You probably wouldn’t expect it.
If you didn’t know to look for it, you might just drive right by.
But once you do find it, you’re never going to let it go.
“It” is Alforno, all at once a trattoria, a well stocked, welcoming bar, and a place that has been serving the best pizza on the shoreline for the last 28 years. For many it’s a must-stop every few days; for others it’s the best kept secret in this part of Connecticut, yet it’s one that when revealed, shares something very special where good food, good spirits, and good people regularly come together to enjoy a unique experience.
Local chef Ben Zemmel from Alforno in Old Saybrook talks to Faith about what it’s like to take over a successful family restaurant.
May brings us the first group of vegetables that make for wonderful fillings in this stuffed breast of young chicken served over risotto. We used the skin-on, boneless breast from a 3-pound Bell & Evans all-natural young chicken.
At Alforno we bake bread 361 days a year. The exceptions are the four holidays when we are closed. The loaves that we serve on Monday were actually started on the previous Saturday. It is a three-day process with long fermentation periods with at least two overnights.
This method yields great, deeply flavored crusty artisanal bread.
But there is a shorter method that was taught to me by Charlie Van Over, our bread expert in Chester and author of “The Best Bread Ever,” available from Amazon or your local bookseller.
Ragu in northern Italy refers to any sauce of slow cooked meat in liquid served over pasta. Braising, in which meat is browned over high heat and then simmered in liquid over low heat is the ideal method to create a great ragu. In Bologna, there will be a different recipe from every other street or even every other family. After explaining my own take on this recipe to a native of Bologna, I endured a five-minute diatribe on how this was not classic Bolognese. But, classic or not the result is delicious. This version uses pork butt and chuck roast, cuts with lots of connective tissue that we brown strongly, then braise in the oven in red wine and meat stock flavored with vegetables. I prefer these cuts …
Is there such a thing as a creative gene? Perhaps. Nature versus nurture and all that. But it does seem that most tremendously talented people are gifted in more than one way. Great actors can often sing and dance, talented musicians can play more than one instrument and write their own music, superb athletes excel at more than one sport.
World-renowned chefs can also be gifted artists whose works are very desirable.
I first recall being introduced to Jacques Pepin in late 1992. He came for dinner at the elegant . . .
With the crowds on the Piazza San Marco side, it is a battle to fight your way forward through the tourists like ourselves and the “restaurant hawkers” trying to lure you to eat in their second-rate places. Avoid these places.
On the other side of the Grand Canal, it is much less crowded. Here we rented a dazzling restored apartment, close to attractions such as the Guggenheim Museum, the former residence of Peggy Guggenheim during her Venice years. You stand face to face with Jackson Pollock paintings showing his evolution to splatter painting. For a modest 15 Euro entry, this is your key rainy-day . . .
Autumn in Italy means white truffles, porcini mushrooms, and wild boar. They are among northern Italy’s premier food delicacies and a singular reason for planning a trip in the fall when these ingredients appear all over local menus.
Truffle hunters bring their dogs, trained from puppyhood, to find and dig up the “tartufo bianco.” The hunter heads deep into the forest, to his own secret location, where he hopes to find these edible jewels. He finds them only in October through December, connected to oak . . .
Who says you can’t go home?
Bob Zemmel and Linda Giuca have owned Alforno Trattoria in Old Saybrook since 1992, earning accolades along the way in this publication as well as local and national recognition for their pizza and Italian cuisine. Their son, Ben, grew up in the restaurant before heading off to Boston . . .
The popular Old Saybrook restaurant Alforno —“from the oven” in Italian— was the brainchild of Bob Zemmel, Chef Ben’s father. Tired of the routine of running a garment business in Queens, New York, Bob’s form of relaxation found an outlet in his love of baking his own bread. After a trip to Connecticut, and consuming lots of slices of Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven on the way, he decided to leave his business in New York, find a spot in southeastern Connecticut, and open his very own pizzeria. At the time, he knew next to nothing about running a restaurant, but the business became a family affair when his wife, Linda Giuca, a former food editor of the Hartford Courant . . .
I’ve always admired Alforno Trattoria in Old Saybrook for knowing exactly what it wants to be. Too many restaurants try to be everything to everybody. For 25 years, owner Robert Zemmel and his wife, Linda, have positioned Alforno as a casual Italian bistro and pizzeria and resisted the temptation to take the menu more upscale.
While Alforno’s menu carefully tops out at $25, there are plenty of discreet little pleasures that let you know you’re enjoying a first-class meal, like a complimentary plate with squares of housemade focaccia, slices of housemade, brick-oven Italian …
Lucky for us, we have direct access to some of the best pizza in the US, right here on the Shoreline. And even luckier, this family-friendly trattoria, known for their New Haven-style brick-oven pizza, has now raised the bar by offering a sublime pie made in a 250-year-old tradition (which requires certification to produce – no joke!) called Pizza Napolitano Vera. The Caputo flour dough rises for two days at room temperature and is topped with house-made slightly sweet, light tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and ribbons of basil. The crust? A perfect ratio of chewy to char …
ALFORNO TRATTORIA, marking its 20th year in Old Saybrook this summer, has become something of a shoreline institution, known for its New Haven-style brick-oven pizza.
Bob Zemmel and Linda Giuca, the owners, recently updated the casual, tiled dining area. Larger granite tables and more comfortable chairs fit right in with Italian pottery, racks of wine bottles along one wall and swags of fabric hanging from the ceiling. The revamped menu now includes a few new family-style appetizers and gives diners the option of ordering all pasta as small plates.
Originally inspired by its thin-crust neighbor to the west, New Haven, owners Bob Zemmel and Linda Giuca have set out to create thin crust pizzas reminiscent of the pies they love on Wooster Street. Almost twenty years later these pies stand strong and beloved by the Connecticut shoreline communities (and you thought they only ate lobster rolls) alongside a self-described menu of “Florentine” favorites …