LAHAINA - A lot of thought and research has gone into the development of Lahaina's newest restaurant, Pi Artisan Pizzeria. That's "pi" as in the mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, symbolized by the Greek letter ?. Intrigued, I recently met with owner David Hanley, president/CEO of HI Food Group, and Bert Noury, Pi's general manager-partner, to find out more.
"Our concept is fast-casual; it's more upscale than fast food. We wanted to feature one of America's favorite foods, pizza, in a gourmet and handcrafted style. It's a perfect match for Hawaii," David explained.
Incorporating the soul of the artisan movement, Pi is committed to using all-natural products and getting them locally.
A Classic Pepperoni pizza handcrafted at
Pi Artisan Pizzeria.
Bert said, "We get heritage pigs from Olowalu for our pork, beef from Maui Cattle Co. and we make our own sausages. James Simpliciano, chef-owner of SimpliFresh Farm, picks produce, even garlic, for us in the morning and it goes on the pizza that day. We buy Lahaina first whenever we can."
Once you see the exhibition line of pizza and sandwich makers as you walk into the restaurant, you realize just how fresh the ingredients are, and you can watch them craft each dish to order. The colorful array of toppings looks like a garden of delights. Pi uses locally produced Maui Olive Oil for its pizzas with special flour and gourmet cheeses flown in weekly from Italy.
The focal piece of the eatery, though, is an 8,000-pound kiawe wood burning oven that any true "pizzaiolo" would love to get his hands on. It was custom built in Los Angeles and features two openings so more pizzas can be cooked simultaneously.
"It took six months to build and three days to get in the door," remarked David. "We even had to remove a wall to get it in here."
The pizza oven is always on, and with the heat ranging from 500 to 700 degrees F, it takes only three minutes to bake a pizza. We tried a Classic Pepperoni with fresh mozzarella and grated Pecorino-Romano cheeses, Italian pepperoni and Pi's red sauce. I thought the red sauce really made the pie - spicy, not too "tomatoey," yet rich. This was an authentic artisanal pizza.
Meat lovers will want to try the Porchetta Pi with slow roasted pork and house-made bacon, or Pi Sausage with mozzarella. Both of these pies come with the red sauce, caramelized Maui onions, Pappadews and extra virgin olive oil. Those who prefer veggies can wade through a Forest Mushroom pie with assorted mushrooms, red onions, roasted garlic, wild arugula, white sauce, Gorgonzola cheese and truffle olive oil, or a simple Margarita Xtra pie topped with oven roasted tomatoes and Genovese basil. You can also select pies with creative culinary twists or build your own with a combination of local and gourmet ingredients.
The panini sandwiches looked thick and enticing, so we tried the signature Porchetta. It was stacked with slow roasted pork in the Italian style, wood roasted chilies, wild arugula, broccoli and slathered with chili aioli and salsa verde - magnifico!
Side dishes include an antipasto array of cured meats and artisan cheeses, Butcher Meatballs with red sauce and mozzarella, Pi Sausages with gorgonzola, and Italian Spinach Dip with artichokes. There are four fresh salads to choose from; we decided on baby spinach leaves with heirloom tomatoes and bacon. It was served in a large bowl with slices of toasted garlic bread. Try to save room for dessert. We shared a Triple Layer Mousse cake that was light and delicious. Kitchen Manager Mitch Respicio promises a variety of special treats made in-house daily.
Craft cocktails are also a big part of Pi. Bert was a bar manager for years, and he created many of the drinks available at the full-service bar, one of which is The Bertini. It's a three-layered artistic drink with a blend of vodka, lilikoi and sinking grenadine. I chose the Lahaina Mezcalita, which comes in a glass jar smoked with kiawe and is built with tequila, mezcal, lemon-lime and chopped jalapenos.
I haven't mentioned the ambiance yet, but Pi has created a winning combination of seating in an outdoor herb garden, inside with air conditioning, and on the lanai overlooking the sparkling Pacific. If you think it will be too hot in summer, think again - they have a Mist360 system that combines concentrated misters with ceiling fans for a cooling yet unobtrusive feel.
Pi's commitment to being responsibly green is evident in the choices David, Bert and the entire staff have made. Table tops and chairs are made from reclaimed wood; the bar and kitchen counter are wrapped with wood milled from one Cypress log found Upcountry; glassware comes from repurposed plastic and jars; and beer and wine is on tap to limit the use of bottles. The most significant commitment, though, is to our community. Pi has adopted Lahainaluna High School and helps raise funds for the Ag and Drama Departments. They're developing a program for students to pick their own produce and come into the restaurant to cook it.
David added, "We built the restaurant for the local community and priced it for residents, but visitors will appreciate it, too."
Located on the oceanside of The Outlets of Maui at 900 Front St., Pi is open daily at 11 a.m., closing at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at midnight Friday and Saturday. Visit pi808.com for information.