By Anni Caporuscio
You know Pietro’s Pizza from Lihu‘e, where they offer indoor seating and pizza cooked in a gorgeous mosaic, wood-fired oven and a walk-up window for slices. Tom Ianucci, owner and chef, opened up a second location in the Poipu Shopping Village three months ago.
“Everybody loves pizza. It’s the universal dish. You share a pizza and an experience,” Tom said. And I agree wholeheartedly. Pizza is visceral and social and always says fun.
Pietro’s is a local family business (Tom is a Long Island-raised Italian-American who married a woman from Waimea) presenting good quality, authentic Italian food. Pizza, the simple pleasure, is complicated. Tom is the first to be certified in Hawai‘i by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which certifies only after a rigorous training and scrutiny involving flour, tomato quality and oven, among other criteria. Tom also had to write a letter stating his intentions with pizza.
Pizza is a $48 billion industry worldwide. At the turn of last century, as Italians immigrated to America from their respective regions, they all got together and morphed their dishes into what we know these days as Italian-American cuisine. They cooked big pizzas in coal ovens and made a crispy crust, using whatever they had on hand. This accounts for the dramatic difference between New York-style pizza and Neapolitan style. Imagine my surprise, as a child in Italy, thinking they screwed up their own national dish. Pietro’s serves both styles, New York and Neapolitan, and when available, a Roman style.
Let’s talk comparison:
New York Pizza: It’s big and bold. Pietro’s serves an 18” large. When it comes to toppings, more is better, part skim cheese. It is a whole meal that you eat with your hands — or suffer ridicule. It is made with a high-protein summer wheat with a two-to-three day fermentation process, cooked in the big gas oven. It is overwhelmingly popular and has a chewy, yet crisp crust. My personal ritual is to rip a hot mouthful of crust with my hands before digging in to the triangle. All the specialties have clever pop-culture names you’ll recognize.
Neapolitan: A smaller 10”-12” personal dish that you eat with a fork and knife. It’s made with a highly milled flour, and the balance between fermentation and hydration is key. It’s cooked for only 90 seconds in the wood-fired oven at 900 degrees. For this pizza, less is more, light toppings, milled fresh tomatoes, whole milk mozzarella, soft-centered, light. You’re meant to eat it, and walk around town in search of gelato in the Neapolitan dusk.
Pietro’s imports tomatoes from Italy. In describing the difference to American tomatoes, I’ll use words such as “rich” and “tomatoey,” and “thick” and “red”, and I’ll say all these things with awe because I believe all the food in heaven will have a tomato atop it and there will be Italian tomatoes every time. They also import two kinds of flour for the three styles of pizza. Bags of flour and cans of tomato have become a decorating motif since storerooms naturally overflow.
You can find Pietro’s Pizza and Pasta in the Po‘ipu Shopping Village at 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr, Koloa. They spread out between restaurant seating and a bar with more seating. Happy Hour is from 3-5 p.m., when you can get 20 percent off pastas, pizza and drink specials. Stay tuned for more from Tom and his famiglia as they are constantly responding to customer ideas.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.