One-half of the Eater team spent four educational years in Providence, RI, which explains how we came to discover, and then fall in love with, Al Forno. Regularly cited as one of the best restaurants in the country, Al Forno boasts a casual-yet-upscale vibe not unlike that of Union Square Cafe (or, if we're feeling particularly bold, The French Laundry). The entire menu is sublime (best bet: the off-menu dirty steak), but the place is justly famed for one very special appetizer that changes nightly: wood-grilled pizza.
Even long blessed with living in New York City, this metropolis of glorious cheese, we've still never tasted a grilled pizza that matches up with that served at Al Forno. Several years back, when word leaked that the chefs behind then-new West Village eatery Gonzo boasted an Al Forno heritage?and were serving grilled pizza?we were justly intrigued. Raisfield and Patronite waxed rhapsodic. And so we went. And tasted. And... enjoyed.
But. But it wasn't Al Forno. Not even close, really: the crust was wrong. Too thick; too much like a regular pizza. And the toppings: too numerous, too clever. One key to Al Forno's genius is what is not on its pizza. (Watermelon, for one. Please.)
Comes this week's $25 and Under, which documents NYC's latest attempt to clone the Al Forno DNA, this time at a Bronx pizza joint called Coals. The photo that ran with the piece (above right), offers hope that they may be on the same page with Al Forno's creations (above left). The chef? Yes, inspired by Al Forno. So is this The One? Dare we dream?