Il Forno Pizzeria
1035 W Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21702 (map); 301-846-0422 ilfornopizzeria.com
Pizza Style: Wood-fired
Oven Type: Italian-made wood burning ovens
The Skinny: Some oven management issues can be a problem here.
Price: 10", 13" & 15" sizes available from $6.00 to $18.99.
Alcohol/BYOB?: Full bar
Delivery: No. Take-out is available
A clock chimes from the tower looming over Il Forno Pizzeria, the wood fired pizza joint slinging what some believe to be the best pizza in Frederick, Maryland. I can't claim to be an expert on the Frederick pizza scene, but the chiming of the clock was a portent of things to come...
Il Forno has a nice sized bar, and numerous flat screen HDTVs hang in both the dining room and bar areas. I imagine it would be a nice pizza-centric spot to keep tabs on all of your fantasy players as you chow down and throw back a couple during football season. In warmer weather, an array of outdoor tables allows for dining al fresco. But it's the two Italian-made Ambrogi wood burning pizza ovens located behind the bar area which are the main draw for the pizza obsessed. You. Me. Pizza Family. Let's eat!
I ordered a 13" Margherita and a 13" Bianca with an addition of red onions and went to check out the pizza prep and those ovens.
As soon as I looked into the oven, I was immediately wary. For a restaurant called "The Oven" or, literally, "The Furnace", the last thing one would expect is inadequate oven management. And yet it appears that's exactly the case here at times.
A wood fired oven needs flames and a healthy amount of embers. The flames should lick up towards and off of the dome to reflect heat evenly over the pizza and around the refractory chamber, while the embers keep the whole fire fueled, not to mention keeping the oven floor nice and toasty. Ideally, the hotter, flame driven air above the pizza cooks the wetter, ingredient loaded top of the pizza in the same time it takes for the lower temperature of the floor to properly cook the undercarriage of the pie.
The interior of the oven at Il Forno displayed very little of this action, instead sporting minimal flame and a moderate sized pile of embers. Having peeped the Il Forno website before visiting, it looked very similar to the pictures on the home page and in the gallery section—primarily just glowing embers. My first pizza left the peel and hit the oven floor. Stopwatch started.
60 seconds. 90 seconds. Tick, tick, tick. 120 seconds. 180 seconds. Tick, tick. 240 seconds. 300 seconds. WTF? 360 seconds. Eternity.
There's much ado these days about how fast so-and-so's wood burner can cook a pie. Your oven does a pie in 1:30? Dude, I'm finishing pizzas in 45 seconds, like, get with it! I would argue that speed isn't everything, but it does play a role.
Most Neapolitan styled pizzas cook in about two minutes or less. Less efficient, square and rectangular ovens finish a pizza in the four to five minute range. But 6:18 for my Margherita and 6:25 for my Bianca were the cause of many of the issues I had with the pizzas I tried. It begs the question: with such lengthy cook times, why even have a wood fired oven?
After some quick low-tech video filming, my pies were ready. I was damned hungry and attacked the Margherita first.
Astute viewers of the short video I took will notice the pizza maker at Il Forno skipped one crucial ingredient while constructing the pies—salt. And the pies I had were in desperate need of salt. Salt in the crust, salt on top of the pizza, get some friggen salt already! It was the most immediately noticeable thing that hit me in the kisser. Though I would have prefered sea salt, a few shakes of table salt made a world of difference in helping to bring together the various flavors of the pizza.
The tomato sauce was as advertised, a little chunky. And it's pretty good as well. It's not the vividly bright, acidic sauce many of us associate with many of the newer crop of wood fired pizzerias, but it does not lean too far towards the darker, marinara-like quality I abhor. The chunkier sauce and sensible spicing definitely has a little bit of that "made by Grandma" quality to it.
The cheese is a decent, shredded whole milk mozzarella of neither bad nor memorable quality.
The undercarriage was nicely cooked, with some developed browning and a nice outer crispiness to it.
The crumb was both overly chewy and dry. Grub Grade mentioned that the crust here could be a "little chewy" sometimes and I second this based from my experience. Even with these faults, the Margherita was not a total loss and I ate most of the pizza.
The Bianca (with my addition of red onions) was a borderline train wreck: all of the issues with the oven management at Il Forno were magnified in this pie.
The need for salt was again immediately evident, but there was a nice kick of garlic in this pizza. The mixture of shredded whole milk mozzarella and fontina cheeses was applied in too heavy a layer for me, but if you like lots of cheese, the Il Forno Bianca is likely to be in your wheelhouse.
As you can see from the above photo, the poor heat distribution in the oven, coupled with the long cooking time, left a lot of uncooked dough, so the crust verged on raw in some places. The uncooked dough created the overly chewy and gummy texture while the long cook time dried out the portions of the crumb which were adequately cooked. A chewy, gummy, and slightly cottony crust. A heavy pizza to be sure and....not good.
If most of the pizzerias in Frederick are either chain pizzerias or smaller independent shops resembling the big boys, then Il Forno Pizzeria is bound to please many pizza peeps in the Frederick area. This is indeed better than delivery pizza and as such is a welcome pizza choice, especially if they work on their oven issues.
But I have to compare it to every other wood-fired pizzeria I've ever eaten in and, quite frankly, it does not stack up well. As time progresses, the enthusiast in me gets tired of reading claims on pizzeria websites promising "famous pizzas topped with only the finest ingredients," and then being served a product that makes me think....bullshit. I want better.
Full disclosure: I arrived at Il Forno at 3:00 p.m., and the restaurant was pretty empty. The timing could have played a part in why my pizzas were disappointing. But I would argue that if you are going to be open for business, everything should be in order, no matter the hour. A friend of Pizzablogger went back to Il Forno on a Friday evening and confirmed the long cooking times were occurring at busy times as well, although his pizzas did not have the uncooked dough that mine did. —K.