Forno Restaurant & Wine Bar has opened on North Eutaw Street, right across the street from the Hippodrome and around the corner from the Everyman Theatre.
"Our concept is focused on local, sustainable and seasonable food items,” said Emina Dukic, who co-owns Forno with her husband, Bryan Noto.
Forno is having its grand opening on March 15, but the 130-seat restaurant opened for business, as quietly as it could, in late February.
"We didn’t want to announce ourselves to the world," Dukic said.
There was a reason for the reticence.
Forno's opening happened to coincide with the heavily sold run of "The Book of Mormon" at the Hippodrome. Even without much publicity, Dukic said, every seat in Forno was filled with on nights when the musical had a performance.
Dukic said that she and Noto are prepared for a demanding theater crowd. "We're fortunate enough to have a better understanding than the average person about what it takes," Dukic said. Between the two of them, Dukic said, she and Noto have "close to 30 years" of restaurant experience.
"We both started working in restaurants at a very young age," Dukic said. "We have both worked at almost every restaurant position."
The couple met in Wilmington, N.C., where Dukic is from. Noto is a Baltimore native. They moved to Baltimore six years ago, where eventually Noto went to work for Alewife, a tavern with a large following among both theater-goers and the downtown neighborhood’s residents, many of whom are affiliated with the University of Maryland.
Dukic said Forno is designed not only for the theater goers but for the university community, which, she said, doesn't have a variety of choices in the neighborhood. "We wanted them to have someplace where they could come for a more peaceful atmosphere.”
Dukic said that creating Forno's cozy look and feel emerged gradually, but the basic concept was there from the start.
"It was all in our heads," Dukic said. "As we continued, we made some changes, and made some tweaks. We took our time, and tried to get it right."
The couple used idea boards, Dukic said, to transform the space, where the most recent tenant, World of Wings, closed in 2010. "Sun-soaked colors and earthy elements, combined with color found in nature -- almost Navajo colors - deeper blues and reds and crushed berry for the upholstery -- that was the initial burst of the Forno concept," Dukic said.
Forno's menu includes fully plated entrees like braised pork shoulder, Moroccan spiced rabbit and roasted chicken. The chef is Kris Sandholm, a Philadelphia-area chef, who, Dukic said, has experience with organic farming and owned his own restaurant called Starfish Brasserie in Bethlehem, Pa.
Dukic said Forno's menu, with the needs of pre-theater crowds in mind, also includes quickly prepared lighter fare like brick-oven pizza and open-flame charred vegetables. But those items fit right into Forno's culinary program, Dukic said.
"The brick-oven produces food that's simple," Dukic said. "There's no masking of flavor. It lets let ingredients speak for themselves."
Forno is open for dinner service daily. Dukic said that lunch service and a late-night menu will start on March 17.
Forno Restaurant & Wine bar is 17 N. Eutaw St. Call 443-873-9427 or go to fornobaltimore.com.