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Al Forno duo to open downtown micro-restaurant

George Germon and Johanne Killeen, the famed duo behind local culinary landmark Al Forno, are working to create what may be the smallest restaurant in the smallest state.

Workers are toiling in the former New Yorker lunch counter, at 200 Washington Street in downtown Providence, to create a 20-seat Mediterranean-influenced restaurant in the diminutive 450-square-foot space. The name, appropriately, will be Tini. Germon tells me they hope for a June opening.

Everything about the place, he says, will be small, including bar seating and the plates created by chef David Reynoso. Price-wise, Germon says, the hope is that people will be able to have a meal "and not go into bankruptcy."

Germon (who is credited with the invention of grilled pizza) and Killeen rocketed to culinary fame through Al Forno, as I recounted in this 2000 story.

It began on a shoestring in 1980 when Germon and Killeen, battling back after a serious car accident, launched their dream by serving breakfast and lunch in a small 30-seat location on Steeple Street. The name Al Forno, Italian for 'from the oven,' referred not just to an inspirational mode but the fact that their sole cooking equipment consisted of two ovens. Ploughing one day's receipts into the next day's provisions, the couple eked out a living on the way to building a devoted following and winning plaudits from the International Herald Tribune as the best casual restaurant in the world.

As Germon and Killeen recount in their 1991 cookbook, Cucina Simpatica (HarperCollins), many of their friends couldn't believe it when they followed their early training in the arts -- he as a potter and sculptor, she as a photographer -- by pursuing something as fleeting as food. 'I think people believed we were giving up art for some lesser, more trivial pursuit,' the couple wrote. But noting that the sensual enjoyment offered by food and eating is one of life's greatest pleasures, Killeen and Germon perceived little difference between cooking and other arts. 'Food is eaten the way art is perceived; it is digested and recorded,' they noted. 'Given the right circumstances, a connection is made and communication takes place, which is what art is all about.'

Germon tells me the duo had long been interested in opening a small place, and that Buff Chace touted the appropriately pint-sized location when they encountered each other one day.

While the now-defunct Richard's, formerly next to Olga's Cup and Saucer, may have once been the smallest restaurant in Rhode Island, Germon thinks he is in the running to claim the title.

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