1120 Maunakea St., Honolulu
Phone number (808) 585-2845
Bruno’s Forno may just be the best-kept secret in town. Amid an energetic Maunakea Street in the heart of Chinatown, eclipsed by open markets, flower shops and fruit stands, this hidden gem modestly resides as an unlikely — and surely the only — mom ‘n’ pop Italian eatery on the block.
But as downtown-goers, carb-lovers and all-around foodies will tell you, once you stumble across this European treasure, it’s finders keepers.
The shop first gained attention thanks to Bruno Iezzi, the original owner, who garnered quite a following around Honolulu as the culinary genius behind Bruno’s Forno and Mix Café, both stocked full of homemade breads, pastas and genuine Italian gusto. When the native of Italy decided to move on from these ventures, he entrusted the former to husband-and-wife team Zoran and Yuya Milanovic, while the latter closed its doors for good.
“Bruno and I befriended each other, and he was very much adamant that he didn’t want to sell it to anyone who would butcher it or do something different, and I wanted to learn,” Zoran explains in his charming Serbian accent.
After a four-month training process, the parents of two officially took the reins in February 2014, keeping Iezzi’s vision near and dear as they continue his legacy of serving authentic Italian food.
“Don’t follow the recipe to the letter and get stuck, but just feel it,” says Zoran, when recalling Iezzi’s steadfast advice. “Cook with soul.”
With an Italian name that translates to “Bruno’s Oven,” the restaurant offers a stripped-down menu primarily consisting of a handful of lasagnas and paninis, rather than a long list of items with confusing descriptions.
“We focus on making it as simple as possible and as not modified as possible, meaning that we don’t use any preservatives, any artificial coloring, anything that is detrimental to human health. Everything is fresh as can be,” explains Zoran.
Locally sourced and organic ingredients are prioritized at the shop, as is making food and sauces from scratch — something the pasta machine behind the counter comes in handy for.
“I think it’s all about the ingredients,” adds Yuya, who says lasagna was her favorite dish growing up in Japan. “If you use good ingredients, you can’t go wrong.”
That’s why best-sellers, such as Funghi Lasagna, exude rich flavors, even though they are made with just a few choice ingredients — in this case, organic Portobello and crimini mushrooms in a lavishly creamy sauce along with fresh mozzarella and Parmesan.
In addition to Bruno’s distinctly slender and perfectly palatable Bolognese, Asparagus and other lasagnas, fresh paninis brighten the menu and showcase house-baked breads. Salmon Panini features freshly prepared rosemary ciabatta, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and watercress to accent the smoked fish. Other paninis include the Country Panini, with melted mozzarella, tomato and basil on top of crisp yet chewy whole-grain bread. ‘Nalo greens with real vinaigrette are served on the side.
As lifelong Italian-food enthusiasts and now owners of a family-run business, the Milanovics are staying true to Italian form as Bruno’s Forno embarks on its next chapter.
“I always had a love for Italy — fast cars, great food, beautiful language, beautiful culture,” shares Zoran. “(Owning this restaurant) must have been in the cards.”