Hidden on a stretch of Paterson Plank Road away from Secaucus’s main business district, Il Forno Pizza/Cafe is easy to miss. But those in the know have been feasting on its fine Italian cuisine for 14 years.
In front, unique pizzas are prepared in a modern, gas-powered brick oven, while in the back, a full menu of Italian specialties awaits.
Between May and September, patrons can enjoy Il Forno’s freshly prepared offerings in a “secret” garden with flowers, shrubs, and a pond.
The cold mixed seafood salad ($13.95) is a great starter, letting you know right away that Il Forno is more than just your average pizzeria. If you yearn for a traditional Italian kitchen feel, order homemade garlic bread with mozzarella ($3.75).
“I enjoy the art of cooking, not just the meat and potatoes.” – Karen Delen, owner
The most popular entree is chicken parmigiana ($9.95 – $11.95), but the menu offers much more.
The three seasons scampi ($19.95) combines veal, chicken, and shrimp in a tasty garlic and lemon sauce. Or create your own dish with a pasta mix and match, which offers 12 pastas and 13 sauces ($9.95 – $11.95).
One great mix is a large order of farfalle (bowties) with a carbonara sauce (white sauce, prosciutto, parmesan, light cream, and peas) for $11.95.
Il Forno does not serve alcohol, but don’t worry, there’s a liquor store nearby.
A unique beginning
Il Forno owner Karen Delen did not take the traditional route to restaurant ownership. Before she and a business partner purchased the run-down property on the north end, Delen had careers in real estate and fashion design—an aesthetic that helps when it comes to the culinary arts.
“The art of everything intrigues me,” Delen said. “I enjoy the art of cooking, not just the meat and potatoes. I wouldn’t give someone something I wouldn’t eat myself. We have people here who take pride in their work.”
Before Delen opened the restaurant, she and a friend tried out various recipes.
“We would see a recipe and say, ‘Okay, let’s have a 30-person dinner party,” Delen said.
Then, a friend in real estate saw the property, called Delen, and asked her to take a look.
“I said, ‘Are you crazy?,’ ” she said. But once she saw the establishment, she fell in love with the possibilities.
Delen and her partner cleaned out the “dirty, rundown neighborhood pizzeria” and transformed it into a café like those nestled in the mountains of Italy.
Word of mouth
Il Forno is so popular that customers call hours in advance to ensure on-time delivery. “We don’t rush a product out the door that will be a big mess,” Delen said. “If you put out a sloppy product, people won’t want to come back. We say ‘excellence takes longer.’ I always try to look at what I would like.”
Though many clients frequent Il Forno for a slice or a pie, Delen says they’re in it for more than just a quick snack.
“There are a lot of pizzerias in Secaucus,” Delen said. “We’re not in competition with the others. We want to be a whole other animal. We have something for everyone.”
Visit www.ilfornopizzacafe.com or call (201) 864-6576.
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com