There are plenty of places for wood-fired pizza in the Valley, but the newly opened Forno 301 in downtown Phoenix is distinct. Owners Roberto Dadone and Luca Dagliano grew up in Sanremo, a Mediterranean city in northwestern Italy, where they trained in traditional cuisine. Lively, passionate, and good-humored, the two bring decades of experience to their three-month-old pizzeria. The third in their trio is Mili Fernandez, a Cuban native who studied culinary arts in Italy.
Wine bottles decorate the walls, tables are composed of repurposed wood, and the entrees change daily. During the cooler months, they arrange patio seating on the sidewalk, just like an Italian bistro, and Dadone is fond of cigars, cappuccino, and cognac. This European flair is part of what they like about downtown Phoenix – the intimate neighborhood, the walkable blocks, and locals’ willingness to sample their authentic fare.
How did you end up in Phoenix?
R: I moved here 12 years ago, directly from Italy. I came here and bought an Italian restaurant in the East Valley. I wanted to live in Costa Rica, but at that moment I preferred to live in Arizona. I owned the restaurant for 10 years. But Luca and I are from the same town, and Luca would visit me on holiday. He was always traveling, but always in Europe. He decided to move here one year ago.
Had you ever worked together before? Back in Italy?
R: Never. But when he moved here, we went many times to the coffee shop [next door]. We were drinking coffee and playing cards, and we saw a [for rent] sign in the window of this place. We thought, “Maybe we could use this.” There was nothing here. We renovated it from scratch. And it is perfect for us, because this neighborhood is like a village.
L: I live two blocks away.
R: He doesn’t own a car. He walks here every day.
L: I met Mili in Italy. When we started, I called her in Cuba and said, “Would you like to work with us?” And she said, “Of course!”
R: She came straight from Cuba. She flew directly to Phoenix. She had her bags, and she was ready to work.
Is that true, Mili?
M: Yes! (Laughing)
R: Mili is in the back, working on the pasta and everything in the kitchen. Luca’s experience is related to pizza, wood-fire.
L: Roberto is an expert with the wines and the negroni. Negroni is a very traditional aperitif in Italy.
R: We have a new pasta every day. Mili makes all the pasta herself. Luca makes the pizza, he makes the bread for the panini. That is what we do. We sleep, and we work.
How did you start making pizza?
L: It was an accident. I was in Italy. I made my first, and I fell in love with this job. (Speaks in Italian to Roberto).
R: Luca says, “This is a business about friendship, about family.” You can see in this neighborhood, there is more pizza than... more pizza than...
L: Than people!
R: Yes! But to do it in this way, with the wood-fire, it is very personal. Wood-fire pizza means you bust your balls, because you are putting wood in the fire all day. Every night, you scrape the ashes.
Now it's very common for a distinct national cuisine to get watered down in the United States. But you are from Italy. How does that affect what you make here?
R: This is very important – we don’t give a shit what the Americans want. Luca is doing the exact same thing he was doing in Italy and France. Mili is doing the same pasta she was doing in Italy and Cuba. We are all on the same page. We have to be on the same page. In the end, if someone wants to add parmigiana, they can add parmigiana. But we don’t improvise. People say, “Your really seem to know what you’re doing.” Oh, really? Of course! Luca has been making pizzas for 20 years!
Now Italy is a very regional country, with many different cuisines. What is [Sanremo] known for?
R: You see, already you know more than 90 percent of the people. Everyone asks, “Are you from the north or the south?” There are 20 regions in Italy, and they are all different. We come from near the French border. It’s famous for its seafood because we are on the ocean. It’s famous for its pesto sauce. For us, food and wine are part of the life. It is something that is in our blood.
Do you ever struggle to find the right ingredients?
R: No. It's very eclectic. And we know a lot of people who help us. We maintain the same style.
Italy is famous for its hospitality. That seems to carry over here.
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R: Yes! This is a very friendly place. There is no formality. We don’t seat you, you seat yourself. You come in here like it is your own house.
Forno 301 is located at 301 W Roosevelt St, downtown Phoenix. http://www.forno301.com.