The changing of the guard is almost complete at Jack London Square in Oakland. Gone are the chain restaurants and in are those catering to the diverse neighborhood, with the latest to join the fray being The Forge.
Michael Karp, owner and operating partner at Table 24 and Barbacoa in Orinda, is one of the key figures in bringing the restaurant to the waterfront of Jack London Square. Along with partners Bob Burke and Andy Byrnes, they have brought a restaurant featuring not only pizzas from a wood-burning oven, but both casual and more technique-driven cuisine, all in a friendly, neighborhood setting.
“We’ve taken on the task of building everything ourselves, from the tables to the bar, designing the windows and the outdoor seating area,” Karp said. “We’re using a lot of reclaimed wood from railroad ties. We also wanted to keep some of the interesting aspects from the previous tenant, we feel it adds a certain charm and history to the space.”
The interior will seat about 100 guests with room for 50 more on the outdoor patio. “We have two fire pits set up. Our patio will be heated with infrared heat lamps that will encompass the entire area. We’ll also have a railing with bar stools so guests can enjoy a cocktail in this amazing setting near the waterfront,” Karp said. “Part of the appeal of the space was how close it is to the docks. We really want to incorporate that into the restaurant, as a place where people can pull up in their boats and sit on the patio or inside, grab a beer and some really good food. In time, we think the outdoor space will not only be a place where guests can hang out if they’re waiting for a table, but also a space where they can sit down and eat or even gather with a large group.”
Inside, one of the most dominant features is the giant 800-degree Italian Valoriani oven. Karp said they decided to go against the model which features temperatures up to 1000 degrees because it won’t only be used for pizzas. “We’ll have plenty of other items on the menu that will be made in the oven.” There is a long bar and plenty of seating, with burnt plywood floors and tables. Bar stools are made out of wagon seats with welded rebar footrests. The space will also feature a large, HD projection screen and two large screen televisions. Karp said that although local sports will be available for viewing, they’ll also incorporate black-and-white movies and other unique features on the projection screen. Seating behind the bar is all elevated, meaning there’s truly not a bad seat in the house.
The menu is still being finalized (we hope to have more details in the coming days). The Executive Chef is Jeff Amber, whose career includes stints at Moose’s in North Beach and at XYZ in the W Hotel, where he was named “Rising Star Chef” by the San Francisco Chronicle. He is teaming with Jeff Hayden, who has spent time at Oakland stalwarts Boot & Shoe Service and Dopo. The culinary team is rounded out by Jeff Krupman’s pizza expertise, he of the Pizza Hacker moniker, who has been slinging his pies in San Francisco for the last few years.
Amber said he sees Forge as “a neighborhood space, where families can come and enjoy some great food, people can bring their dogs, or couples can enjoy a nice dinner.”
While the main attraction will likely be the wood-fired pizzas, with 5-7 on the menu, Amber said there will be a lot for everyone. “It’s going to be a fun menu, but one that is sophisticated as well. Yes, we’re going to be ingredient-driven, but almost all restaurants are these days. While some of the items on the menu may seem simple, there will be touches, subtle things we do, whether it’s adding a specific ingredient or using a certain cooking technique. We’re focused on working with small, local organic farms. And we’ll have our specials board where we’ll try new dishes and add items to the menu as we move ahead. The fun part is that this has been a truly collaborative effort, working together to create interesting dishes that we think will work.”
Karp said he’s hoping to open before the end of the month (building inspectors were visiting on the day of our tour of the restaurant). We’ll have more on an opening date and menu in the coming week. The Forge is located at 66 Franklin Street at Jack London Square in Oakland.