Inspired by Napoli, Italy, the owners of Cugino Forno are committed to fresh ingredients, handmade pies and an open-air experience
By Amber Watson | Photography by John Michael Simpson
You don’t have to fly all the way to Italy to enjoy an authentic Neapolitan pizza – just a short drive to Golden Belt’s campus will give you the same flavorful experience at Cugino Forno Pizzeria.
The name translates to “cousins oven,” which is where the restaurant’s story begins: Three cousins from Turkey – Joseph Ozbey, Yilmaz Guver and Adam Aksoy – opened their first pizzeria in Greensboro in 2017 after visiting famous restaurant L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (which was featured in the movie “Eat Pray Love”) in Napoli, Italy.
“We loved the pizzas so much that we knew we wanted to do something similar in the U.S., so I decided to stay in Italy and learn all the techniques that go into Neapolitan-style pizza, like preparing the dough, which takes about 48 hours, and cooking the pizzas in 90 seconds,” Joseph explains.
Five years later, the family business partners now operate four successful North Carolina locations in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Clemmons and Durham, the latest addition.
The interior is spacious and bright, with lofty ceilings and casual picnic-style tables. It captures the vibe of an open-air pizza market/bakery, complete with an open kitchen so that guests can watch the pizza-making process. Outside, there are tables overlooking Golden Belt’s central green space – a popular spot for families and children to gather.
Here, freshness is key. The only frozen item you’ll find in the restaurant is the gelato! Each pizza is made by hand with careful attention to the ingredients. No two Cugino Forno pizzas are exactly the same. Each pie takes on its own authentic look depending on the pizzaiolo (pizza maker), but they all taste the same because the focus is on flavor and the perfect balance of ingredients. The pizzas are made with imported ingredients certified by the Italian government to make sure they adhere to the highest standards. The restaurant imports almost 85% of its ingredients directly from or around Napoli, including fresh bufala (buffalo) mozzarella, which is made out of water buffalo’s milk; San Marzano tomato sauce, which grows in or around the coast of Napoli; and 00 flour, which has not been changed or bleached since the early 1900s. The pizza ovens, which weigh about 7,000 pounds, were handmade with sand and stone from Mount Vesuvius and can reach up to 1,200 degrees. This allows the pizza to bake in 90 seconds or less, which is a very good thing, because you won’t want to wait to sink your teeth into a slice.
It’s hard to choose which specialty pie to order, but you can’t go wrong with the Napoletana ($20.95), a hearty pizza that showcases a variety of fresh Italian ingredients and flavors. It’s topped with fior di latte (fresh mozzarella) as well as bufala mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce and loaded with a generous helping of Italian sausage, sweet red peppers and Cipollini onions.
Of course, there is the popular and classic Margherita D.O.P ($17.95), named after Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples in the 18th century and made to resemble the colors of the Italian flag. It also includes fior di latte mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, fresh basil and extra virgin oil.
The menu also features a selection of crisp, filling salads, including a caprese with bufala mozzarella, and desserts like cannoli, tiramisu and gelato from Italy. But the pizzas are definitely the star. In fact, the owners purposefully chose not to overextend their offerings, focusing instead on what they do best to maintain consistency and quality. Joseph adheres to the motto, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”