I’m a little embarrassed to say that I had my first bite at Antico Forno last week, over a year after it opened. Even eating out 3-4 times per week, I just can’t keep up with the approximately 10,000 restaurants in the Chicagoland area; not enough time or belly real estate.
Antico Forno is on North Avenue in Elmwood Park, in the space formerly occupied by Claudio’s bakery. They specialize in wood-fired pizza.
Antico Forno owner Sal Sciortino and I met at a Cubs’ game (and later Murphy’s) in 2003, when he still owned and operated I Gemelli in Addison.
I had a Bloomspot coupon ($60 for $30) for Antico Forno, and it was way too hot to cook at home last Wednesday, so it seemed like the right night to try a new place.
We started with the eggplant parmesan. At Antico Forno, this Italian restaurant standard was elevated way beyond what we’ve had elsewhere. My daughter, who has lived in Milan, compared it favorably to versions she’d had in Italy. The fresh slices of eggplant were very lightly breaded, slightly caramelized, and the subtle bitterness of the vegetable was well balanced against the sweeter sauce.
The bread served with dinner was also very simple and yet some of the most beautiful stuff I can remember being served in an Italian restaurant. It’s basically the same dough used in the pizza, but shaped into small balls. I asked Sciortino about it, mentioning that a lot of times it seemed Italian restaurants served something like off-the-shelf Turano’s. He said, “If you’re going to run a restaurant, why use someone else’s bread. It’s like when you go out to eat and they have Eli’s cheesecake on the menu. Why would you pay six dollars for a slice of cheesecake that I bought from someone else. We make all our own stuff.”
According to their website, “98% of the menu is prepared and made in house from raw ingredients.”
We had two pizzas, a Napoletana and Capricciosa.
On both, the cheese was a touch heavy (by Italian standards), but I think that’s a common issue with many made- in-America pizzas. Pizza makers have to appeal to their audience. I’m guessing a lot of Antico Forno’s customers prefer more rather than less cheese on their pizza.
The crust was a good balance of thin and crusty, not the very soft Neapolitan style, but substantial enough to support a healthy dose of toppings.
Napoletana included mozzarella and very thin, flavorful anchovies. The sauce could very easily have been made in-house.
The Capricciosa was topped with prosciutto cotto, mushrooms, black olives and artichokes, a very pleasing combination of flavors.
Sciortino plans to make his own Parmesan cheese, and that should be some indication of his big plans for Antico Forno, which is well worth a visit. Prices are very reasonable; most of the pizza pies are in the $13-14 range and the wine list has a lot of bottles under $30.
There’s a quality commitment and a pride at Antico Forno that makes me trust what Sciortino and his crew are doing in the kitchen -- and that makes me eager to explore their menu.
Antico Forno 7308 W. North Avenue
Elmwood Park, IL 60707