First Look at The Forge, Opening Next Week in Oakland

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Jack London Square needs a pizzeria. The foot-traffic-starved plaza and retail complex has struggled in recent years despite plenty of city investment and new, high-profile dining options (Haven, Bocanova). But that may be changing. Pizzeria UNO is long gone, but enter The Forge (66 Franklin Street). It's a homespun concept with homegrown talent — Michael Karp (who owns Orinda's Barbacoa and Table 24), Bob Burke (a Pat Kuleto vet), chef Jeffrey Amber (XYZ, Chow, Moose's), pizza consultant Jeff Krupman (a.k.a. The Pizza Hacker), and pizzaiolo Jeff Hayden, who's worked at Boot & Shoe Service and Dopo, and whom Amber calls The Pizza Ninja. They've installed a forge-like, wood-fired Valoriani oven from Italy to anchor the space, but the first thing you'll notice on approach will be the fire pits outside and the seating that surrounds them, which are going to give an automatic boost to the energy in Jack London for the foreseeable future.

The architect here was Phoenix-based Andy Byrnes, and he's turned the high-ceilinged, industrial space into a comfortable and casual dining room with open kitchen and a central bar. And, for some added flair for private parties, they will convert the outdoor fire pits, Hacker style, into pizza ovens.

"We wanted to create an American pizzeria," Amber says, "without falling into the Italian thing." They've done so by nixing the pasta section of the menu altogether and going with starters like fried Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds and fried pickled vegetables, a Green Goddess salad, and smoked chicken wings; and just four entrées including a dressed up dish of market fish, a burger, and an upscale chicken pot pie done in the wood oven with whole grain mustard on top.

The pizzas, meanwhile, look to be artful California creations, redolent of smoke from the oven (and a dash of smoked salt on the crust), and a unique, chewy, barely sour crust that Krupman has perfected by adapting the recipe for Tartine's country loaf. A spicy pie featuring house-made pepperoni (spooned on, sans casing, like sausage), tomato, red onion, Calabrian chili oil, and cream is a definite must, and the very pretty guanciale pie with chicories, Castelvetrano olives, and leeks is something to behold, and taste, as well. See the full menu here.

As you can tell, we had a bit of a sneak peek of the place last night. See our slideshow below, and you can expect them to start welcoming in the public on Monday or Tuesday, January 28 or 29, pending some trial runs with friends and family this weekend.

The Forge - 66 Franklin Street (on the water), Oakland - 510-268-3200 - Opening for lunch and dinner starting next week.

Earlier: The Forge, a New Pizzeria, Opening at Jack London Square in Late January

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