Forghedaboudit – Deming, New Mexico
Several years ago, former New York Times food editor Sam Sifton posited the “Pizza Cognition Theory” which declared “the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes (and somehow appreciates on something more than a childlike level) becomes, for him, pizza. He will defend this interpretation to the end of his life.” Because Sifton grew up in Brooklyn Heights, New York and was exposed to great pizza at a very early age, the Pizza Cognition Theory makes sense It makes sense, in fact, for everyone whose introduction to the sheer magical deliciousness that is pizza transpired at a venue which prepared truly transformative pizza. But what about the rest of us whose grew up in rural American and who may not have had our first “great” pizza until our shadows darkened the doors at Pizza Hut…or Domino’s or Papa John’s? Surely, the Pizza Cognition theory holds no personal weight for us.
The Garduño siblings were first introduced to pizza in the dark ages when our mom prepared an “Appian Way” pizza from a Chef Boyarde “Pizza Kit,” a cache of crust mix, tomato sauce, a mixture of Parmesan and a dry spice mix in a box. Surely, we wondered, this can’t be what those urban sophisticates in Albuquerque were raving about. Back then, the Duke City’s premier pizza parlors were Shakey’s and Peppino’s on Indian School and Wyoming, almost (who can ever forget the Peppino’s annoyingly catchy jingle: “The p-pizza’s p-perfect at Peppino’s, the p-pizza’s p-perfect at Peppino’s p-pizza joint.”).
I was in high school when a Pizza Hut opened up in Taos, some 25 miles from our home in Peñasco. For teenagers, Pizza Hut was as close as we could come to being treated as adults. We would be escorted to tables adorned with red and white checkered tablecloths and a lit candle. We were even waited on by a person who brought us silverware and refilled our beverages. We thought Pizza Hut was pizza self-actualized, as good as it could possibly get. What does that say about my rural naivete? Had I not joined the Air Force immediately out of high school, Pizza Hut might have forever been my ideal, my reality. The pizza of my Pizza Cognition Theory might have been Pizza Hut’s Supreme.
Plucking me out of the bumpkinly backwoods and plopping me just outside of Boston was the best thing the Air Force ever did for me. For two years, I was perpetually wide-eyed and mesmerized at seeing all those sights and cultures which heretofore existed for me only on the printed page. Moreover, I was introduced to a panoply of delicious and exotic dishes, most of which are still not available in Peñasco. My very first “real” pizza from Steve’s House of Pizza in Bedford immediately shattered any ill-founded misconceptions I may have had about Pizza Hut’s pizza actually being great. Within a year, my ceiling for what constitutes life-altering pizza was forever raised with the first bite of Frank Pepe’s transformative white clam pie in Hartford, Connecticut. Pepe’s has been named America’s very best pizza on numerous occasions by numerous national online and print publications, most recently having a four-year run as America’s best pizza according to the Daily Meal.
It would be another twenty-seven years before another pizza as wonderful as Pepe’s would cross my lips–in of all places, Phoenix, Arizona. Just as Pepe’s has, Pizzeria Bianco has earned critical acclaim as the best pizza in the land on multiple occasions and by multiple sources. In 1995, to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of pizza in America, celebrated author Ed Levine ate nothing but pizza for an entire twelve month period, ultimately concluding that Pizzeria Bianco served the best pizza in the world. Not just Arizona or even the United States, but the entire world.
In 2013, our friend Sandy Driscoll introduced us to Pizzeria Mozza, a landmark restaurant that almost immediately became the toughest reservation to get in Los Angeles. The brainchild of a triumvirate of culinary legends (including Food Network glitterati Mario Batali), Pizzeria Mozza has also garnered “best pizza in America” acclaim by both the cognoscenti and the general public. By now you might be thinking “Gil’s obviously a pizza snob. He only considers pizza great if it’s won national awards.” I’ll admit that thought has crossed my mind, too. How I’ve longed for New Mexico to have a pizza that competes for my affection with the pizzas par-excellence I’ve encountered in my travels.
In February, 2017, when Kimberly Yacone contacted me about visiting Forghedaboudit, the popular restaurant she and her husband Robert own and operate in Deming, skepticism set in. I knew that a year earlier, Forghedaboudit had earned a second place finish at the National Buffalo Wing Fest for their unique maple-bacon wings, but wings do not a great pizzeria make. Five weeks later, Robert contacted me with the amazing news of Forghedaboudit’s tremendous success at the 33rd annual International Pizza Expo, the largest gathering of pizza professionals in the world with more than 7,000 in attendance from 36 countries. The International Pizza Challenge at the Expo is the pizza equivalent of Memphis in May, the world barbecue championship. It’s considered the best pizza-making competition in North America–the pinnacle of pizza.
Competing against sixty other pizzaioli from the Southwest Region (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas), Kimberly prepared a pepperoni and sausage pie adjudged “Best Traditional Pizza” in the entire region. In addition to its win in the Southwest region, Forghedaboudit placed second in the United States and fourth in the world in the traditional pizza category. An esteemed panel of judges composed of impartial chefs, food critics (far more credentialed than me) and others from the pizzeria industry scored each pie for taste (crust, sauce, cheese, toppings and overall taste) and appearance (bake and visual presentation).
It wasn’t solely the judges who were enamored of Forghedaboudit’s pulchritudinous pizza. A phalanx of pizzaioli from the highly competitive field approached Robert and Kimberly in hopes of gleaning the secrets to their magnificent pies. When word got out about the heralded dining destination off I-10, foodies and curiosity-seekers began to beat a path to the restaurant. We arranged to visit Forghedaboudit on April 8th, 2017, still dubious about a pizza from the desert hamlet of Deming being the best in a region that boasts of Pizzeria Bianco. Oh, we of little faith.
Arriving well before the restaurant’s opening so I could take photographs, we were greeted warmly at the door by Robert and Kimberly. As is typical for all great restaurants, the Yacones and their loyal staff (including several members of the family) were there early to begin the meticulous hand-on prep work required to give their guests a memorable dining experience. The Yacones were proud to showcase the Italian cuisine which, for four years, has been winning over the hearts and appetites of locals and sojourners alike. Robert related that travelers frequently traverse I-10 from Las Cruces and even Tucson to partake of the restaurant’s culinary treasures. As if confirmation of Robert’s contention was necessary, we met a couple who drove in from Silver City because they craved the restaurant’s tomato soup.
Considering that type of guest loyalty, a high degree of popular and media acclaim and the restaurant’s recent successes, you might expect that the restaurant would be helmed by an experienced, classically trained chef. Instead, until his early retirement some seven years ago, Robert was a very successful broker in the Big Apple. After relocating to Deming, he and Kimberly found themselves craving and unable to find the authentic New York Italian food and dining experiences they had enjoyed for years…what Robert terms as “the real places, the real meals, the real ingredients that distinguish the true Italian menu from its embarrassing imitators across the country.” They began hawking pizza and salads from their home kitchen. Savvy Deming diners quickly clamored for more.
In 2013, the Yacones purchased a hundred-year-old building in Deming’s historic district. Determined to do it right “as it’s been done for generations and even centuries by Italians across the world,” they converted the timeworn edifice into a magnificent milieu perfect for serving incomparable meals to their guests. The ambiance is homey, very much reminiscent of the New York “red sauce” restaurants with which I fell in love with half a lifetime ago. You can’t help but appreciate the intimately lit dining room with its red and white checkered tablecloths and framed posters of big and small screen Italian crime legends.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the sprawling kitchen of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon restaurant at the Venetian in Las Vegas. The gleaming, almost antiseptically immaculate kitchen is often staffed by as many as sixty people working in the kitchen and its various stations. Forghedaboudit’s kitchen is Lilliputian in comparison, but it’s optimally organized for efficiency and it’s neat, clean and a harmonious hub of activity. Robert has cultivated a very trusted kitchen staff led by kitchen manager Ray Chavira which allows him to step out and glad-hand with his guests. He’s as gregarious and genial as any restaurateur we’ve met. The elegant Kimberly, who runs the front of the house, has a very gracious and easy manner with guests. Both have a very high likeability quotient.
When Forghedaboutit first opened, Robert hoped to introduce diners to such New York favorites as braciole, but Deming diners weren’t immediately receptive. After I joked that maybe he belongs in Little New York (Rio Rancho), he reminded me that Rio Rancho is in great hands with his friend Joe Guzzardi of Joe’s Pasta House. With Joe Guzzardi in the north and the Yacones in the south, New Mexico is in great hands! By year’s end, the Yacones hope to launch a second instantiation of Forghedaboudit, this one in Las Cruces. We may just have to move to the City of Crosses.
During our tour of the kitchen, we were fortunate enough to watch the construction of the first pizza of the day which Robert contends is always the best pizza. The canvas for the restaurant’s terrific pizza is a dough fashioned from a combination of two flours–Antimo Caputo, the Neopolitan flour favored by many of the International Pizza Expo winners and King Arthur flour, favored by pizzerias throughout the East Coast– as well as a bit of malt. In perfect proportion, the flour and malt give the dough a strong rise, great texture, and lovely brown crust. Forghedaboudit employs a two oven method of preparing its authentic New York style pizza. The pizza starts its journey on an Italian browning stone dusted with white corn meal inserted into an Imperial convection oven to ensure even heating throughout. When the cheese is melted and the crust displays a golden sheen, the pizza is transferred to a smaller oven where it acquires the charring so many aficionados love.
Now, did the International Pizza Expo’s best traditional pizza in the Southwest live up to its billing? Let me put it succinctly–You betcha! It ranks up there with Frank Pepe’s, Pizzeria Bianco and Pizzeria Mozza as the very best pizza I’ve ever had. Yeah, I’m prone to hyperbole, but this pizza absolutely blew me away. With a perfect texture somewhere between chewy and crispy, a delightful golden brown color and just enough cornicione (an Italian term for the “lip” or puffy outer edge of the pizza), the crust is a magnificent canvas for the pepperoni and sausage. For the first time in memory, my Kim didn’t scrape off the pepperoni and give it to me. That’s how good the thinly sliced orbs are. The sauce has the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness ameliorated by a judicious touch of oregano and garlic. As are many of the ingredients, the Parmesan is imported from New York. It’s first rate with perfect melting properties and very little oil. One of the toughest determinants for pizza greatness is how well it holds up the next day when you’re craving pizza for breakfast. Forghedaboudit’s pepperoni and sausage pie is every bit as wonderful cold as it is out of the oven!
For years I’ve used “Gil’s Thrilling…Year in Food” as a medium (and sometimes bully pulpit) to showcase restaurants and dishes in the Land of Enchantment which have garnered “best of” notice from national media cognoscenti. I’ve lamented the fact that almost invariably, the anointed dishes come from Santa Fe or Albuquerque. When Forghedaboudit competed and earned a second place finish in the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival in (where else) Buffalo, New York, it should have put to rest the question “where can you find the best chicken wings in New Mexico.” Take that Santa Fe! Put that in your pipe and smoke it Albuquerque! Now, if only the national media would discover Deming. The only wings better can only be found on angels. Forghedaboudit offers four dry-rub coated wings (that’s sans sauce): Bourbon BBQ, Jerk, Valencia Habañero and the award-winning maple bacon. When you’re done, you’ll want to pick up a few rubs and spices to take home.
Just as wonderful as the award-winning pizza and maple bacon chicken wings are Forghedaboudit’s meatballs, two large orbs in a wondrous sauce and a molten blanket of cheese. The sauce is simply amazing. A large pot of this enchanting elixir been simmering at low temperature for about four hours when the meatballs arrived at our table. The sauce is made from California-raised Roma tomatoes seasoned with garlic, oregano and laurel leaves. Perfectly seasoned and of exemplary texture, the differentiator–what makes these meatballs special–is the meat itself. Neither of us could discern extraneous filler or flavor-altering binder. These meatballs taste like meat, albeit delicious, wonderfully seasoned, truly delicious meat. Accompanying the meatballs was an extraordinary garlic bread with soft, buttery properties that’ll make grown men swoon.
Should an analysis of all that flows through my veins ever be performed, doctors might be surprised at just how much carbonara (as well as salsa) does flow through those veins. Carbonara, one of the most rich, decadent and creamy of all Italian dishes just may be my very favorite of all Italian sauces. It’s essentially pasta coated in a rich, creamy sauce of eggs, cheese, pork, and black pepper. Forghedaboudit’s version is made with both bacon and chicken along with fresh green peas with a generous sprinkling of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano artfully garnished with assorted seasonings. The pasta is perfectly al dente while the sauce is an exemplar of creamy decadence and deliciousness. Carbonara has been described as ” perhaps the most impossible culinary dish to cook well.” Perhaps the author of that blurb needs to visit Forghedaboudit where the impossible is made delicious.
When Robert ferried a bowl of New England clam chowder to our table, the immediately obvious question was “why not Manhattan clam chowder.” Robert, after all, is a proud New Yorker. His explanation made perfect sense: “Mention clam chowder and seventy-five-percent of people think New England clam chowder.” My next question, “why no potatoes.” He explained that the starch in the potatoes breaks down and renders the soup overly thick and gummy, requiring water to thin it out. This isn’t a problem in New England because of how quickly restaurants turn around a pot of clam chowder. Not only is he a great chef, he’s an alchemist. Instead of potatoes, Forghedaboudit’s clam chowder is made with corn, carrots, celery and other fresh vegetables. A netful of clams also graces what may be the best clam chowder I’ve had outside of New England. “Best” is just par for this outstanding restaurant!
We thought we’d be visiting Forghedaboudit for award-winning pizza and wings. When Robert apprised me that “we’re much more than pizza and wings,” little did we know how right he was. Forghedaboudit is one of the very best Italian restaurants to grace the Land of Enchantment. If you’re not already planning your trip to Deming, you’re missing out on a fabulous dining experience hosted by two of the most genial restaurateurs you’ll ever meet.
115 North Silver Avenue
Deming, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 8 March 2017
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza, Meatballs, Garlic Bread, Chicken Carbonara, New England Clam Chowder