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July 1st, 2009 LIZ CRAIN | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Little Hippie Italy

Al Forno Ferruzza goes brick-and-mortar.

     
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AL FORNO FERRUZZA
IMAGE: Matt D’Annunzio

Hungry, you pedal your bike to a restaurant that claims to be open daily, where you find a sign on the door that says so...right above a new sign, scrawled in marker, that reads, “Mondays closed—playing bocce.”

This kind of thing happens a lot at Al Forno Ferruzza, a pizza joint on Northeast Alberta, opened in late February, that sprang from a popular food cart near Portland State University. Sometimes there’s salad, but most of the time not. Sometimes there’s ginger beer, San Pellegrino, hemp milk and more in the cooler (a liquor license is pending), while at other times it’s just cream soda or nada. The place just isn’t quite dialed in.

Luckily the thin-crusted, freakishly good pizza ($7-$25), calzones ($8), scarpetta ($9) and stromboli ($8), charred in a propane oven (a wood-fired pizza oven is in the works), don’t suffer from the same inconsistency. Owner Stephen Ferruzza, whose dad was born in Sicily, favors high-quality ingredients, such as the free-range Argentine reggianito that’s sprinkled on just about everything that leaves the kitchen.

The scarpetta ($9), also called an Italian slipper, is an open-faced pizza dough pocket, covered with all the day’s toppings and mozzarella, sprinkled with fresh basil and reggianito, and served with a side of brightly acidic San Marzano sauce and a few green olives.

No matter what bubbly baked thing you order, the dough is filled or topped with a medley of 10 or more rotating daily ingredients: northern propeller clams, caramelized Walla Wallas, salami, roasted black olives and sun-dried tomatoes are just a few. Those tomatoes will soon come direct from the farm: Ferruzza and his employees are cultivating 1,000 tomato plants for the restaurant on a nearby property.

Al Forno’s decor bucks the the polished concrete minimalism of many newer restaurants: a worn couch and comfy chair in a corner strewn with books share the floor with mismatched tables and chairs and an open kitchen with a counter made from reused wood pallets. Big murals and burlap coffee sacks adorn the walls. It’s a cobbled-together joint, run by a group of friends, that happens to serve incredible food.

Although the original cart closed in late May, Stephen Ferruzza hasn’t lost touch with his roots. Or his parking space: Al Forno plans to motor its funky red school bus (parked outside the restaurant, available for festivals and events) to the original cart spot, downtown at Southwest College and 4th, on summer days to peddle pizza on the street once again.

  • Order this: Stromboli ($8), a sesame seed-encrusted pizza pocket filled with salty cured meats, vegetables and cheese.

  • Best deal: Kickass pizza on super-thin crust.

  • I’ll pass: The cannoli ($4) sounds good—with blended maple syrup, ricotta, valencia orange and bourbon vanilla —but is heavy and grainy.

EAT: Al Forno Ferruzza, 2738 NE Alberta St., 253-6766. 3 pm-midnight Tuesday-Sunday. $ Inexpensive.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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