When Bob Zemmel opened Alforno in June 1992, his original singular goal was to bring the brick oven pizza made famous on New Haven’s Wooster Street to the shoreline. Those sizzling, thin-crust pies, their chewy crusts slightly charred from the 600-plus degree temperature of a custom-built brick oven, along with crisp salads tossed in signature dressings and exceptional, fresh-baked artisan bread quickly drew a loyal following.
While the pizza oven remains its heart, Alforno soon evolved into a Tuscan-inspired trattoria (in Italy, a casual and unpretentious place to dine, that uses the best of local ingredients and features ever-changing seasonal menu items). It came to be known for its from-scratch kitchen where stocks, sauces, fresh pasta and ravioli are made in-house. Where slow-cooked beef and pork roasts never ground meat—are at the heart of the signature Bolognese sauce. Where the Osso Buco —prepared with pork shanks rather than veal— and the house-made pistachio sausage are customer favourites. Where best-loved seasonal specials include ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms over risotto, and brodetto, a fish stew from the Marche region, east of Tuscany. Ben Zemmel, Bob’s son, creates a brodetto based on the stew served at Villa Marina restaurant in Fano, Italy, where he cooked while living in Italy for a year.
Favourable reviews in The New York Times (three stars), The Hartford Courant, Connecticut Magazine and numerous other publications have recognized Alforno’s commitment to quality. The Zagat Survey awarded Alforno 23 points for food and featured the restaurant in its “Guide to the 1,000 Best Italian Restaurants in America.” Connecticut Magazine’s Readers’ Choice issue has singled out Alforno numerous times over the years in its best restaurants poll.
Alforno pizza and artisan bread, baked fresh daily, have consistently made “best of” lists, including the Daily Meal’s “101 Best Pizzas in America.” Writing in the New York Times, Mark Bittman called Bob “a yeasted dough fanatic. His huge peasant loaves of white Tuscan bread belie the notion that good bread can be produced only in Europe or New York, and his pizza crust vies with the best from New Haven – which many people regard as the pizza capital of the world.”
Alforno is a family-friendly restaurant that is friendly-family run. When Bob married into an Italian-American family, he learned to share their passion not only for eating but also for cooking. He and his wife, Linda Giuca, the former long-time food editor of The Courant, were mentored by Giuliano Bugialli, the great Florentine cooking teacher, and cookbook author.
The Zemmel family travels to Italy* frequently to search out ideas for new dishes and ingredients and to visit vineyards, oil producers and cheese makers.
After celebrating twenty-five years in business, Alforno recently underwent a major renovation to create a sleek, contemporary bar, a more spacious dining room and a gleaming new kitchen.
The bar was the brainchild of Bob’s son, Ben. At a time when many of his twenty- and thirty-something contemporaries are leaving the state for jobs elsewhere, Ben gave up a successful restaurant career in Boston to return to Connecticut and join the family business. Both Ben and his wife, Michelle, who has 10 years of bartending experience, bring a “big city” sensibility to Alforno, evident in the modern vibe of the new bar.
*The chance meeting of a truffle-hunting dog in San Gimignano on one of these trips ultimately led to Bob’s breeding of Lagotto Romagnolos. This adorable dog breed is adept at and specifically trained in Italy to hunt truffles, which are mainly found in the northern and central regions of the country.