Al Forno, Providence, Rhode Island, RI, Johanne Killeen, George Germon, Matt Jennings Recommendation, Where to eat pizza in Providence, Italian, Pizza, Grilled Pizza, 02903


“Food is eaten the way art is perceived; it is digested and recorded.”  These are the words and philosophy of chefs Johanne Killeen and George Germon, who opened Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island in 1980. Over the past thirty years, they’ve written the James Beard award-winning cookbook “Cucina Simpatica,” as well as a second widely praised cookbook “On Top of Spaghetti.”  They’ve traveled the world teaching cooking techniques, won numerous culinary awards, and have been dubbed “the top casual restaurant in the world” by the International Herald Tribune. And if that’s not enough, they have been credited with introducing the concept of grilled pizza to the United States.

Their cooking is Northern Italian cuisine, making extensive use of wood-burning ovens and open-flame grills.

What would you say is your must-try pizza and signature pasta dish on your menu?

Just about every table orders a grilled pizza as an appetizer to share. The most popular is the Grilled Pizza Margarita. In the summer, clients love the Grilled Pizza with Little Compton corn and fresh tomatoes.

The most popular pasta dish is Pasta Baked with Tomato, Cream and 5 Cheeses.  It has been on our menu since the day we opened on January 2, 1980 (over 30 years!).  There would be mutiny if we ever took it off the menu!

You are credited with inventing grilled pizza. What do you think are the most distinctive flavor and texture differences between grilled pizza and ones made in a wood-burning oven?

Grilled pizza is cooked directly over burning hardwood charcoal (hardwood chunk charcoal). There is direct contact with the flame and smoke rising from the fire. The result is a pizza dough that has been kissed by fire and licked by smoke. Every bite is a little different as the heat and flame are not consistent like a gas grill or hot griddle. Pizza baked in a conventional wood-burning oven does not have this flavor booster as the smoke rises above the pizza and never touches it.  

In terms of texture, a truly great oven pizza with a thin crust can have terrific attributes, but the grilled pizza when done properly will be chewy in places and a bit crispy in other spots making it unique.

What is the best kind of flour to use for grilled pizzas?

We use high gluten flour for our dough. You can experiment using some whole wheat, maybe some cornmeal to flavor the dough, but we are using a slow rise method for our dough which develops great taste with plain flour.

We have very successfully made pizza dough with King Arthur.  

What toppings get you excited to try on grilled pizza?

We appreciate straightforward Italian flavors so the Grilled Pizza Margarita is one of our favorites. We use a combination of cheeses rather than the traditional mozzarella, as fresh mozzarella contains too much moisture.  

We also love spicy food, so the Grilled Pizza with Red Pepper Flake oil is high on our list. In the summer we do a Grilled Pizza with fresh tomato chunks tossed with olive oil piled on the grilled dough and top it with arugula - kind of a Pizzalata. Very fun.

What toppings have been a complete disaster on grilled pizza?

The recipe for disaster for grilled pizza is loading on too many toppings.  Grilled Pizza is a perfect example of "less is more"--too much sauce or cheese will result in a soggy mess.

What are some of your favorite beverages to pair with the smoky flavors of grilled pizza?

There is nothing more delightful than a fabulous wine with Grilled Pizza. My dream is a delicious Nebbiolo or Barolo or Barbaresco with Grilled Pizza. George is in agreement--a fine Barolo!

Olive oil is such a key ingredient for your dishes, are there tips you can share for people when selecting olive oils? 

When buying olive oil freshness is key. Good ones list the harvest year.  We also suggest looking for an olive oil producer known for their wine production like Capezzana or Regaleali. A winery with a sterling reputation is not going to offer inferior oil to taint their name.

For people cooking pasta dishes, can you give advice on when to use fresh pasta versus dried? 

The rule of thumb is to pair the pasta with the sauce. For instance, a light cream or butter sauce marries well with fresh. A gutsy anchovy sauce would be great with dried linguine.

Our viewpoint is dried pasta from a great company in Italy will be better than poorly prepared fresh pasta from the corner store. There is a real art to making fresh pasta and it is best done at home

Are there dried pastas that you love using?

The readily available pasta we like is De Cecco or DelVerde.

What are some common mistakes you often see that people make when cooking pasta?

Too much time in the water or too much sauce.

What purveyors inspire your creativity, what products, and why? 

Our ingredients are quite simple. It's most important to find a purveyor you trust. We encourage David and each member of our staff to develop relationships with local purveyors whether it is for vegetables or fish or whatever. It doesn't work out to be totally foolproof, but we keep trying.  We have had the same littleneck clam supplier for more than 20 years.

We are most happy sauntering through Farmers Markets here in Rhode Island during the "producing" months.  When we travel--and this is really the source of our inspiration--we visit open-air markets on a daily basis.  There is nothing more wonderful than wandering among the stalls of vegetable producers, cheese mongers, olive sellers for the intoxicating aromas.

For both of you, you have a background working in the arts. How does that influence your work currently?

We use our education in the fine arts every day. We were trained to think in a certain way, to solve problems in a unique way. There is a direct relationship from our brains to our hands in everything we do. We have a sense of originality that is intuitive and natural.

After 30 years, numerous accolades, and the honor being named the top casual restaurant in the world by International Herald Tribune - what do you think is the secret to your success?

Our training in the fine arts has certainly been key. Other than that it's about hard work and focus.

Any new projects in the near future?

We opened TINI in DownCity Providence nearly two years ago with David Reynoso (head chef of Al Forno since late 2006). It still feels new and fun and keeps us busy. But for every space we see, we design a restaurant in our heads.

For pizza:

Pepe’s in New Haven for their clam pizza.

Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. We love Chris Bianco’s simple pizzas.

Are there food markets around the world that you love and why? 

We love the "wet market" in Kowloon.  

The Tuesday market in Vaison La Romaine in Provence.  

The weekly market in Recco in Liguria.  

The fabulous Campo dei Fiori in Rome (although memories from the early '70's make it less fabulous today).

The Sant'Ambrogio in Florence

The Rialto in Venice where live specimens wriggle on the tables.  

The Boqueria Mercat in Barcelona---we could go on forever on this subject.

Off-the-beaten track places to eat, that you'd be excited to take an

adventurous eater?

Portobello on the island of Salina is where we could eat every day of our lives. You overlook the beautiful sea while eating the freshest fish and most wonderful pasta.

Puny in Portofino.

Giusti in Modena.

Luini in Milan for the most delicious panzarotti, hot out of the oil.

Racines in the Passage Panoramas in Paris.

Checchino in Rome.  

Al Moro in Rome

In Hong Kong these two places are not exactly off the beaten track:

The Four Seasons Chinese restaurant.

Hutong in Hong Kong.

Again we could go on forever!

Who else in your field is doing things you think deserve more praise?

There are so many good people doing terrific food.  

We often go to Persimmon in Bristol where Champe Speidel heads the kitchen and his wife Lisa Harrison oversees the dining room. They both work very hard and do a super job. Because it is not in a city location it is too often overlooked.  

Another place under the radar (no pun intended) is the Airport Grill at the New Bedford Airport.  

On Cape Cod we go to the Chart Room for lobster salad, prime rib, baked stuffed lobster, steamers - it's total fun on the water. It's always busy but may not get the praise it deserves.

For a traveler to Rhode Island, what are the most-have local foods and where should one go for them?

Rhode Island used to be filled with chowder houses and seafood shacks.  That is no longer the case. It's hard to find simple things like that today.  There are, however, a great number of very fine restaurants in our little state from the very casual Mike's Kitchen in a VFW hall in Cranston to The Black Pearl (Commodore Room) where Dan Knerr has headed the kitchens for decades.  

We've mentioned Persimmon for creative fine dining, Bruce Tillinghast at New Rivers (Bruce is a great source of local foods and purveyors).

Basta and/or Antonio's in Cranston.

The Old Canteen for a vintage Italian-style abbodanza meal.  

Is there a cookbook, new or vintage that has been influential for you?

We love Richard Olney's Simple French Food.

Any of Julia Child's books, Joy of Cooking for reference.

All of Alice Water's books (Lindsey Shere is a great inspiration, too).  

Paula Wolfert's books are remarkable.  

Jacques Pepin's books are a must, etc, etc.

Restaurants in Italy (fancy or casual) that are on your go-to list?

Checchino in Rome for textbook perfect Roman dishes.  

Gino in Rome for an authentic trattoria meal.  

Al Moro in Rome for the spring dish of fava beans, asparagus and peas cooked for a very long time and incomparably good.

In Milan we cannot resist Luini's panzarotti.  

Then the Portobello in Salina.  We salivate just thinking about it.

Restaurants around the U.S. (fancy or casual) that have impressed you?

Taste in New York (Eli Zabar and Devon Frederick's restaurant on 3rd and 80th).  Impeccable ingredients simply prepared.

Franny's in Brooklyn for terrific wood-oven pizzas and simple apps made with excellent ingredients.

La Laiterie, Matt Jennings’ great place.

Plus Chez Pascal in Providence.


Johanne & George’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in Rhode Island and around the world.

Johanne & George’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in Rhode Island and around the world.




577 South Main Street

Providence, RI 02903 (view map)

T: 401.273.9769



Tue - Fri: 5pm - 10pm

Sat: 4pm - 10pm

Closed Sunday and Monday