In 2011, Chef Al Castrogiovanni was getting restless. He wanted to create an exciting new restaurant. He wanted it to be one part swanky craft cocktail lounge: the kind of place missing on Rockford east side. He wanted another part to be a home for outstanding craft pizza built around a unique, chewy crust and an anything-goes set of toppings concepts. He wanted to experiment with tasty sandwich ideas he’d had bouncing around in the back of his mind. And he wanted the new restaurant to have an open-air, European vibe that was severely lacking in the Rockford Region.
One day, on a random trip to a masonry retailer to look at paving stones, he happened across a wood-fired pizza oven demonstration – and it was love at first sight. Before you could say “Margerita” Chef Al had hired a Sicilian oven designer to build a custom oven and ship it from California. It was to become the functional heart of his new restaurant. He hired architects and branding experts to help envision the space, experience and brand. And he and is culinary staff got to work creating an exciting new home of eclectic food and drink that was just begging to be called alchemy.
“I really wanted to make a trendy, fun, casual restaurant that featured adventurous flavor profiles,” said Castrogiovanni. “alchemy is exactly what I wanted it to be, and it’s still evolving. We took our time with everything, from the cocktail recipes to the craft beer list to the 20% live-yeast poolish we use to pre-ferment the pizza dough. Even the oven is unique. It’s got the thickest deck our designer has ever specified – for better heat retention and heat distribution.”
The pizza dough, by the way, is to die for; but it didn’t come easily. The alchemy team experimented for months with everything from the freshest locally sourced ingredients to mixing techniques to hardwood types (for the perfect heat) to varying baking temperatures. The goal was a bread-like crust with airy pockets amidst a chewy center – almost like a French baguette. Mission accomplished. alchemy’s pizza crust, many customers say, is the best they’ve ever had.
Of course, there is much more on the menu, from delicious sandwiches to scrumptious, healthy salads to homemade pasta to amazing desserts. Come in the spring and summer months and there’s a good chance the garage doors with be open to the fresh air and perhaps some live music out on the patio.
“I like to think of alchemy like a convertible,” said Chef Al. “You know how a convertible is such a different experience whether the top’s up or down, in different weather conditions, etc? alchemy is like that. The experience is always just a little different. We try to keep it fresh and magical – in more ways than one.”