First Look: The Forge, Oakland, CA

[Photographs: Wes Rowe]

Walking into The Forge, the newly opened pizza-joint-cum-fire-pit-destination in Oakland's Jack London Square, my first thought is, "I could really hang out in this place." The bright, reclaimed warehouse space is filled with early evening light; friends are gathered around tables with beers in hand. The setting sun even glints off the cluster of sailboats tethered just a stone's throw from the restaurant's outdoor patio.

And, of course, there's the pizza. The Forge, the brainchild of partners Michael Karp (of Barbacoa and Table 24) and Bob Burke (of the Pat Kuleto restaurant group), is meant to be a pie-centric place, as evidenced by the 800-degree wood burning Valoriani oven, imported straight out of Italy.

The Forge has got some serious pizza fanatics on board, too, ensuring that these pies are something to write home about. Jeff Amber, previously of XYZ and Chow, is the acting executive chef; Jeff Hayden, of Boot & Shoe Service and Dopo, is the sous chef; and Jeff Krupman, better known as the PizzaHacker, for his infamously tricked-out FrankenWeber oven, is consulting and is in charge of pizza "Research & Discovery" and dough consultation (his is a riff on Tartine's incomparable country bread).

The pizzas, Neapolitan in style and topped with a roster of fresh, seasonal ingredients, are certainly the menu's primary focus (there are eight varieties available). However, starters such as crispy cheese curds and and chicory salad speak of the restaurant's "American comfort food" bent, further driven home by mains including a chicken pot pie and an eight ounce cheeseburger.

Inside the Valoriani.

"A big goal is to market from the waterside—water taxis, ferries, and sailboats," Karp tells us, gesturing to the nearby slips of the marina. "Charlie, the guy who manages the marina, couldn't be happier that we're here."

The waterfront feel of the restaurant is certainly accentuated by its ample outdoor space and its dedication to the Bay Area scene is prominent in the details of both the food and drink menus.

"The goal was to draw a circle around this space, and try to get the breweries that fell within it," Karp says of the almost all-California selection of beers on tap (there's one from Colorado).

In addition to the 11 draft beers, bar manager Ryan Sillers has put together a selection of classic, crowd-friendly cocktails. There has been a big effort to create as many elements as possible in-house, including the ginger beer featured in their Dark and Stormy.

Still to come? Brunch service is about a month out, which will include breakfast classics and, of course, pizzas.

Amber, already in the swing of a very busy kitchen, is excited about the possibilities the restaurant has for the Jack London Square area.

"I want it to be a neighborhood joint," he says. "Bring your kids, bring your dog!"

Check out some dishes and drinks from The Forge in the slideshow.

The Forge

66 Franklin Street, Oakland CA 94607 (map) 510-268-3200;