Review: Epolito's Pizzeria, One Tree Hill

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday Rating: 4/5
Address: 1 Rawhiti Rd, One Tree Hill
Ph: (09) 589 1999

Epolito's New York Pizzeria dishes up knockout pizzas, but don't let word get out. Photo / Getty Images
Epolito's New York Pizzeria dishes up knockout pizzas, but don't let word get out. Photo / Getty Images

I suspect you could spend a year in New York eating nothing but pizza and never eat at the same place twice. I found my pizza heaven at Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge.

To get a spot, you queue on the footpath for at least 15 minutes - often much more - but it's worth the wait. The thin-crust pizzas, cooked in a coal-fired oven, have a crust that is crisp yet chewy, blistered but never charred.

The New York-style pizza is different from the soft-based kind found in Naples, the pizza's birthplace. The long, rectangular pizza al taglio (sold in pieces, priced by weight) that you find in Rome is different again: cheeseless toppings are common (my favourite is grated zucchini, mint and oil).

Is the pizza the world's best-selling fast food? It has certainly been enthusiastically adopted by most countries I've been to, partly because it is so receptive to adaptation. I've had haggis pizza in the Byres Rd district of Glasgow and I gather bulgogi topping is the Koreans' answer to the Australians' tiger prawns.

At Epolito's, in the triangle of streets between Cornwall Park and Mt Smart Stadium, the approach is so purely Noo Yoik that you half-expect the pizzas to shoulder you aside and snarl "Asshole!" as they steal your taxi. Little surprise: the place is the creation of Chicklena Rose, a native of Syracuse, in upstate New York, who was taught pizza-making at 13 by a Sicilian-born friend of her parents.

Her travels took her to San Francisco (where she spent several years learning bread-baking) and she ended up here. You can watch her hand-stretching the dough and working the oven, as her personable manager Adrienne presides behind the counter of the corner store that Epolito's calls home, dealing to a steady stream of takeaway customers. If internet gossip is anything to go by, they are driving halfway across Auckland to get a piece of the Epolito's action.

The pizzeria has actually been open since October 2005 but, as far as I can gather, its regular customers have been engaged in a conspiracy of silence to keep word from getting out. Certainly it was flying under my radar until my son, who lived in the neighbourhood, commended it to my attention.

He was just heading off for a two-year teaching stint in Korea, so he got to pick the place for his send-off and didn't hesitate to name what had long been his local haunt.

The website says: "We accept table bookings prior to 5pm (not after)" and I rang up prepared to beg for them to make an exception for our group of six, but it turns out that only the booking process, not the turning-up bit, has to be completed before 5.

That said, it's worth mentioning that the shop has seats for only a dozen and a half. And if you're wanting a beer or a glass of wine with your pizza, order takeaway; the bar service runs to what Chicklena would call "soda".

The menu is divided into "classic" and "gourmet", and I would definitely recommend trying something from either section. The simple "cheese" option in the classic menu is the epitome of pizza stripped back to its basics. One bite and you can smell the East River and even understand the appeal of baseball, know what I mean?

Further down, Chicklena has made the ultimate concession to Kiwi taste by including a pineapple topping, which no self-respecting New Yorker would tolerate. And she won the vegetarian-pizza prize in a national competition last year with the Eastside (artichoke, paper-thin slices of fresh lemon and parmesan) which is an utter knockout.

The menu is rich in honest Brooklyn toppings - Sicilian sausage, pepperoni, meatball - but half the selections are meat-free. Everything we tried was sensational - fresh, bright tastes bubbling on a dough made with reverence and not a little love.

If you are not already an Epolito's regular, become one soon. But for goodness' sake, keep it to yourself or we won't be able to get in the door.

Need to know

Value: $

$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)

Also try

Great pizza: SPQR in Ponsonby; Il Buco across the road for Roman-style. Sal's (three branches) is pretty good. What's your favourite place? petercalder@heraldonsunday.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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