'Good food for good people' at Primo Pizzakaya

GUNGLE SSAM: Chef Dylan Saad has launched Primo Pizzakaya, an open kitchen concept with an urban feel and dynamic menu right in Pleasure Island in Tumon. Saad presents the Gungle Ssam ($6) appetizer: impossibly tender braised pork belly that is framed in the context of sushi. A scratch-made dinanche represents the wasabi. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

The people behind Primo Pizzakaya can’t wait for you to walk in the door, shake off the day and have some fun.  

It seems obvious before you get inside, with the graffiti-style signage out front and twinkle lights glowing in the windows, beckoning passerby inside. Just inside the door you’re met with a vintage arcade game (not yet working, but coming soon!) and a full, though tiny, bar tucked behind a small hostess stand, next to a rambling mural in shades of red and grey, where Pac-Man continues to chase his ghostly nemeses long after you’ve spent your last quarter. 

How can you not have fun in a place like that?

Owner and chef Dylan Saad, himself a Tumon fine-dining veteran, aimed to create a restaurant with as little pretentiousness as possible, and somehow, even with Wagyu Meatballs on the menu, he seems to have hit the mark: Primo Prizzakaya is a breath of fresh air in Tumon Bay, Saad’s raised glass to every restaurant and hospitality worker on the island. 

Named for Saad’s dog, a chocolate lab and Rottweiler mix who passed away around the same time Saad and his team took over the restaurant, Primo is meant to be for others what the canine Primo was for him. 

“When I would get off work I’d go home, beat up, exhausted, so tired,” Saad said. “Primo would be there at the front door, big smile, wagging his tail like ‘you’re home, come give me love!’ ... His whole existence I feel like was to make me feel better when I got home, to take the stress and exhaustion of the day and let it just fade away.”

He hopes the same can be true of Primo’s second incarnation. 

For Tumon workers 'who grind everyday'

“It’s about cooking good food for good people,” Saad said. “Our prices are pretty much as low as we could physically make them...the reason behind that is our clientele, our people, the ones we want to be here are the guys who are just like us, who grind everyday...there’s a lot of people...they work really hard and there’s not a lot of money to show for it.” 

Saad’s goal, then, was to figure out, “how little can we charge without going out of business?”  

In particular, Saad wants Primo, open until midnight and 1 a.m. on weekends, to be a place for their Tumon neighbors, something he didn’t have when he was working long hours at Roy’s and, more recently, Alfredo’s Steakhouse.

“There’s so many people that work in this strip of Tumon that have no place to enjoy themselves after work so that’s a huge reason we’re here,” he said. 

“After I got off work,” Saad said, “I didn’t want to go home...I really wish I had a place I could go and I think that’s when it became a mission to be like, I’m gonna create this place, I’m gonna make this place for all those guys.”

Saad and his small but mighty team have put their whole hearts into the restaurant, blending Japanese izakaya culture with a 1980s pizza parlor (don’t call it fusion, Saad warns. They’re not forcing anything.) and coming away with something Guam has never seen before. The menu is packed with tantalizing dishes, written with a nod and a wink to industry types: the Little Yodas, for $6, are “brussels” fried up with a bright sweet-and-sour sauce, and any cheese on the menu is shortened to one syllable, such as parm and mozz.

The team spent months refurbishing and preparing before their opening in late November, cutting down highboys leftover from the previous tenant into standard height tables (there’s enough trash on the island as it is, Saad said), painting the ceiling and even developing their own locally harvested wild yeast, which is nearing one year old and gives their pizza dough the Primo spirit: fun and ever-changing. 

'Our menu is ever-changing'

Speaking of ever-changing, try not to get too attached to any particular dish. 

While most of the pies will remain the same, Primo’s chesa, savor and sweets menu items will change constantly. Crowd favorites will likely be the first to get the ax. Saad worries about one of his regulars, a one-meal kind of guy who has a soft spot for Primo’s Risotto-bap. Yes, that’s risotto served tableside in the form of bibimbap, and it’s every bit as good as you’re imagining. 

“Our menu is ever-evolving, it grows with the restaurant, it grows with the team,” Saad said, noting that his team played a huge role in developing the current dishes. 

“You look at any other restaurant, they’ll change the items that don’t sell,” he said. “We’re the opposite, we’re gonna change the items that do sell, because we don’t ever want someone to get tired of it.”

“We play, we love food...we get bored with food, we’re gonna change it,” he added. 

Twists on the classics

The prices are a pleasant surprise, as the red and white (sauce, that is) pies are enough to share between two or three and max out at $16. Just don’t expect to find a pepperoni or grand supreme pizza on the menu. Instead, look out for twists on the classics, including the Queen of Ypao, a $12 white pie featuring the classic Italian combo of “mozz,” tomato and basil; or the 4x4, a $16 red pie with four types of cheeses and four meats, including Portuguese sausage and bacon. 

For the more adventurous, the B-52 is a $16 white pie topped with brie cheese, “shrooms” and sausage, with a 62-degree egg dead center, all dusted with bonito. To serve, smash the egg and spread its golden, gooey goodness over the pie, a rich but not overbearing pizza that Saad says is the most Japanese pie on the menu. 

Drinks and 'spesh-spesh'

The fun, however, really begins with the drink selection, which includes unique craft beers, a sizable sake and shochu menu and the refreshing Shiro sangria, a melon-pineapple house specialty mixed with sake instead of wine. 

And don’t forget to check the "spesh-spesh" board (Primo’s take on a specials menu) for the day’s fresh catch from Shut Up and Fish, a local supplier chosen for his like-minded approach to the island’s resources.

“Every ingredient we use that is local, we try to find the best supplier for it that cares about the product as much as we do,” Saad said. “When I first bought from (Shut Up and Fish owner Joaquin Cruz), he handed me the fish and was like, please take care of this, please don’t waste it. To understand that he cares about that product as much as I do means a lot.”

'Unapologetically local'

One of Primo’s major philosophies, Saad said, is to be “unapologetically local,” and that extends beyond just ingredients. Just about all of the art at Primo is from local artists and craftsmen, including graffiti artist Sketch, local carpenter Lumber Six, as well as two local art teachers, one of whom made the plates used to serve pizza.  

It’s also what drove Saad, who moved to the island as an infant and now calls Guam home, and his team to develop their own yeast, derived from local fruits. 

“I’ve always been huge in my career for using an ingredient that wasn’t really an ingredient to start with,” he said, recalling an underground dinner party he put on while working at Roy’s Restaurant, featuring sea-salt cured fish.

“I went and got the ocean water and created a salt from it...I love featuring what this island has because a lot of people don’t do it...we’ve gone to the point where we’ve taken, almost like the spirit of the island...we believe in using the island for everything.”

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