Al Forno – Fresh from the Oven

In 1980, George Germon and Johanne Killeen opened their first tiny restaurant on Providence’s Steeple Street, serving breakfast and lunch, and naming it Al Forno in honor of the huge oven that was initially their only piece of cooking equipment. A year after opening they installed a wood-fired grill that has since become their signature. They soon expanded to dinner and, eventually, to a new two-story home along the Providence River. By 1994, they’d built a global reputation, with food critic Patricia Wells proclaiming Al Forno the world’s number-one casual restaurant.

The starling point is Germon and Killeen’s love of northern Italian cooking, seasoned with the truth that Italian cuisine, at its core, is not a national cuisine at all but a collection of regional styles, all influenced by whatever fresh ingredients are available. At A1 Forno, southern France makes its influence felt, along with dashes of Portugal, courtesy of Providence’s long-established Portuguese community. Signature dishes include the famous grilled pizzas, with thin, oblong, faintly sweet crusts, topped with just the right amount of tomatoes, cheese, herbs, and other ingredients. Another staple, Dirty Steak, is cooked right on the wood embers, while Littleneck Clams A1 Forno are steamed open in the oven in a spicy, pepper-flecked tomato broth. The presentation is more straightforward than artsy: food as food, rather than as architecture. The menu changes regularly to reflect the availability of seasonal ingredients, and Germon’s design background means the restaurant’s Italian-country interior frequently changes too, always with impeccable taste. For the optimal dining experience, the watchword is “early”: Since the restaurant takes no reservations, expect to wait a while in the always lively bar.