Words by Mark Horowitz .::. Photos by Jane Horowitz; Special to Slice .::. I think it's safe to say that most visitors to Maui don't have pizza on their minds. During my own recent visit to Maui, my mind was occupied with exploring its natural beauty, its stunning beaches, snorkeling in its clear reefs, and, from a culinary standpoint, exploring the rich, diverse cultural influences that have created a unique Pacific cuisine.
What has evolved in Hawaii is an interesting melange of styles resulting from the mixture of native Hawaiian food preferences and the various immigrant populations that have arrived during the past century and a half to work on sugar cane and pineapple plantations (Portugese, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and others) and to work in the tourism industry (mainlanders and Europeans). My only previous experiences with what might be called contemporary Hawaiian cuisine have been in my infrequent visits to various outposts of Roy Yamaguchi's restaurants in New York and Philadelphia (he has restaurants in other cities as well: roysrestaurant.com). There I have sampled ahi poke, ono, mahi, and opakapaka, the wonderful variety of fish native to Hawaiian waters.
After exploring the breathtaking (literally, at more than 10,000 feet in elevation) summit of Hale'akala volcano, we were hungry for lunch. On the road leading down from the volcano, we passed the Kula Lodge, a restaurant and inn we had heard some good things about.
The restaurant is located in the village of Kula, famous for its fresh greens, included in salads in just about every restaurant on the island. It overlooks a hillside and just about every table has a view. There is a lounge area with a giant stone fireplace. On the menu, we found Asian-influenced items, including spring rolls and local fish. We also found those same fish offered grilled on sandwiches and, to our surprise, choose-your-own-topping pizzas, prepared in stone ovens located just outside the restaurant's seating area. These ovens use a native wood, imparting a mesquitelike flavor. The toppings ran the gamut from meat to fruit to veggies. The young people with us were delighted to have pizza, instead of fish. After placing our orders, we could watch our pizzas being made in the ovens outside. The pizzas were medium-thick crusted, "personal" sized (12-inch) and priced from $10.95 and up, depending upon the number and type of toppings. The wood-fired oven flavor was wonderful, and the sauce was only slightly sweet. Toppings were fresh and generous.
Hand-crafted pizza is a refreshing change for visitors to Maui looking for a departure from the fish and meat fare. Visitors traveling with young children will find that the Kula Lodge pleases all palates.
Photograph of Kula Lodge exterior from KulaLodge.com