If you’ve been following my food blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m a bit of a pizza fanatic! I’ll travel to great lengths for good pizza so I was super curious when I heard the news about an upcoming Neapolitan pizza joint in Durham, Cugino Forno (Italian for: cousin oven). Part of a small, local, pizza chain based out of Greensboro, the Durham location was going to sit smack-dab in the Golden Belt complex right next to Hi-Wire Brewing. I’ve had a couple of chances to visit Cugino Forno now and I can say it’s really hard to go wrong with beer and pizza!
If you haven’t been to the Golden Belt complex, you might be surprised! It’s a large, refurbished textile mill which includes corporate space, residential living, and retail space. The large retail area has four businesses (Hi-Wire Brewing, J. Lights Market, Two Roosters ice cream, Cugino Forno pizza) wrapping around a courtyard area and a huge brick smokestack towering over the space. It’s a family-friendly space, often teaming with parents and children, parking can get tight. Cugino Forno sits in a fairly industrial space: concrete floors, high ceilings with fluorescent lighting along with long, communal tables. Stacks of pizza boxes and Caputo flour line the walls giving it all a utilitarian feel. The space reminds me a lot of the popular Antico Pizza in Atlanta. A pizzeria that’s built for high volume production and quick service!
Order at the counter, you’ll have your choice of 12 or so house pies, salads, sweets, beer, and wine. It’s all pretty basic here at Cugino Forno with items between $9 and $20! Note that there are no custom pies, substitutions, or half-topping options. Given the size of their 16″ pie, you should be able to feed two people with average appetites. The open kitchen, prep area, and ovens are fun to look at. There are tons of stacked wood and pizza dough proofing on large, aluminum trays! Neapolitan pizzas have to be cooked up in wood-fired ovens to be official Neapolitan! And it usually takes only 90 seconds or so in the blazing hot ovens at Cugino Forno. There are a slew of soccer (futbol) flags lining the space and the dining room TVs will usually be playing the current soccer match.
So how are the pizzas at Cugino Forno? Well, I’ve had several by now and they are quite good. Super soft and supple crust that’s nicely baked in their fiery wood ovens. Toppings are nicely distributed and generous, Cugino Forno puts out a good-looking pie. Try the Napoletana with Italian sausage, sweet red pepper, onions, and Bufala mozzarella. It’s a classic taste combination which I definitely recommend. If you’re feeling more adventurous, the Calabrese with spicy Italian salami, calabrian peppers, and Bufala mozzarella will certainly get your attention. The peppers are pretty durn hot and the deep red color of the pie should be a forewarning! Note that Cugino Forno has a table on the side with add-on parmesan cheese, peppers, oregano, and more along with a heated pot of marinara sauce to dip your pizza bones into. A thoughtful touch for Cugino Forno diners.
If you can’t finish your pie, grab a pre-made box at the wall which is perfect for leftovers. For dessert, I’ve been told that the cannoli here are quite good and made in-house. Overall I do like what Cugino Forno is doing even though its 16″ pies are a bit atypical for Neapolitan pizza. Given the round form of a pie, the bigger the pizza is, the more actual pizza you get versus crust! I’m not happy when I do a single-serve Neapolitan pie with a thick crust which leaves very little actual, real pizza on the plate. The pizzas here at Cugino Forno will feed two people unless you want leftovers. So rock on, Cugino Forno! You may be a local chain but you are slinging out some pretty damn good, Neapolitan-style pizzas.