When Sophia Loren, who grew up in poverty in Naples, Italy, was asked about the secret to her beauty and success, she replied: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
Chef Egidio (Egi) Franciosa also grew up in Naples, immersing himself in the culture’s iconic dishes – simple delicacies like linguini con vongole and Margherita pizza – and the mystique of Sofia. When he and his wife Gianna decided to move from a food truck to bricks and mortar, the veneration of these icons was important. At Il Forno (Italian for “oven”), a Franciosas restaurant recently opened in Chestnut Hill, you enter an industrial space warmed by a cozy bar, an open kitchen with a state-of-the-art wood-fired pizza oven, wood-plated tables, sparkling glassware and gorgeous mural depicting Miss Lauren.
“It was a journey,” Gianna says. “Here’s the short version: I was an immigrant from California living in Switzerland, where Egy and I met. We returned to my home where he mentored Tuscan chef Saverio Posarelli in Agoura Hills. We moved to Nashville after Bella Napoli hired Agie in 2014. In 2017 we went by ourselves with a food truck and signed a lease here in February 2020. In our partnership, I am a designer and work in front of the house. Egi is muscular.
The transition from a small mobile establishment to a full-service restaurant has given Chef Egi the opportunity to offer an expanded menu. Putting together their drinks program, the couple works with 100% Italian distributors to showcase a concise but excellent selection of Italian wines. Italian style cocktails including Negronis and spritzes. Order a refreshing Aperol spritz or a rich Barbera to complement your plate of selected cured meats (Mortadella! Finocchiona Salami!) and signature cheeses.
Of course, there is the delicious wood-fired pizza with Rosse (red) or Bianche (white) sauce. Made in the Neapolitan tradition using Caputo ’00’ flour, the dough is light but crunchy and chewy. Each cake comes out of the blazing oven puffy, bubbly and incredibly delicious. Chef Egi does the right thing with a classic Margherita, which he prepares with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, tender Fior di Latte cheese, parmesan, fresh basil and a little olive oil. But you’ll want to try his other specialties: prosciutto and mushrooms, as well as “Vegetariana” with fried eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and basil; and “Amore”, smeared with ricotta and sprinkled with artichokes and Kalamata olives.
Salads are extraordinary. Some are named after communes in Italy. Mondragone is arugula stacked with orange zest, beets and pistachios in a lemon-honey-mint vinaigrette, topped with a bump of silky burrata. A piece of fried polenta forms the base of the Porlezza, on which lie slices of lettuce topped with Gorgonzola sauce.
And, what should not be missed: the secret of beauty and success of Sophia Loren, homemade pasta. Chef Egi offers four innovative dishes. We tried two and look forward to trying the rest. But know this: delicate rigatoni in a creamy sauce with black truffle sausage is rich and soothing. Bucatini with squid ink swirled with wild octopus stew and cherry tomatoes is a revelation.
Italians are all about family, and the Franciosas have included pasta and pizza for the kids on the menu. There are four irresistible desserts, but we keep coming back for tiramisu. With creamy mascarpone layered with espresso-soaked savoiardi (ladyfingers) and cocoa sprinkles, this is the best we found in town.
Gianna notes that she and Agie have several plans in the works. The covered patio with outdoor fire pit is almost ready for al fresco dining. They would like to have movie nights and cooking classes. As soon as the football stadium opens, the couple will show the games. “Like Italians!” They will offer Bellinis and other Prosecco-based drinks, as well as “Aperitivo”, which is more of a cultural experience than a pre-meal drink and snack.
“Our motto is Naples in Nashville, from Naples to Nashville,” Gianna says. “Unpretentious. We want people to experience the pleasure of Italian dinner. Come gather with friends, family, your community.” (1414 3rd Ave. Ste. 104, 615-739-6713; ilfornowoodfired.com)