manoli’s pizza company: affordable, family-focused cuisine in wailea

In business school we learned the definition of marketing is “find a niche and fill it.” Maui restaurateur Aaron Placourakis of Tri-Star Restaurant Group rises to the head of the class with his new Manoli’s Pizza Company in Wailea, providing healthful and flavorful pizzas, salads, and pastas in a casual and affordable family-friendly environment.

Healthful pizza, you ask? You bet. Manoli’s pizzas are served on either a handcrafted organic wheat crust or a whole grain gluten-free crust (available only in the 12” size, and $2 extra). Maui grown ingredients like Kula Farm greens, Surfing Goat Dairy cheeses, Olowalu Carrots, and Hana avocados grace the menu. Sauces and dough are homemade from scratch. Even the wine list contains selections from vineyards that have made a commitment to production in a sustainable, organic, or biodynamic environment. Impressive!

When Charles and I drive up to Manoli’s, we’re pleased by how accessible it is. There’s ample parking above the restaurant, a special parking spot right in front for take-out orders, and it’s a place you can actually walk to from most of the Wailea resorts. Once inside, the ambiance is upbeat and happy—parents are glad to have a place to bring the little ones while on vacation, and the keiki have big smiles on their faces while devouring all-you-can eat cheese pizza, with drink and dessert, for $.99 plus their age (up to age 7) that’s brought to the table right away. “Our kids menu has gone over very well,” Aaron tells us. “We do check their IDs, of course,” he jokes.

In fact, the concept for Manoli’s embraces Aaron’s passion for family, and the restaurant was created with family in mind. It’s named after his father, Manoli Placourakis, as well as his son. “Big Manoli used to say, ‘treat your friends like family, and your family like friends,’” says Aaron. “That’s what we strive for here at Manoli’s.”

The open-air restaurant overlooks the 15th hole of the Wailea Old Blue Golf Course with its charming pond. Tiki torches and festive light fixtures in the colors of the Italian flag provide just the right level of illumination. As dusk settles in, nearby palm trees are silhouetted against the tropical evening sky and a cool breeze washes over us, while the tantalizing aroma of kiawe from the wood-burning pizza oven fills the air. We realize we’re starving. Let’s eat!

Manoli’s manager Antonio Campagna stops by to tell us about the menu. “It’s the same for lunch and dinner, and we truly have something for everyone,” he says. “I’m very passionate about our menu.” Specialty pizzas were developed by Aaron and Tri-Star Restaurant Group’s senior executive chef Geno Sarmiento. In addition, traditional pizza lovers can create their own from a list of nearly 30 ingredients.  Five different salads and three pasta dishes round out the menu.

We begin with a couple of salads: The spinach salad ($9) is composed of tender baby spinach with dried cranberries, honey roasted walnuts, pomegranate-whole grain mustard vinaigrette, and local Surfing Goat cheese. The contrasting textures are a success, as is the goat cheese, which is a whipped dollop that’s piped onto the side of the plate. It’s light and very palatable. The traditional Greek salad ($8)—chunks of tomato, cucumber, and feta cheese, with extra virgin olive oil, red onion, kalamata olives, red wine vinegar, and fresh oregano—is also a hit. The juicy and ripe red tomato chunks and crisp cucumbers are cool and refreshing; the kalamata olives are pitted (thank you!) and sliced, and not at all overpowering; and the fresh oregano makes the entire salad pop. I would return to Manoli’s just for the salads. But wait…we’ve got pizzas coming.

Our Hawaiian Honey pizza (12” for $18; 16” for $22) has been prepared with the organic wheat crust. It’s presented on a double-decker rack with an individual pizza server. Topped with honey smoked ham, Maui Gold caramelized pineapple, Maui onion, pomodoro sauce, and mozzarella, it’s no ordinary Hawaiian-style pizza. The pineapple chunks have been simmered in dark rum to a gorgeous golden-bronze color, and they’re so juicy they explode with flavor in our mouths. The ham is perfectly smoked, and the sauce tastes fresh like only a homemade sauce can. “We want to have an abundance of flavors on every pizza,” Aaron tells us.

Next we dive into Manoli’s Fave (12” for $19; 16” for $24). Homemade filet mignon meatballs (yes, you read that correctly), mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella, and pomodoro sauce make for an intelligent assemblage of ingredients. It’s both rich and homey. Nearly reaching the point of no return, we also try “Biggie’s” All Meat (12” for $19; 16 for $26)—Italian sausage, pepperoni, Genoa salami, smoked ham, mozzarella, and pomodoro sauce. They’re not kidding…I don’t know who “Biggie” is, but this pizza is perfect for the big meat lover. It’s fit for a king, and definitely over the top.

Other specialty pizzas include the Farmers Market Veggie (roasted eggplant, Maui onions, Olowalu tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, basil, mozzarella, and pomodoro sauce topped with creamy hummus—$19/24), the Personal Trainer’s Choice (free-range roasted chicken, spinach, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, kale, and pomodoro sauce topped with Hana avocado and Surfing Goat cheese—$20/25), and the Shrimp Pesto (tiger prawns, baby spinach, mushrooms, arugula-basil pesto, mascarpone bechamel, and parmesan reggiano—$20/25).

Manoli’s wine list contains 26 selections, and all but two may be ordered by the glass. Prices range from $6 for a glass of sparkling Tarantas cava from Spain ($26 for the bottle), to $12 for the red blend Kaena “Hale” from Santa Barbara ($42 for the bottle). The thoughtfully conceived list is well balanced between domestic and foreign wines. Manoli’s also has eight specialty drinks ($8 each), like the Fresh Fruit Mojito (fresh mint and lime, organic agave nectar, light rum, club soda, and choice of local organic fruit), and the Antioxidant Cooler (Absolut Berri Acai vodka, fresh squeezed lemon, coconut water, and splash or pure pomegranate juice, served over ice. Beers include Bikini Blonde Lager ($5), Stella Artois ($5), and a non-alcoholic selection ($4).

Antonio insists we try Manoli’s chocolate tiramisu ($6). Okay, you talked us into it! It’s positively dreamy with its layer of soft chocolate on top. If that wasn’t enough, Antonio also brings us the banana cream pie with gluten-free crust ($5). It’s the epitome of banana cream pie—not too sweet, great crust, and the caramel drizzle is a nice surprise.

By Christmastime, Manoli’s expects to have completed a 1,300 square foot expansion featuring a 30-seat bar, flat screen TVs, and additional seating overlooking the golf course for dining. Aaron has no plans, however, to turn Manoli’s into a chain. “I live nearby, so I have a real connection to this particular area of Maui,” he says. “Being able to make a living where you like to live is better than winning the lottery.”

Manoli’s is sophisticated, but it’s also a place where you can feel comfortable bringing your kids. When they’re jumping up and down on the beds screaming, “We want pizza! We want pizza!” Manoli’s is just the ticket.

–heidi pool

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