forno, 577 South Main Street, Providence, Rhode Island; +1 402 271 9760.
Photo: Margherita pizza at Al Forno, by TomatoSoupBlog via Flickr