Italian Delight: Lahaina’s NYC Portal?
By Vanessa Wolf
Nothing gets people going quite like debates about religion, politics or – apparently – pizza.
Ever willing to admit if we were wrong, when several people (angry villagers with torches) recently suggested (insisted) that the best New York style pizza on Maui isn’t in (friggin’) Kihei, but Lahaina… well, we had to see this for ourselves.
Enter Italian Delight and an Italian-born (by way of Philadelphia) transplant (potentially) making New York style pizza in the most remote archipelago in the world.
Admittedly, although such a “this plus that plus the other thing” scenario has the potential for disaster, we optimistically entered and ordered a slice of the Pesto ($3.95).
Topped with – you guessed it – pesto, ricotta and tomatoes, the slice is huge.
“How huge?” you may ask (a more than fair question considering the range of which ‘huge’ can and does comprise): well, bigger than the 12” paper plate huge.
As for the pizza itself, the crust is flat and a bit dense throughout, but has a satisfying, savory flavor helped along by a little healthy char on the bottom.
All told, a gratifying albeit unorthodox – by NYC pizza standards anyway – slice.
So is it New York style?
Time to test the classics.
The Pepperoni ($3.45) offered the perfect cheese/sauce proportion and the red sauce delivered a pleasing piquant flavor.
The crust wasn’t quite as tough and leaden as the pesto, offering a softer, chewier bite with the same tasty bottom char.
Great flavor, yes; but New York style?
The White Pizza with Fresh Spinach and Tomato ($3.95) definitely draws on Big Apple roots presentation-wise, but that same low-rise, thin crust issue kept popping up visit after visit.
In short, things are consistently a little too unleavened to qualify as NYC style, but these are slices worth your time nonetheless.
The Chicken Bacon Ranch Slice ($3.95) isn’t even trying.
In a nod to all things California – the only components missing are artichokes, garlic, and the Beach Boys – it wouldn’t be our first choice for “pizza,” but it’s pretty good in a decidedly non-Italian way.
Speaking of which, seeing as the chef/owner hails from Naples – home of a style of pie with rules and restrictions on par with champagne – we’d personally love to see him augment/abandon this thrice-fold interpretation and just do Neapolitan style pizza.
That stated, his bio also mentions a 20-year tenure in Philadelphia, dictating the Philly Cheese Steak ($13.95) a must-try item.
The restaurant ships the legendary Amoroso bread in from the City of Brotherly love, and it’s definitely the highlight of the sandwich.
Otherwise, the meat is chopped – practically blended, really – super-fine and heavily flavored with black pepper. Not our favorite.
The minced meat is then topped with your choice of either American or provolone.
We went with the traditional American and appreciate the nod to authenticity, but less so when the cheese arrives hard and collapsed over the bread like a plastic bag melted onto the side of a toaster.
Not so much.
We get that it’s not “real” cheese – heck, the other traditional option is named Cheez – but maybe just put it on the meat only and let it melt there: avoid the broiler altogether.
We also tried the Supreme Chicken Cheese Steak ($14.95) with similar results.
In fact, so similar that we had to double-check with a couple staff members that we were actually eating chicken and not beef.
Unfortunately, we didn’t try the two on the same day, but we still purport that anyone who’s given up red meat for health purposes can get their virtual fill with Italian Delight’s chicken.
Again, these aren’t our favorite of the island’s versions of the quintessential sandwich, but it’s by far the best one we’ve seen on the west side.
The restaurant’s ambiance is clean and well-lit, but ultimately fast food-esque: appropriate for a pizza joint. Service is quick and personable, if not a bit flirty.
They also offer music playing just low enough to drive you completely nuts.
Is that Dancing Queen?
Never Gonna Give You Up?
Rock Me Amadeus?
Hard to say, but either Jefferson Airplane or Wham! is coming up next. Or maybe that’s the Sex Pistols?
Speaking of music driving you nuts, if there is one glaring problem with this place, it’s this: if your brain is anything like ours, every time you hear the establishment’s name, you’ll find yourself retooling the words to Starland Vocal Band’s treacly 70s classic.
Not sure which specific ear poison we’re referring to?
Well, take a peek at what plagued us all morning:
Gonna get a cheese steak, gonna hold it tight
Gonna grab some Italian Delight
My motto’s always been; when it’s right, it’s right
Including eating in the middle of a cold dark night
Sweet Mary and Joseph, make it stop.
We turned to the pasta menu for respite and became fast fans of the Eggplant Parmigiana with Pasta ($14.95).
Although associated with the cooking of the chef’s native Naples, the preparation remains true to more Italian-American traditions. Rather than a casserole featuring hard-boiled eggs, two large eggplant slices arrive atop ziti and drenched in marinara sauce.
Still, the thin cutlets are well-breaded and crisply fried, while the savory, rich red sauce was a bit salty, but still proffered a delightful flavor.
Nothing extraordinary, but exactly what you’d expect. And all told, that’s probably what you were hoping for anyway.
As it stands, for what it is – a pizza, pasta, sandwich joint – it’s a reliable choice with reasonable (for Maui) prices.
Still, we hope the chef considers embracing his Neapolitan roots and offering up some Napoli-style pizza, Crocchè di Patate, Ravioli Capresi or Mussels alla Marinara in addition (or even in lieu of) the Southern PA strip mall-influenced offerings.
Italian Delight is located at 335 Keawe Street in Lahaina. They are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.