When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Forge Wood-Fired Pizza Location: 2502 E. Camelback Road Open: Just over a week Eats: Neapolitan-style pizza Price: About $20/person
There's certainly no shortage of places to get a pizza around town these days. There's not even a shortage of places to get a remarkably good pizza (see: here, here, here, and here). We can't say when it happened, but somewhere along the way, Phoenix became a place to find pizzas of all shapes, varieties, and levels of quality.
The latest pizza place to join the pack comes to the Valley by way of northern California and has two sister restaurants in Bay Area. The third outlet can be found in the shops at Union at the Biltmore Fashion Park, taking over the space most recently occupied by Short Leash Short Lease. It's not likely to change the way you think about pizza but makes a nice spot for an al fresco lunch.
The indoor part of the restaurant really just consists of the kitchen, bar, and a few booths; the majority of the seating can be found on the outdoor patio. It's a pleasant space, designed with masculine materials such as black rolled steel and burnt wood. During the cool months, the patio should make a great place for an al fresco meal, though the large shade structures may still not be enough to make it a year-round option.
The restaurant's menu, which our server says doesn't change much from lunch to dinner, is concise but by no means limited to pizza only. There's a selection of starters, soups, and salads, and three non-pizza entrées.
Though the oven-baked eggs and long-cooked ribs were tempting, we started with an order of crispy cheese curds ($8). The restaurant's version isn't likely to win any authenticity points from cheese curd experts -- fried mozzarella bites might be a more accurate moniker. That said, we really enjoyed the light, slightly spiced batter and the side of long-simmered tomato sauce provided for dipping.
We also ordered the cauliflower pizza ($16), which features hunks of cauliflower with pistachio pesto, leeks, Gruyere cheese, and a generous helping of baby arugula. For fans of thin, floppy pizza, this will hit the spot. We don't always love eating our pizza with a fork and knife (made necessary in this case because the thin crust is weighed down by ingredients), but the toppings on this pizza made it worth the extra work. The leeks shone through the abundance of veggies while the richness of the pistachio pesto made a nice contrast to the fresh arugula.
The crust, though blistered to a photogenic deep brown, wasn't the best we've ever had; We'd prefer a chewier texture and a more robust flavor.
We were surprised by how much we enjoyed the fried chicken sandwich ($12), one of three options off the "The Three F's" section of the menu. (The other two dishes are the Forge Burger and fresh fish sandwich.) The sandwich featured a chicken thigh covered in a light and crunchy batter served with Calabrian aioli and lettuce on a toasted bun.The moist piece of chicken fell apart with every bite, making this an easy-to-eat sandwich, always a plus. The Calabrian aioli offered layers of flavor, rather than just hitting a single, spicy note.
The only downside of the dish was the side of overcooked fries, which tasted like they might have come from McDonald's. If you get them, we recommend asking for a side of Forge's ranch dressing, which benefits from dill and other spices. It's zingy and does an excellent job of covering up the flavor of the fries.
For dessert, you really should try an order of Forge's rich, creamy vanilla soft serve. And for an extra dollar, you should really upgrade it and get a topping of salted olive oil. The combination of fat, sugar, and salt is instantly enjoyable.
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Though Forge may not have blown us away as the most recent addition to an ever-growing number of pizza places in town, we're happy to see another independently-owned restaurant go into Union. With the soon-to-open permanent Short Leash restaurant at the other end of the space, Union is poised to become a solid dining destination.