Life of Pie
As you may know, this past Monday, Feb. 9, was National Pizza Day. Here at Dining Out, the holiday stretched out, much like a pliable piece of dough, into a weeklong pizza-devouring frenzy! You see, for foodies, few bonds are as strong as a mutual love for pizza. Those three magical words, “I love pizza,” are like a secret language in our world, translating to a keen respect and desire for this holy combination of cheese, crust, sauce and more cheese — not to mention a primal urge to scarf down four slices (at least) in less than 60 seconds, while simultaneously savoring each morsel for all of eternity.
Come to think of it, when Dining Out editor Alana Folen and I first met, we instantly bonded over our common obsession with these piquant pies. One slice shared over lunch and it was love at first bite! She even recently surprised me at work with a special gift in the form of a neon-pink tank top adorned with the oh-so-profound phrase “pizza solves everything.” (And yes, we have matching tanks!)
So when it came time for her vacation, she asked if I would be up to the coveted task of setting out on this most exceptional of pizza-honoring weeks to find Oahu’s paramount pies. Honored, I immediately accepted the challenge, and clad in my favorite new top, dashed across town to these OYK thrillers.
I subscribe to the pizza philosophy that without a good crust, you have nothing! As the foundational piece of the pie, a crust can make or break the entire meal.
That’s why I trust in the otherworldly baking skills of Niel Koep, owner and chef at Fendu Boulangerie, who makes just about every dough imaginable for a living — from fresh loaves of bread to croissants and pastries — and does so flawlessly.
For Koep, six mouthwatering thin-crust pizzas that receive the same attention to freshness and select ingredients as the rest of his baked beauties are no-brainers. “Bread and pizza go hand-in-hand,” he affirms.
As for his dough, it’s made in-house daily and begins with a 24-hour preferment process, or pouliche, that gives the finished crust its signature crispy edges and soft, bubbly interior.
As you may have guessed, this is my absolute favorite style of crust! It sets the tone for Fendu’s gourmet tomato sauce and magnificent three-cheese base consisting of fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano.
For Koep and me both, Smoked Turkey Breast Pizza (14 inches, $16.75; 8 inches, $10.75) stands out as rustic perfection. Infatuating notes of sautéed shallots and bacon intensify every cheesy turn. And as an original recipe, Koep’s secret weapon for the dish is the subtle but welcomed surprise of Brie cheese. “The Brie is what I like the most on it,” he shares. “It’s a mild-flavored cheese that goes well with the smoked turkey.”
All of the boulangerie’s pizzas are baked to order in an old fashioned gas burner oven that fires up to 600 degrees. “It has a very good heating surface to cook the pizza; that’s why we can go with a raw dough and be done in 10 to 15 minutes,” explains Koep. Be sure to try all of his addicting pies, including the purist’s Classic cheese and the adventurer’s Basil Pesto and Goat Cheese.
2752 Woodlawn Drive
No matter which way you slice it, you won’t find pizza that’s more imaginative, health-conscious and downright scrumptious than zpizza’s. Those who aren’t familiar with the California-based franchise’s two local branches — at Ward Centre and on Hekili Street in Kailua (next to Boots & Kimo’s) — might stroll past one of the storefronts thinking it is just another pizza shop. But this grave error will surely cost them, as they’ll be missing out on a level of freshness — and therefore flavor — that simply can’t be replicated.
I first fell in love with zpizza’s incredibly diverse assortment of this Italian classic because they’re pizzas I can feel good about eating. The company utilizes truly top-notch items, such as non-GMO flour, organic tomato sauce, nitrate-free sausage and pepperoni, and hormone-free chicken.
“Even the mozzarella cheese that we use from Wisconsin is from grass-fed cows,” explains Karen Llarenas, who owns the two Hawaii shops with her husband, Cesar.
In addition to zpizza’s use of fresh, quality and organic-when-possible ingredients, I sincerely admire the company’s devotion to providing pizza options for all diet preferences, running the gamut from carnivore selections to vegan specialties.
In fact, Berkelee Vegan ($13.95 small, $25.95 large, $28.95 extra large) is one of the most popular menu items, featuring marinara, veggie burger crumbles, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions, bell peppers and vegan cheese, which tastes similar to Monterey Jack. With such zesty flavors, the best part is that if it weren’t for its name, you wouldn’t even know this pie is vegan.
And that’s just a small sampling of zpizza’s one-of-a-kind offerings — did I mention you can order a gluten-free crust?!
The restaurant also houses some of the most creative topping combinations in the game, including vegetarian-friendly Casablanca ($13.95 small, $25.95 large, $28.95 extra large), which spotlights ricotta and mushrooms accentuated with roasted garlic sauce, mozzarella, artichoke hearts and Parmesan. “The fusion of flavors, to me, is unique,” confirms Llarenas.
To end this most memorable feast on the tastiest note, I had to have pizza for dessert, of course! In honor of President’s Day, the American-inspired Apple Pie Pizza ($9.95) delights with a thin layer of cream cheese, cinnamon-doused apples and a sprinkling of almond slivers.
1200 Ala Moana Blvd.
151 Hekili St., Kailua