The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Pizza and beer are what
Kona Brewing Co.
does best

In the food industry, nothing sells like familiarity, so one success tends to lead to another. That's why so many have been able to take an idea and sell it over and over again, leading to thousands of McDonald's, Taco Bells and Pizza Huts coast to coast -- maybe thousands of Maui Tacos and Kua 'Ainas someday, in the latter case after they've taken over Japan.

By all logic, Kona Brewing Co. should be able to transport its Kona success story to Oahu. It offers several exceptional boutique brews. It offers pizza. All in a picturesque, relaxed setting conducive to camaraderie and first dates.

You can imagine how this worked in Kona, a tourist town where people found safe haven from such exotic fare as poke and ogo, lilikoi sauces and tobiko.

So I've sat back and watched rival critics pick at the food, all the while thinking, "It's all about pizza and beer; what do you expect?" And that's what I kept telling myself on the way there: "It's pizza and beer, pizza and beer."

The restaurant/brew pub is tricky to find, at the waterfront behind all the shops closest to the Kalanianaole Highway side of the Koko Marina Shopping Center. The entry is like a dock leading to a houseboat on the water, and the view from the restaurant's deck is spectacular, of the sort that leads to much sighing and longing to hang out forever.

All's well in reading the menu -- pizza and beer is what we want -- oh look, there are sandwiches and pupus, too. The only dilemma is, I'm not sure that this is what picky types in Hawaii Kai/Portlock, land of the slim and home of Atkins devotees, really want. And it'll take more than this to lure the rest of Oahu, for whom Kaimuki represents the last stop before the Eastside boonies.

I confess I'm not part of the fellowship of beer, but it seems that other brew pubs seem to offer a lot more variety on the menu: ribs, burgers, salt-and-pepper pork chops, sashimi, lots of finger foods. Face it, you're spoiled.

At the same time, having grown up with Pizza Hut, most who do want pizza tend to like it simple. While KBC boasts of such luxe toppings as sun-dried tomatoes, gorgonzola, chevre and roasted red peppers, I can imagine college-age adults and families with children, for whom pizza is a staple, wondering, "Where's the pepperoni?"

There's a disconnect that seems to have found a solution Sunday nights, when live music draws those who want it all -- dinner plus entertainment.

Kona Brewing Co.'s open air deck makes the most out of Hawaii Kai's normally sunny weather.

I SUGGEST adding sashimi and a burger to the menu pronto. For now, those who drop in will find a whole lotta bread, from appetizers to main dishes, starting with cheesy garlic bread with mozzarella and Parmesan ($3.99), garlic focaccia twists ($3.25) and mac nut pesto cheese bread ($6.99). Just when you think you've escaped carb overload, there's the KBCilla ($3.99 half/$6.99 whole) and larger KBCilla Po'okela ($5.99 half with four pieces/$9.99 whole), a "quesadilla" that's actually a focaccia sandwich with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, green chilies, jalapeños, kalua pig, salsa and sour cream inside. It's delicious, and a single wedge is more like a meal than an appetizer.

There are thick Kettle potato chips ($3.49) as well, but these also come with sandwiches.

Meat eaters may find some satisfaction in Pele's Fire Wings ($6.49), marinated in KBC's Fire Rock Pale Ale (yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of this brew) and painted with a spicy, extremely salty teriyaki glaze that goes down best with beer. It was the light Big Wave Golden Ale for me. (Check back with the Barfly, Jason Genegabus, in our Weekend section Friday for more on the brews.)

Other offerings range from the low-alcohol Duke's Blonde Ale to the full malt flavor of the Black Sand Porter, which also flavors the roast beef in the restaurant's Porterhouse Dip sandwich ($9.99). You can't miss the alcohol.

The Big Wave Golden Ale is less evident in the Garlic Shrimp Melt ($10.99), a tasty sandwich owing most of its flavor to whole cloves of roasted garlic than the tiny bay shrimp tucked in with spinach, Parmesan and mozzarella.

Didn't try it, but based on the KBCilla Po'okela, the kalua pork sandwich ($8.99) has got to be pretty good, too.

As for those pizzas, they start with a thick hand-tossed spent-grain (what's left of the brewer's mash process) crust, reminiscent of a whole-grain crust, topped with locally grown organic produce whenever possible. They range from a small 10-inch cheese pizza topped with whole-milk mozzarella to $22.99 for a large 14-inch Pele's Own topped with Cajun tomato sauce, andouille sausage, rock shrimp and roasted red peppers and onions. We settled on the Ka'u Pesto ($15.99/$19.99/$22.99), which delivers everything promised: a macadamia nut-pesto base, pesto chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and mozzarella with the zing of kalamata olives.

All this will fill you up in no time, but if there's room for dessert, the vanilla bean ice cream and fudge sundae is the way to go.

Kona Brewing Co.

Koko Marina Shopping Center / 394-5662

Food Star Star Half-star

Service Star Star Star Half-star

Ambience Star Star Star Star

Value Star Star Star

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Cost: About $25 to $30 for two without drinks

See some past restaurant reviews in the Columnists section.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to


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