We were at Koko Marina next to Zippys just peering in at around 10 am when an employee poked her head through the door and offered us a menu. For that alone, Sophie's Gourmet Hawaiian Pizzeria can give itself a plus one.
We came back later that day, around 11:30 am and found the restaurant surprisingly empty. We had expected a large crowd of the curious, you know -- those kama'aina that give the new restaurant on the block a try early on. It was a good thing we got there early because the wide variety of unique ingredients had us slowly mulling our many choices. Unlike your usual pizza restaurants, Sophie's has much more than pepperoni and olives. While you can still get those mainstays, Sophie's also offers Bulgogi, Char Siu, Thai Curry Chicken and much more. Like cilantro? Sophie's has it. Don't like it? Well, the good news is that it's your pizza. Each selection is a 12" pizza meant for one to two people, and so priced. A three topping pizza is $10.95 and a five topping pizza is $12.95. The chef selections with a wide variety of complementary garnishes are also $12,95.
After ordering, we waited around five minutes as our pizzas cooked. Just about the same time, the restaurant started filling up.
A word of warning, we have picky pizza eaters in our household. A word of relief, everyone in our lunch party loved their choice. The traditional pizza eaters liked their pepperoni and sausage combos. The gourmet eaters loved their picks, replete with char siu, curry chicken, jalapeno, macadamia cream sauce, just to name a few.
When we were partway through our meal, one of the owners, John, stopped by to ask how we liked our meal. He seemed delighted to be the new entrepreneur on the block and also seemed delighted that he -- a Hawaii Kai resident -- had nearly no commute to his new venture. He also asked how we liked our curry chicken. The two of us who had chosen it as a topping agreed that it was very tasty. John then proceeded to proudly tell us how he prepares it a day in advance to allow the marinade to soak through. Admittedly, the curry chicken was very good -- it probably could have been a gourmet dish by itself.
I would unreservedly recommend this new restaurant to anyone. I have only two constructive suggestions to make -- all in the name of selfishness, as I would be thrilled to see this locally owned venture thrive and continue to expand.
1. Continue to be generous with with your portions and toppings. Sophie's main competitor is Pieology, a mainland chain-restaurant with an Aina Haina location. While it bears mentioning that Pieology's pizzas are quite a bit smaller than Sophie's (10.5 inches versus 12 inches) and rather ordinary, Pieology advertises it's all the toppings you choose. Sophie's, on the other hand, has topping limits but in our visit was generous with portions. I hope Sophie's recognizes the value in continuing the practice.
2. Sophie's really needs to change their drink policy to include refills. Koko Marina has a mixed customer base, including mainland visitors. It is common practice to provide refills for soda machine purchases. The cost of limiting refills over what is probably just a couple dimes of soda isn't worth losing a customer or getting a poor review from one. If you need to charge a bit more for soda so that you can include refills, do that instead.
Finally, my plea to neighbors: With a location just a few doors from the already successful Moena Cafe, I predict that Sophie's will also succeed. However, just to be sure, I'm asking all Hawaii Kai residents to give it a try at least once It's a high quality meal at a price reasonable enough to have a few times each month. Seating is available, either indoors in air conditioning, or outside overlooking the marina and boats. It's not your ordinary pizza; it's more of a gourmet dining experience at a pizza price.