"I want it to be a pizza party," says chef Jeffrey Amber of the three-week-old Forge Pizza Phoenix. "I want it to be fun."
The 1,500 square foot eatery is the third Forge Pizza location to come from the Le Bon Temps Restaurants team, which consists of Michael Karp, Bob Burke, and Phoenix-based architect Andy Byrnes. This newest location is much smaller than the flagship restaurant located at on the waterfront of Jack London Square in Oakland. Amber describes that 4,800 square foot restaurant as "huge," "rockin'," and "loud" and though they're tight on space here, the chef says he aimes to bring that same feel and spirit to the Biltmore Fashion Park.
At first, Forge might seem like a weird fit for the upscale shopping center, one where safe, familiar dining concepts (i.e. Paradise Bakery and True Food Kitchen) dominate the scene. But Amber says bringing a little edge and energy is how Forge Pizza "speaks to the masses."
"Forge is very unassuming," he says.
Amber, who says he's been cooking since the age of 14, joined the Forge Pizza team after working as executive chef at the W Hotel's XYZ restaurant, Moose's in San Francisco, and Tony Gulisano's Chowrestaurants.
He's pretty straightforward about how he views the casual concept, insisting that Forge is a "sophisticated pizza shop" and not an Italian restaurant.
In fact to Amber that's what differentiates this restaurant from the (many) other pizza restaurant around town. By not serving pasta and offering a strong bar program and some unexpected and refined food options instead, Amber says Forge becomes an unpretentious place for high-quality food.
And high-quality it is. Bread nerds will love to see the stack of Central Milling organic flour bags piled up outside of the small and very open kitchen. Look closely below the restaurant's imported Valoriani wood-burning oven and you can even see the bucket that houses Forge's all natural levain, which the restaurant uses to make its dough fresh every day.
There are cans of DiNapoli tomatoes stacked on shelves above the prep area and Amber says he uses his connections to the Bay Area to fly in the freshest seafood to the restaurant everyday. (You'll often see seafood featured in the restaurant's daily specials.) Amber's partnered with as many local producers as possible, though the restaurant makes their own sausage in house.
But the chef says he's not concerned with the competition.
"I'm just happy to be a part of the conversation," Amber says. "We're just happy to be a part of the community."
One word to describe the culture of Forge Pizza: Fun
What is your favorite item on the menu? Probably the octopus and the Margherita Pizza if I had to pick two.
The biggest difference you've noticed so far between the food scene in Oakland and the food scene in Phoenix: I mean it's kind of apples and oranges, just to start with and I don't mean that in any weird way. I think the food scene in Phoenix doesn't get the credit it probably deserves. I also think people are a little self-depricating about it to me because I come from the Bay Area. They're like "Well, you're from the Bay Area, it's got to be terrible here." And I'm like, no it's actually pretty cool. It's pretty cool.
But maybe the biggest difference is honestly just the size of it. You know there's good people here. There's some good creative people here. Maybe the biggest difference might be that it's tight-knit here - not that it's not tight knit in the Bay Area, but when you get to a certain size it's fragmented.
What's the best slice of pizza you've ever had? You know there's a couple guys in the Bay Area that are pretty famous and you know, I gotta stick to my roots. Tony Gemignani - who's nationally famous at this point - makes a pretty damn good pizza obviously. And then a guy named Charlie Hallowell who lives up there. He has a group of restaurants, two that make pizza. One is called Pizzaiolo and Boot and Shoe.
How do you judge a Neopolitan pizza? To me it's about the bread. It's about the bread and the sauce. Some people would probably argue water and cheese but to me it's about the bread and sauce and how they're used. It's not so much about them as it's a starting point and a finishing point and what happens in the middle can ruin either one. It's flour, bread, and sauce. Make it simple.
What is your favorite kind of pizza? I don't know, I mean that's like asking a butcher what's his favorite kind of meat. You know, I like simplicity. I like Margherita pizza. I like inventive toppins and all that but if I go to a place that's known for pizza I usually always get a Margherita pizza and I get something that is maybe their specialty.
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Do you have a guilty pleasure pizza place? Yeah, Costco. That's my guilty pleasure. Costco pizza, I don't know what it is, man, it's like the cheapest crap and I watch them put it in that weird conveyor belt thing...I mean, I see them with the beard hair nets and shit. I don't know, man. It's like the best of the worst. It's like I eat it and it's not even warm, it's been sitting in my fridge for a few days and I'm like "Man, this is good."
Your drink of choice and where you like to get it: I usually drink Manhattans with Bulliet Rye, sometimes Templeton Rye. I don't know where I'd get it locally but Dirty Habit in San Francisco, Brian Means is the bartender there. It's amazing. I typically judge a bar by if they know how to make a Manhattan and a lot of bars don't know how to make a Manhattan.
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