Dining at Il Forno, located behind the CVS on Princeton-Hightstown Road in West Windsor, it is easy to forget you are in a suburban strip mall. Owners Melissa Virgilio and Jeff Malloy, together with Melissa’s 11-year old daughters Isabelle and Olivia, have transformed their restaurant into a rustic Tuscan trattoria.

Jeff and Melissa have created a family-friendly restaurant that is also the perfect place for a date night. At least one of the owners is around at all times. Olivia and Isabelle are spending their summers in the restaurant practicing their cupcake decorating skills, and making pizzelles and biscotti and spending time together as a family. “We try to have dinner together as a family and keep some of the same things we did before opening the restaurant. We share parts of our day together. We keep normalcy,” explains Melissa. “The main difference is we have a bigger extended family.”

Jeff brings more than 20 years of restaurant experience to the business. He created the recipes at Carmen’s, a Zagat-rated restaurant in Boston’s North End, and brought them to West Windsor. He continues to create new recipes and specials, and is in the kitchen much of the time while Melissa runs the front of the house.

Il Forno serves a wide variety of Italian food. As their name (“the oven” in Italian) implies, they serve Neapolitan pizzas cooked in a traditional Brick Neapolitan Pizza Oven. There are a variety of healthier foods on the menu, including vegetini — vegetables (squash, eggplant, and zucchini) which have the shape and look of spaghetti, but not the carbs. They also serve gluten-free pastas in the shape of various pastas including ravioli. All of their dishes are made to order.

“We recently changed our menu and added more family-friendly entrees, such as baked dishes including baked gnocchi and chicken Roberto. We are also expanding our Neapolitan pizza business. My 11-year olds tell me my pizza is the best, and they never lie to me,” explains Jeff. Il Forno uses local ingredients, and has started jarring their own sauce.

Jeff adds “we are a great place for lunch. We have sandwiches, homemade pastas, and Neapolitan pizzas.” Il Forno added zucchini blossoms to the menu this summer. “They are stuffed with herbs, goat cheese, and a tempura-style sauce and fried. They are drizzled with 35-year-old Rubo, a derivative of balsamic vinegar that is very sweet.”

They are currently running a great special: buy four-12 inch Neapolitan pizzas and antipasto for $45. They also have local, seasonal fish on a regular basis. “We had a local swordfish on Friday night that sold out 15 orders in an hour,” continues Jeff.

To help diners enjoy the nice summer nights, Il Forno added 10 outdoor tables. “We have window boxes filled with herbs, plants, and perennials,” adds Jeff, which adds to the feel of being transported to Italy.

Il Forno is a BYOB place. Please call 609-799-8822 to make a reservation.

Il Forno, 358 Princeton Hightstown Road, West Windsor, NJ 08550, 609/799-8822, www.ilfornowestwindsor.com. Hours: Monday: closed, Tuesday-Thursday 11-10, Friday-Saturday 11-11, Sunday 3-9. See ad, page 12.

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