By Nadine Kam
A trip to Morimoto Waikiki last week showed the kind of theater money and fame can buy. But for every Morimoto there are dozens of potential restaurateurs who simply want to put their ideas on the table, no matter how small their start, evident in an ever-expanding convoy of buses, vans and trucks that bring edibles to events or parking lots near you.
They're getting more creative all the time. Plate-lunch trucks have always made the rounds, but the newest entries have taken tacos, cupcakes, teppanyaki and more to the streets. But the hottest at the moment is Inferno's Wood Fire Pizza in Kalihi, which showed up about two months ago.
It's certainly an original as the first mobile pizza joint on Oahu, serving the only pizza that comes close to being as good as V-Lounge pizza.
The pizzas are baked in a wood-fired pizza oven on site, and one has to wonder who would have been crazy enough to put a 2,000-pound oven on a trailer.
That would be partners Jonathan Wong and pizza perfectionist Kyle Okumoto, two guys whose expertise is in construction, working with sheet metal, but whose love of pizza eventually trumped their day jobs.
Those construction skills did come in handy, though, in tricking out their trailer by trial and error. "Knowing how to weld really helped," Wong said.
It wasn't easy, given their novel concept. For one thing, the permitting process took about a year, as long as it took to build because there was no precedent for a pizza truck, and city officials worried about fire and safety issues with an oven that reaches 800 to 1,000 degrees. Lucky for pizza lovers, it all worked out.
Wong said that they'd been trying to perfect pizza for the past five years.
"We always ate out cuz we worked construction, and Kyle would say, 'Oh, I can do that,'" Wong said. "Every Super Bowl we'd spend at his house, and all he did was make pizza. We were all his guinea pigs, five to 15 people every week.
"All he did was watch Food Network and try, tasting at our favorite places to see if he could do better."
His first "pizza oven" was a Weber that they layered with bricks, and then, Wong said, Okumoto was suddenly struck with the inspiration to buy a pizza oven and install it in his parents' back yard "so we could have real pizza parties."
Wong felt it was no light commitment, and foresaw a day the parents might want to sell the house, and the brick oven with it. So that marked the start of attempting to graduate from hobby to profession.
The resulting pizzas are made to their tastes, which happen to align quite nicely with my own. In a nutshell, that means fresh ingredients and fresh flavors, as unadulterated as possible; a light, balanced hand; and for pizza, a light, thin crust that offers a nice texture without detracting from the toppings. The whole effective supporting player vs. star thing.
The first time I went was just to try, so I took the pizza home and was thoroughly delighted. In 15 minutes of steaming in its box, though, the crust was sagging, and I went back to try it on the spot, when it came much closer to that crisp ideal.
The 12-inch pizzas are reasonably priced at $8 to $10, with additional toppings running $1. For DIYers, a one-topping pizza starts at $8. (A portion of proceeds of every pizza sold is being donated to the American Cancer Society's fight against breast cancer.)
Their pizzas range from your basic cheese ($8) to Margherita with basil and tomatoes ($10) to all-meat pepperoni, sopressata and Italian sausage ($10).
Wong describes Okumoto as a person who's "dedicated to meat," who looked askance at anchovies until urged to put it on his own pizza.
"He didn't want to eat that and was surprised when he did like it, especially when it's with the arugula and mozzarella, when it just tastes clean, bright and salty, not fishy."
That white pizza, also with olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($12), is one of the weekly specials they'll have in rotation. You'll usually find one red and one white special. The red last week was a slow-roasted pulled pork with red onions, mushrooms and garlic ($10). I liked that they offered a choice of homemade marinara or spicy barbecue. I'm not a big fan of barbecue sauce, and would take the mild San Marzano tomato sauce any day. But, given that I've liked the rest of their flavors so far, I might just try that barbecue one day, trusting that it may not be as treacly as most.
Mexican, duck and hoisin, and salmon pizzas are in the works. The salmon might take a while because they want to smoke the fish themselves, and similarly, they're hoping to tap hunters for smoked meat from the Big Island.
The original plan was to cater to private events such as birthday and beach parties, but they're happy to have been offered their current spot, where there's room for a few tables under a tent.
Waits for pizza run about 20 to 30 minutes, but it could be longer if there are a lot of people in front of you. They will take phone orders if you call early enough, but once the crowd starts coming, they don't have the manpower to do so, and can't predict what time they'll run out of dough.
They'd always been able to find construction work but willingly walked away to provide pizza, and Wong said they're having the most fun they could have working.
"Before, we'd be working in rooms by ourselves. The only human interaction was talking to each other, and Kyle is really quiet. Now there are always so many people to talk to," including, he said, pizza makers from V-Lounge, Pizza Hut, Bar 35 and Boston's Pizza, who want to know what the commotion is about.
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser.