Maui Food and Dining

Giannotto’s Pizza: Next Best Thing to Teleportation

March 8, 2014, 5:50 PM HST
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Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.

By Vanessa Wolf

A slice of cheese, arguably a little past its prime. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

A slice of cheese, arguably a little past its prime. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Picture an East Coast pizza joint in your mind.

If you came up with a small, hot space filled with notable accents,  Yankees memorabilia and Scarface posters, then Giannotto’s Pizza in Wailuku  is already super legit.

They do more than make pizza, but since that’s mentioned in the name, we’ll start there.

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Pizza is sold both by the slice and pie and – speaking of the former – they always seem to have some ready to go.

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Raised by a real Pizza Nazi (“More than two toppings is no longer pizza!” “Deep dish is not pizza!” “Chicken and barbecue sauce? Not pizza!”), we faithfully stick to the basics just in case word gets back to him.

A plain slice ($1.97) from Giannotto’s rocks a very thin, crisp crust – we’d label it North Jersey style more than New York – light sauce, generous cheese and good flavor.

It’s not a very large piece (at all), but hopefully the modest price tag warned you of that possibility in advance.

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A topping – pepperoni in this case – brings the damage to $2.72 (or $.75 per topping). Ours came with four and a half of those little, tiny curling-up-at the-edges pepperonis rarely seen these days. Again, the slices are more snack than meal-sized, but the flavor is consistently balanced and – if you time it right – wonderfully fresh.

A slice of pepperoni. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

A slice of pepperoni. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

A full 16-incher (the only size pie they offer) will set you back $16-$26 depending on the toppings.

Overall, a solid option should you find yourself craving carbs in Wailuku.

The proprietor is a veritable James “Hardest Working Man” Brown type. He’s there (it started to seem like) all the time and goes out of his way to introduce himself and make guests feel welcome.

Like the long-suffering subject of a Springsteen song, Dave Giannotto labors at his pizza joint so often, we started to worry maybe he just pushes some tables together and curls up on them at night.

However, the day of a rare break – which happened to be the same day we ordered a Mushroom Calzone ($7.95 + $.75 per topping) – we started to understand why he maybe he so infrequently leaves.

At around 4 p.m. on a slow Thursday, we placed our order, studied the Godfather and Trenton-based memorabilia on the wall, and began what became a half-hour wait.

Just around the time we became concerned our calzone had been abandoned to the whims of the oven, the chef caught one of our numerous nervous glances and checked up on it.

What came out was, well, a bit blackened in spots. The chef then groomed it a bit, picking off some particularly charred areas with his hands.

The Mushroom Calzone: they chop it up in advance for some reason. (?) Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Mushroom Calzone: it ain’t a beauty, but hey it’s all right. And that’s all right with me. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Hmmm…

We like to think that’s a non-Dave-sanctioned move and hopefully a rarity.

Regardless, after a little more cleanup of our own, the flavor was none the worse for the wear. The fresh calzone provided an abundance of melty, messy, doughy, mozzarella/ricotta mélange decadence.

With plentiful fresh mushroom slices and a whisper of red sauce, this is a solid choice for any cheese lover, mild char and all.

The Meatball Parmesan ($7.49) was less to our liking.

The bread is excellent, the meatballs are good and the cheese was generous. Our issue was with the sauce: too much – rendering the bread instantly soggy – and too sweet for our tastes. We scraped off what we could.

If you grew up here in the islands, then you know when saimin or shave ice is prepared “right,” and when it’s just soba or a snow cone masquerading as the real deal.

Heck, you can probably tell on sight: the disappointment hitting long before the first bite even nears your tastebuds.

We can relate in our own way.

Raised outside Philadelphia, we have certain expectations around the word “cheesesteak.”

The Meatball Parmesan was a little too sweet for us. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Meatball Parmesan was a little too sweet for us. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

You can put chopped meat on bread and call it whatever you want, but unless you prepare it the way the founding fathers (inventors Harry and Pat Olivier, in this case) intended, it’s just a steak sandwich.

Yes, cheesesteaks *can* be made dozens of ways, but all of them are wrong in the eyes of the Philly way.

Mayo? Wrong.

Horseradish? So wrong.

Lettuce and tomato? Wrong and wronger.

Mozzarella, cheddar, or pepper jack? Wrong, wrong, and super wrong.

So what is a proper cheesesteak?

We’re so glad you asked:

  • Italian roll – long, thin, soft… but not too soft. White bread only.
  • Chopped steak: thinly sliced rib eye or top round
  • Grilled onions
  • Cheese: provolone, white American or (if you insist) Cheez Whiz.

Happily – and much faster than waiting for scientists to invent teleportation – that’s exactly the simple perfection you will find with a Giannotto’s cheesesteak.

Hey little cheesesteak, is your daddy home. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Hey little cheesesteak, is your daddy home. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The bread is spot-in and the filling made us tear up a little bit. We didn’t get a choice of cheeses but we don’t mind, because what we got was mild, creamy and exactly as it should be.

The fries ($2.95) were great too: thin, crisp and flavorful.

In fact, the only downside to this moment of East Coast magic is that Giannotto’s will make you miss things that normally reside deep in your memory banks, like Tastykakes and Utz Extra Dark Pretzels.

Turns out the internet can pick up some slack there.

Cheesesteaks, however, don’t ship well. Lucky for you, the homesick, the curious and the hungry, it takes only a short jaunt to Wailuku in order to make a virtual culinary journey to the City of Brotherly Love.

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Giannotto’s Pizza is located at 2050 Main Street in Wailuku, where they are open Monday through Saturday  from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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