It’s become a common complaint that “high rises” and “condos” are ruining Roosevelt Row and nearby neighborhoods. In reality, most of the construction isn’t tall enough to be meet any widely accepted definition of “high rise,” and most of what is being built is apartments rather than condominiums. More importantly, while a few businesses have been displaced, many are finding new homes in the ground floor of new residential mid-rises. Forno 301 is one of those businesses, having recently relocated from west Roosevelt to the Muse apartments a half mile to the north.
The restaurant has kept it name even as it has left its original location. Maybe that’s because “Forno 301” sounds a whole lot snappier than “Forno 1616,” which would describe the new address on Central Avenue, diagonally across from the McDowell / Central light rail station. Despite being one of many new buildings sometimes maligned as the product of “out-of-state developers,” Muse has recruited local businesses for its ground floor retail space. Muse joins a salon and Press Coffee among the tenants facing Central and the Phoenix Art Museum, which is on the other side of the street.
The new space is considerably larger than the original site and, judging from the crowds, appears to be a logical next step to accommodate a growing business, rather than merely a necessary step to avoid the demolition of its former building. The trio that started the restaurant — Roberto, Mili, and Luca — are all still present, but now they’re joined by a larger staff needed to support the larger space, both inside and out. In addition to the main dining room, there is a private dining area and a patio wrapping around the corner of Central and McDowell.
With expanded space and staff, there is also a bigger menu. It’s still focused on Neapolitan pizza and wood-fired Italian foods, but the selection of appetizers and pastas has grown with the move. As at the old location, there’s an open kitchen with a beehive-shaped pizza oven, one of many found around Downtown Phoenix, which has become a somewhat unexpected hotbed of Neapolitan-style pies in recent years. There are now 14 pizzas, all fairly traditional in terms of traditional Italian toppings, various combinations of cured meats, vegetables, and cheeses.
The namesake 301 pizza is the restaurant’s workhorse. It’s a satisfying mix of onions, mozzarella, sausage, and mushrooms over fresh tomato sauce. The Heirloom is a fresh, salad-like pizza with sliced tomato and arugula applied after its brief time in the oven. The 4 Stagioni is a hearty pie topped with salty black olives, prosciutto, artichokes, and mushrooms. Meaty options include the Sporcacciona with four different types of salumi: prosciutto, bacon, salami, and sausage, as well as the Testosterone with prosciutto and two eggs on top.
As is customary with the Neapolitan style, the pies have a soupy center, a bit of char around the edge, and a chewy crust in between. To enjoy the same ingredients in a different configuration, Forno 301 now offers two calzones. Like the pies, they can feed one hungry person but are best shared by two. The pizza dough also forms the basis of three variety of panini with fillings of prosciutto, turkey, and sausage with equally generous portions. Each sandwich is cut into four quarters, and two of those will satisfy most appetites, especially when matched with a starter.
Among the appetizers are two varieties of bruschetta, one with creamy burrata, grape tomatoes, and basil, and another with prosciutto, gorgonzola, and figs. An antipasto plate of cured meats, cheese, and vegetables and a small dish of eggplant parmigiana have migrated from the old location. Newer additions include shareable dishes of meatballs with spicy marinara and roasted cauliflower with two sauces. Standout salads include the Ciopatta with fennel, endive, tomatoes, and hearts of palm over greens and the Rucola with arugula leaves, pears, and almonds.
Pastas were occasional specials on Roosevelt. Now, they’re an entire separate section of the menu with four regular offerings and a special or two each day. Offered all the time are cavatelli with a hearty meat sauce, ravioli with a simple preparation of butter and sage, fettuccine tossed in a creamy carbonara, and gnocchi dressed with pesto. Recent rotating pasta specials listed on a chalkboard near the entry have included ravioli with stuffed with filet mignon and penne with amatriciana, a traditional sauce of cured pork cheek, pecorino cheese, tomato, and onion.
Dessert is one portion of the menu that hasn’t grown much with the move. It still a tight collection of well-executed and satisfying classics such as tiramisu and creme brulee. The bar is substantially bigger, though — both in terms of seating and the array of wine offerings. Part of that change is due to having more storage space. The corridor leading to the restrooms at the rear passes by an array of bottles to back up what’s on hand up front. Beer and cocktails are not emphasized as much but still available, including mimosas to accompany the restaurant’s new weekend brunch service.
Forno 301’s successful transplant to a bigger and better location is a welcome outcome for a restaurant whose demise was feared when its old site became appealing for more intensive development. While not all the new apartment buildings going up along the light rail corridor are architectural marvels and some could do more to enhance the pedestrian experience along their facades, they’re still a net positive trend in terms of expanding housing options, encouraging density near rail transit and employment centers, and, in this case, providing a home for local restaurants.
1616 N Central Ave., #104, Phoenix, AZ 85004
McDowell / Central Station