One evening while commiserating over the state of the restaurant scene during a pandemic, four friends and industry veterans hatched a plan that sounded just crazy enough to work.
In the DoorDash era, why not combine America’s two most beloved takeout staples—pizza and sushi? A puzzling idea, perhaps. But those four friends happened to comprise a supergroup of Delaware culinary talent, including pizza master Matt Hans, whose previous wood-fire pizza truck and shop attained cult status; and former Homegrown Café partner and chef Eric Aber, whose hippie-fusion style lit Newark for two decades. Longtime restaurant insiders Jill DiFebo and Kim Liprie round out the team.
“Everything we kept coming back to was pizza and sushi,” DiFebo says. “Everybody we know has kids, and the kids want pizza and the adults want sushi. You had to make two stops or two delivery orders.”
The resulting Pizzeria Maki combines foodies’ dreams and purists’ nightmares. It’s culinary fission, and Hans and Aber’s creative menu is an explosion of flavors and high-end ingredients that follows very few traditional rules of engagement.
Maki is at least several steps ahead of your average Pizza Hut and Taco Bell mashup. Everything on the menu was engineered to travel. The owners know the pain of ordering an expensive takeout order that rarely lives up to the price tag. Even the pizza boxes contain a special liner that absorb grease and keep the crusts crunchy.
Head sushi chef Diego Soriano, an 18-year veteran of Wilmington favorite Mikimoto’s, is more than adept at spinning flavorful rolls with complex flavors. Take the Upstream Salmon yama maki roll, where fatty salmon and roasted asparagus mingle with preserved orange, red pepper, crispy rice, and togarashi mayo.
Aber and Soriano extract big flavors from their ingredients, without relying on deep-fried or soy-soaked approaches. Take the Shrimp BLT roll, where kimchi remoulade, avocado, and toasted buttery cracker crumbs work with bacon, shrimp and crisp lettuce to create new textural wonders amid a familiar flavor profile.
Hans is the CEO of pizza here. His California-bred sourdough base is his secret weapon, which produces a flavorful, yeasty, crispy crust. It’s delicious even under the most basic conditions—like with shredded mozzarella and tomato sauce (and finished with grated Grana Padano)—but at Maki, it sets the stage for big, bold and delicious flavor combinations.
Like its nearby Wilmington neighbors La Pizzeria Metro and the undisputed queens of gourmet pie in their own backyard, Pizza by Elizabeths, Pizzeria Maki reminds us that great chefs can uplift pizza to strange and new places without abandoning the things that make pizza delicious in the first place.
And Hans knows what he’s doing. The Road Runner pie is perhaps a reflection of Maki’s best traits. Specked with housemade chicken sausage, asparagus, wilted shavings of red onion and melty burrata cheese, it hits all the right notes with added decadence and creaminess.
The seasonal special Harvest pie mixes luxurious ricotta and thyme-steeped cream with butternut squash, roasted mushrooms, balsamic glazed onions, mozzarella cheese, and finishes with fresh herbs and blue cheese crumbles.
Somewhere, Lidia Bastianich is surely scoffing vigorously. But who needs tradition when the food is this delicious and fun?
“The American food scene is exactly that. It’s a meld of cultures, it’s a meld of ideas that end up taking on their own personality,” Hans says. “Kimchi shouldn’t go with sushi, but when you try it with what we’re trying to do, you realize the only reason they really never went together is because people didn’t want to put them together. Greenville plays by its own set of rules anyway.”