Finally, pizzas we can proudly call ‘Hawaiian’
John Kim has come up with several new Hawaiian pizzas that the whole state can rally behind, that will change the nation’s perception of what a Hawaiian pizza can be, as it embraces the best of our multicultural cuisine.
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A few years ago, when people still turned to newspapers instead of Wikipedia for answers to their inane questions, I got a call from Village Voice writer Sarah Digregorio in New York, whose job was to answer food questions from readers. In this case, a reader from Montreal wanted to know: Do people in Hawaii like Hawaiian pizza?
I gave some long-winded answer that in the end came down to “no,” for a majority of people. You can read her story here: 808ne.ws/pizza808.
SOPHIE’S GOURMET HAWAIIAN PIZZERIA
Koko Marina Center br>
Food **** br>
Service ***1/2 br>
Ambience *** br>
Value **** br>
Call: 892-4121 Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily br>
Cost: About $20 to $30 for two; BYOB br>
Ratings compare similar restaurants: **** – excellent *** – very good ** – average * – below average
After talking to me, she did indeed visit Wikipedia and learned the pineapple- and ham-topped “Hawaiian” pizza was the 1960 concoction of Family Circle Restaurant owner Sam Panopoulos, from Chatham, Ontario. A Canadian. That explains why it’s so far off the mark for someone like me, who’s been eating Hawaii-style all my life, and never cared for that atrocity called “Hawaiian pizza.”
Well, John Kim has come up with several new Hawaiian pizzas that the whole state can rally behind, that will change the nation’s perception of what a Hawaiian pizza can be, as it embraces the best of our multicultural cuisine.
Kim recently opened Sophie’s Gourmet Hawaiian Pizzeria in Koko Marina Center with the idea of allowing diners to build their own pizzas by choosing from two crusts, four sauces, six cheeses, a dozen kinds of meat and nearly 20 different veggies — yes, including pineapple and ham if you are so inclined.
The cost is $10.95 for a 12-inch one-cheese, one-sauce pizza with up to three toppings, or $12.95 for a two-cheese, one-sauce with up to five toppings.
All that is well and good, speaking to individual taste, but before you even go there, start with the local-inspired pizzas, at $12.95 each.
Kim was born in Korea but raised in Hawaii until he was 13, when his father moved the family to New Jersey. Kim said he’d been trying to figure out how to move back to Hawaii ever since, dreaming of returning even while finding success in New York’s financial industry. In New York he ate a lot of pizza, and when the Korean bulgogi taco craze hit, he wondered whether bulgogi’s popularity could be transferred to pizza.
Sophie’s (named after Kim’s daughter) was in the works for two years before he was able to turn his dream into reality, and his patience has paid off in delicious flavor combinations, each seemingly better than the last, such that I really couldn’t tell you my favorite.
“Seoul Mate” is awesome, but so is “Thai-dal Wave,” and so is the seemingly basic “Sophie’sticated,” built on a guava-infused crust (you can’t really taste the guava), with cheese, salami and arugula. There’s goat cheese and truffle oil on there, too, but it’s the salami and arugula that make a perfect marriage.
I like that his pizzas start with freshly made crusts with finely ground Italian 00 flour to give it the light, airy and crackery texture I like, that holds up well to the weight of ingredients like macadamia nut cream and artichoke hearts. His red sauce incorporates mellow Roma tomatoes. All the best ingredients, for a nominally price pizza.
The Korean-inspired “Seoul Mate” starts with a family recipe for kim chee with a dash of sesame oil, combined with toppings of bulgogi (barbecued beef), mozzarella, goat cheese, onions and Parmesan. It can be ordered “open face” in typical pizza fashion, or folded like a calzone.
Maybe because I like to see everything I’m eating, I had it served flat, but Kim recommends the folded style for people who like to eat their pizza with a fork and knife. I imagine the cheeses turn into a melty, velvety ooze when folded, blending with the sweet marinated beef, but I enjoyed the impact of the individual ingredients just as much.
“Thai-Dal Wave” was another favorite combo. It starts with a layer of macadamia nut cream sauce topped with Thai curry chicken infused with lemongrass and garlic, with jalapenos, cilantro and green onions, all finished with a coconut drizzle.
“Hawaii Pie-O” is the equivalent to a meat lover’s pizza, with a Sriracha red sauce too mild to notice, mozzarella, salami, pepperoni, a small dice of char siu and Portuguese sausage, fresh cilantro and dots of cilantro aioli that deliver a nice herbaceous counterpoint to the meat.
I can imagine Sophie’s expanding into other neighborhoods in coming years, and it’s an idea that can travel to the mainland as well. Kim has come up with flavors we can be proud to call Hawaiian pizza, and they have nothing to do with pineapple.