The best restaurant in southern New England

Scene inside Al Forno in Providence, R.I. Alex Nunes/The Day

Well, some people may question my headline, but it certainly got your attention!

So here's my pick for the best restaurant in southern New England: Al Forno in Providence, R.I.

This weekend I had the opportunity to go to Al Forno and thought I'd pass along my experience to readers of this blog. The decision came kind of spur of the moment while I was at dinner, so please excuse the poor quality cell phone photos.

I've lived in Providence, R.I. on and off since 2004 and worked in New London for a year now, and I've noticed an unexpected number of southeasten Connecticuters are very fond of Al Forno, which specializes in authentic Italian cuisine (NOTE: If you're in Providence and looking for good Italian food, Al Forno is where you want to go, NOT Federal Hill, which many in Providence consider Italian Disneyland).

Since coming to The Day, I've noticed that Al Forno comes up in conversation a surprising number of times. When I interviewed here, the first thing one editor asked me when he heard I was from Providence was if I had ever been to Al Forno.

The good thing about Al Forno is they have really unique dishes, but they're not so different that you end up eating something really strange. Last night, my party started off with a few appetizers: crispy cod cakes with smashed avocado, buffalo mozzarella and sliced salami, clams Al Forno and a side of broccoli rabe.

I love anything with avocado, so the crispy cod cakes were my personal favorite, a nice crispy fried taste on the outside and a warm soft salty cod taste on the inside. The buffalo mozzarella and salami was the freshest I'd ever had and went well on top of a nice slice of fresh rustic bread with some olive oil drizzled on top. I'd say the clams Al Forno were a little chewy for my taste, but the sauce they came in more than made up for it.

Al Forno is known for their wood grilled pizza and a lot of people share pizza as an appetizer. People who know me well know I could probably eat pizza for breakfast lunch and dinner and not get tired of it, so I got pizza as my main dish. I got the fried calamari pizza, which was outstanding (see the picture at the top). I was accompanied by my family. My brother got the spicy pizza and my sister got the margarita pizza. I tried a slice of my brother's pie, which basically tasted like my pizza without the calamari. My sister wasn't sharing (though I should say she was saving some leftovers for my mother, who wasn't in attendance).

My wife and father both got the wood grilled George's Bank scallops. The scallops came with potato-turnip gratin and sautéed wild mushrooms. They both seemed impressed but I was too consumed in my own meal to ask too many questions.

For dessert, I got the toasted coconut ice cream sandwich, which came with hand-churned ice cream in the center of homemade nut brownies. It was as good as it sounds. We all got espressos and cappuccino too.

Before you go there are a few things you should know about Al Forno: it's pricey. Appetizers range from $3 to $24.95, and entrees run between $23.95 and $32.95. I always go with my dad…because he pays!

Also, Al Forno is extremely popular and getting a seat is not easy. The restaurant only takes reservations for parties of six or more. We lucked out because they counted my 9-month-old son as our sixth person. But when we arrived just before 6 p.m., parties of two were being told the wait time was almost three hours. A lot of people opt to get drinks at the bar and wait, then they end up eating dinner there too.

If you're going to make the trip up 95, my advice is to get a few couples together so you can get the six person reservation minimum. Either that or have a few more kids.

The best time to get the total Al Forno experience is in summer. The outside atrium area is canopied in vines, and there is outdoor dining underneath.

If you go, tell them you heard about Al Forno on The Day's dinning blog. They'll give you no discount and tell you to get in line!

P.S. I'm eating leftover calamari pizza for breakfast as I write this post.

About the author: Alex Nunes is Interactive Editor at The Day. He enjoys foods of all varieties and a good Shirley Temple. In seventh grade he was a founding member of the "Eating Food Club" with Keith McNaboe and Jeff McCarthy.

Calamari pizza at Al Forno in Providence, R.I.
Calamari pizza at Al Forno in Providence, R.I. Alex Nunes/ The Day
Scene inside Al Forno in Providence, R.I.
Scene inside Al Forno in Providence, R.I. Alex Nunes/The Day

If you go

Al Forno

Address: 577 South Main St., Providence, R.I.

Phone: 401-273-9760

Entree price range: $23.95 - $32.95

Dress: business casual to dressy


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