By Erika Webb
On a cold day nothing invites like mesmerizing flames surrounded by brick.
If the smell of pizza is involved, it's all the better.
Hungry shoppers and weary workers will breathe sighs of relief when they step into Forno Bello where wood fired pizza, authentic Italian cuisine and an old world atmosphere soothe and replenish.
Antonino "Tony" Boffa started learning all about pizza 33 years ago, at the age of 15, in a New York mall.
Eventually he opened his own pizzeria in the small town of Newburgh, 60 miles north of New York City and 90 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River.
When Mr. Boffa moved to Florida in 1996, he brought a slice or two of the Big Apple to share. He also met and married his wife, Arlene, who moved to Florida from Staten Island, N.Y., in the same year.
Anyone who has dined at Tony's N.Y. Pizza and Restaurant in Orange City already has had a savory sampling, and has returned regularly. Before Arlene became Mrs. Boffa, she was a customer there. They now have two children, Alexis, 14, and Anthony,12, who also enjoy making pizzas.
Mr. Boffa isn't claiming to use water imported from New York. In fact, he's pretty reserved when it comes to what makes his original pizza so uniquely tasty.
After nearly 20 years of success in Orange City, Mr. and Mrs. Boffa decided to try something different in DeLand where they live.
"A unique twist on pizza," is what they were after, Mr. Boffa said.
Building their new venture around a wood fire pizza oven, the couple gutted and completely renovated a circa 1920s downtown storefront.
They removed plaster and exposed the original brick walls, refurbished the old tin ceilings and hired a brick mason to construct the housing for the oven they ordered from California.
"It cooks really fast and makes the pizza really crispy," Mr. Boffa said. "There's no gas at all. We use oak, so it gives it that smoky flavor."
The conventional pizza ovens he used in Orange City yielded some pretty crisp crusts at around 500 degrees. The wood-fired oven reaches 800 degrees, he said.
As with all new endeavors there was a temporary learning curve.
"An ex-boss has a couple of these stores in New York," Mr. Boffa said. "So I went and trained on the different cooking technique."
"It was hard at first," he said. "I was not used to how fast it cooked. If you're talking to somebody you'll burn the pizza quick."
But it didn't take long for him to master the technique -- a good thing for hungry patrons who get their personal pizzas that much faster.
"They like it," Mr. Boffa said. "The pizzas are all 12 inch (pies) so everyone gets their own pizza."
All worthwhile trends make a comeback.
"Wood-fired brick ovens and pizza have been with us since the dawn of civilization. Both have been discovered in the excavations of virtually every ancient civilization, with the brick oven reaching its modern form in ancient Rome," reported brick oven makers at fornobravo.com.
The wood-fired oven, typically owned by individual families in Italy is the foundation for Italy's modern pizza oven industry, according to the website.
"The heat and wonderful aroma of the oven warms any social gathering, bringing forth the best of human spirit through great food and delicate flavors. There's something so natural about a wood-burning oven that seems to ignite a desire to gather in a circle of family and friends,"www.pizzacart.net reported.
This is the sense you'll get at Forno Bello where a variety of draft beers, wines and cocktails are served, either at your table or at the expansive bar.
In addition to 14 pizza options, the full Italian menu includes homemade paninis and wraps, subs, appetizers, salads and classic favorites, such as Lasagna; Penne Ala Vodka; Rigatoni; Chicken, Veal or Shrimp Parmigiana; Eggplant Rolletini Florentine; and Cannelloni.
Forno's specialty entrees are the Tour of Bello, which features Chicken, Shrimp and Eggplant Parmigiana with choice of pasta and salad; and Frutta Di Mare For Two featuring jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels and calamari sautéed in garlic and marinara sauce with choice of pasta, two side salads and choice of mild or spicy sauce.
Chocolate Overload Cake, Cheesecake, Cannoli, Tiramisu, Mini Cannolis and the Bello Sampler accompanied by a selection from a variety of specialty coffees promise a fine finish to every meal.
"The restaurants here are always busy," Mr. Boffa said. "We used to come and walk around down here and liked it so we thought it would be nice to open a restaurant."
Forno Bello Wood Fired Pizza & Italian Cuisine is at 138 S. Woodland Blvd. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 pm. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Catering packages are available. For more information, call (386) 279-0078 or visit FornoBello.com.