Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

In my mind, there is one and only one truly good pizza.    It is the one true pizza.   The pizza tha defines pizza.    The one pizza to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.   It has to be Lombardi's Pizza in New York's Little Italy.  Nothing we have in Hawaii can even compare.   For that matter, no other pizza in the world can compare.   Period.   End of story. 

So what makes that particular pizza so good?    I could sound like a pizza delivery commercial and talk about how fresh and real their ingredients are.  But while their mozzarella and other toppings are really great, that's not what makes this pizza so spectacular.    Just like how it is really the bread, that makes or breaks a sandwich, it is the crust that defines the pizza.  Well Lombardi's has something no one else has.  They've got a bloody 900 degree oven!   900 degrees!!  Think about that for a moment.   Go run to your own oven and see how high it goes.   So what does a 900 degree pizza do to crust?   Well, it practically scorches the outside.  The thing is done in like 4 minutes.   But what comes out is incomparable.   The outside of the crust has charred, smokiness to it, and it is supremely crunchy.   Meanwhile the inside is still chewy and has some doughiness to it (like eating cookie dough).  The texture is unmatched.    No one can compare. 

If you believe them, Lombardi's also invented pizza.   As we all know pizza is Italian American, not Italian.  The predecessor to pizza in Italy is almost unrecognizable to us as pizza.   The same is true of chop suey and fortune cookines not existing in China.  Given New York's Italian American population, it's entirely conceivable that pizza was invented there, and Lombardi's has the first business license in history for a pizza restaurant.   So they very well may have invented pizza as we know it.  Most everyone in the country loves pizza, except for my sister.  Even my little boy, who is only 4 and has a somewhat undeveloped palate, loves pizza.   But I think my sister overdosed on it a bit in high school, and now the very thought of it repulses her.   But even she will go to Lombardi's.   That's how good it is.

So if we've got nothing like Lombardi's in Hawaii, what do we have?   Well, there's always the fast food pizza.   There's the ubiquitous red roofed Pizza Hut.  I do love getting a pan pizza from them as much as the next guy, but seriously, they are just fast food.  Being super oily and fatty is what makes them taste so good, it isn't about being truly authentic pizza.   We've also got Boston's Pizza.  They come the closest to being like a traditional New York style pizza, with big floppy slices that you're supposed to fold in half while eating.   Ironically, while it's the uber fatty meat lover's pizza that I like best at Pizza Hut, it's the veggie pizza that I like best at Boston's.   They've got some really big beautiful pieces of tomato, broccoli, olive and spinach on their pizza.    But again, they're baked down til they're like vegetable crisps rather than fresh plump vegetables.  The big drawback to Boston's is that if you don't eat the pizza right there and then, the crust gets all soggy and droopy, even after just a 10 minute ride home.  

Veggie Pizza from Boston's Pizza
So we've got fast food pizza, but what about a really nice sit down pizza restaurant?   In New York they have classy Italian restaurants that specialize in pizza.   What about us?   Well, if you're on Kauai, there's Brick Oven Pizza.   They're not bad, but their ovens don't get nearly as hot as Lombardi's does.   Also, their toppings just aren't as good.   If you're a UH student, then going down to Magoo's Pizza at Puck's Alley is practically a college requirement.  But, if you are willing to forego the supreme crust that Lombardi's has, there is one place where the toppings are almost as good.  My favorite pizza place here would have to be Rosarina Pizza in Chinatown or La Pizza Rina on Keeaumoku and King.  

I'm not exactly sure of the relationship between Rosarina and La Pizza Rina.   It think one's the mother's and the other is the daughter's, or they're sisters, or something like that.   In any case, they're pretty similar, but I think that La Pizza Rina (the daughter's?) is slightly better.   La Pizza Rina is a small little place, so you're lucky if you can get a table.  But it perfectly fits the bill of a sit down, date worthy, pizza restaurant (ie. not fast food).

Antipasto Salad at La Pizza Rina
To start off, I absolutely love their antipasto salad.   For one thing, they may have the greatest oil and vinegar I have ever tasted.   The oil is true olive oil and the taste comes through.  It is nothing like the oil and vinegar you buy in bottles at the store.   Secondly, they have these beautiful thick slices of salami and pepperoni on their salad that really taste like the real thing.   We're not talking about the cheap round red circles that hardly taste like anything you find on most pizza.   We're talking about true pepperoni, sliced thickly from a real pepperoni stick.  With a beautifully salty cured, slightly peppery, meaty taste.    The thick fresh pieces of cucumber, carrot, celery, and cherry tomatoes, and you've got a truly mighty salad.

Spaghetti with Meatballs at La Pizza Rina
If you're looking for another side dish, their spaghetti is pretty good as well.   They've got a kinda sweet spaghetti sauce, which also has a kind of peppery, herby kick to it.  

Combo Pizza at La Pizza Rina
 However, this is a pizza place, so really the only thing that matters is how good the pizza is.   You must be willing to gloss over the lack of Lombardi's crust (which is like saying you're looking at the Mona Lisa but ignoring her face), but here is one place which really has the best, freshest, ingredients.   Really!   Look at the peperoni.  We're not talking about skimpy thin little red dots the size of a quarter.  We're talking about a thick, beautiful slice of real pepperoni that is the size of an olympic medal.  The cheese on this thing isn't some lame shreeded chesse flavored product (ever notice how the more words they add the farther from the real thing it gets?).  This is real deli quality mozzarella, that has all the flavor and the thick gooeyness of real mozzarella.  The same goes for everything else on the pizza, from thick whole rounds of olives, to inch long pieces of Italian sausage (not little crumbled bits), to thick lines (not slivers) of still crunchy, still plump, still sweet, and still green and fresh green peppers.   We're not talking about a "chunky" pizza, we're talking about pizza with real whole slices of genuine ingredients.    The one surprising thing though is that their pizza sauce, like their spaghetti sauce, again has a sweetness to it.   I think this is one of their (and Rosarina's) signatures.   It may be the slight Asian influence of the family that created the place.   Some people may not like that sweetness, but I do.  It's unique.  It reminds you that though this is an Italian American dish, it's been touched by the local hands that made it.  

The one thing I really hate about pizza on the mainland is the so-called "Hawaiian" pizza.   As if adding a bit of ham and pineapple has anything to do with our real local cuisine.  You want a real Hawaiian pizza, add a little portuguese sausage or kalua pig to it.   Or better yet, find a real local family, and taste their interpretation of the classic dish.  


  1. that isn't Lombardi's. =P

    the spaghetti sauce sounds like Filipino spaghetti sauce, they make theirs sweet.

  2. No. It's not NEARLY as sweet as Filipino spaghetti. It taste more like Vietnamese pizza. Remember that Pizza/Pho place that used to be on King St. Only in Hawaii...