Il Forno Brings Nearly 25 Years of Passion to Frederick’s Pie Scene
It’s 11 a.m. at il Forno Pizzeria on a miserably rainy day. The restaurant won’t open for another 30 minutes. Despite the terrible weather, customers have already tried the door. A few even decide to sit and wait at a table after conferring with the waitresses, who are setting up the dining room for the day’s customers.
The fact that customers are practically beating down the door to enter isn’t a surprise to owner John Perrin Jr. He credits the steady stream of loyal regulars to keeping the restaurant open and thriving for 24 years, even as the stores around him close, including Giant Food, which was once Westridge Square Shopping Center’s anchor.
Perrin is the son of Il Forno founder John Perrin Sr. and coowns the business with Mike Bateman, a fraternity brother he met at Bloomsburg University. Another fraternity brother, Dave Tucker, runs the bar, and a few others bartend as well, he says.
Il Forno opened in Frederick in 1990, following openings in Bethesda in 1985 and Gaithersburg in 1989. The Frederick location is the last restaurant standing. Perrin began working at the restaurant in 1997 when it just started to grow. The property doubled as they took over an adjacent space in the shopping center and transitioned the original restaurant space in the bar.
“We have grown incredibly,” Perrin says. The main dining room has plenty of space, and though it’s packed with tables, they’re placed far enough apart to keep you from feeling like you’re in the lap of your fellow diners. The growth was needed to mitigate the lines and waits the restaurant was experiencing each week.
“We were getting to the point where we were having hour-and-a half, two-hour lines on Friday and Saturday, and people just didn’t want to wait that long,” he says. “We were too big for our britches, as they say.”
Outside, the patio went from six tables to 40, and it’s a challenge to find a table when the weather is nice, Perrin says. A pair of wood-burning pizza ovens are exposed in the kitchen, offering an up close view of your pizza as it bakes. The ovens, which cook pizza at 900 degrees, were imported from Italy, and one of them has been churning out pies since the restaurant opened. A second oven was added later to keep up with demand. They are so hot that the restaurant sometimes doesn’t need to turn the heat on in the winter months, Perrin says. Il Forno goes through three cords of wood a month to feed those fires.
The pizza dough is made three times a day, and the sauce is also made in-house, Perrin says. He doesn’t keep exact count, but says the restaurant easily sells about 2,500 pizzas per week.
Large pizzas, which are sized to share, range in price from $13.49 for your basic Margherita to the loaded Gourmet Works at $19.39. For those not wanting to share, most single-serving pizzas are less than $10. Il Forno’s pizza has won a slew of awards from local publications, including Frederick Magazine’s “Best of Frederick” this year.
THE PIZZA MENU IS CONSTANTLY EVOLVING AND CURRENTLY SITS AT 26 OFFERINGS, RANGING FROM SIMPLE MARGHERITA TO THE GOURMET WORKS.
One of Perrin’s personal favorites is the San Giorgio, which combines sausage and pepperoni, but he adds fresh garlic and basil (both included on the restaurant’s free add-ons). The crust is light and crispy, with a nice touch of char from the oven’s ridiculous heat. The sauce is tangy and lightly sweet, and complements the salty, rich flavor from the pepperoni and sausage.
The pizza menu is constantly evolving, as staff members and cooks often pitch ideas to try things. It currently sits at 26 offerings, ranging from the simple tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil of the Margherita (a best-seller, Perrin says), to the Gourmet Works, which adds ground Italian sausage, bacon, goat cheese, artichokes, capers, black olives, fresh basil, sliced tomatoes, spinach, fresh garlic and anchovies on request. Customers can also create their own pizzas by choosing from a lengthy list of toppings.
Perrin says the restaurant sometimes holds competitions among staff to generate new ideas, or puts a pizza on the menu as a special, keeping it around if it sells well. The Greek pizza, which adds feta cheese, banana peppers and black olives to a base of mozzarella and tomatoes, was the idea of one of his waitresses, becoming a customer favorite, he says.
Il Forno also offers a wide variety of pasta dishes, most of which are $10 or less, though a few seafood offerings cost a bit more. On the lounge side of the restaurant, the wide horseshoe shaped bar offers plenty of seating for patrons, as well as a handful of TVs.
Last year, the restaurant finally began offering delivery after years of customer requests. Perrin says he was hesitant to add delivery for years for fear of losing some of the quality they’re known for. But he eventually gave in when he realized customers knew what to expect when the pizza is served 30-40 minutes after cooking instead of directly to the table after coming out of the oven. “That’s blown up,” he says. “… It’s been ridiculous. It’s been awesome.”
Perrin says his favorite part of working at the restaurant is the constant connection to the community. He’s watched families come into Il Forno with two and three-year-old children who are now graduating high school and going off to college. “Probably the most rewarding thing is interacting with people, getting good reactions and knowing them,” Perrin says. “I know this whole town. I really get to know a ton of people. … I love talking to people, and every day I walk into my place I see faces I recognize.”