The Weekly Eater


Sunday, December 23, 2001

Michael Gino Apau slices up a freshly baked pizza at the counter of Big Gino's at Marin Tower on Smith Street.

Big Gino’s perfects basics
to achieve cutting-edge pizza

Would anyone survive young adulthood without pizza? It's the food that launched a thousand term papers, celebrated a thousand team victories, made a thousand dates affordable, and it's the food that became the centerpiece of many a bitch-fest when relationships built on such dates went awry.

It was all so simple then.

Potential beaus made you laugh. Or didn't.

Pizza was one crust. Basic toppings. Still recognizable as an ancient flatbread enlivened with a few herbs and spices. The key to its "modern" look was the 16th-century Spanish discovery of the New Worlds of Mexico and Peru and the mysterious fruit, assumed at first to be poisonous, we call the tomato. Italians made water buffalo milk mozzarella the finishing touch.

Life is infinitely more complicated today.

Now when you order a pizza, you have a choice of deep-dish, flat, rising dough or filled crusts oozing cheese. You can still get those basic toppings, but you might also replace that tomato sauce with pesto or Thai-ginger sauce; swap that mozzarella for gouda, goat or Romano cheeses; or get your pizza maker to top your pie with caramelized pears, barbecued chicken or hoisin duck.

But the farther we get from this core concept, the more we understand the most harmonious combinations involve only a handful of basics. We might sample the hoisin duck once or twice, but we always come back to basic pepperoni and mushrooms, or Italian sausage and black olives, or just plain cheese.

Big Gino's makes an art of going back to basics. Gino -- actually Michael Gino Apau -- says, "Sometimes I don't even like using the word 'pizza.' It's just bread, sauce and cheese, three things everyone loves."

Like everyone else, I first became acquainted with Gino by watching one of those late-night screaming television advertisements. There he was, excitedly peddling his pizza.

We live in an era in which more attention is claimed through screams than is earned through excellence, so I assumed this would be just another greasy fast-food pizza joint. But instead of coming face to face with the fast-talking, hyper Gino at Marin Tower at the base on Smith Street, there was Apau, a quietly driven, low-key and New Agey sort of guy making what is billed as New York pizza.

It's actually a bicoastal hybrid. The size and crisp, dry (in a good way, meaning non-soggy and non-oily) crust scream New York, while Apau's philosophy of using farm-fresh sauce and produce is thoroughly California, gleaned from years spent in Napa Valley. Ingredients used in his pizza are grown here or imported from California, such as the mild, organic Stanislaus tomato sauce that Apau dresses with basil and oregano, which he calls "mood enhancers."

Similarly, the crust is made from unbleached flour that he says is "not whacked with chemicals and whitened."

To further the health aspect, 100 percent part-skim mozzarella is used. This is the only part where I prefer more fat, though the cheese seems to work better in the 2-foot-long calzones ($9.50) when the dough is folded over so the cheese is thick and melty.

Pick up your pizza by the slice, at $3.75 each, or get the whole deal -- "New York, New York," with pepperoni, Italian sausage, onions, mushrooms and black olives; "Supreme," with pepperoni, meatballs, onions, mushrooms, black olives and red peppers; or "Garden," with onions, mushrooms, olives, green peppers and tomato slices -- for $21.75. A plain cheese pizza is $13, and toppings can be added at $1.75 each. Choose from those listed above, plus spinach, pineapple, ham, anchovies and jalapeños.

If you want to eat in, you'll find a mini-oasis with stacks of intelligent magazines and art books. But you'll also find free delivery to areas like Liliha, Makiki, Nuuanu, Pacific Heights and Iwilei with a $15 minimum order. There is also delivery to McCully and Waikiki with a $20 minimum order.


Marin Tower, 918 Smith St. / 566-6360

Food StarStarStar

Service StarStarStar

Ambience StarStar1/2

Value StarStarStarStar

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 10:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays at Smith. (Also featured in heat-and-eat slices at Signature Theatres at Dole Cannery)

Cost: About $3.75 by the slice or $21.75 for a whole pizza

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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. 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.

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