The Osaka Soul truck rolled into the South First Food Park back in September, and the family-owned business--that's Drew Meadors with his wife Julie, son Ben and brother-in-law Jason Bounds at right--was the first in Austin to serve exclusively okonomiyaki, a savory pancake often described as "Japanese pizza." You'll recognize it from this morning's mystery pizza round.
Strictly speaking, of course, okonomiyaki is nothing like the sauce-and-toppings pizza most Americans are familiar with: to start with, the "toppings" actually go inside the pie, and there's nary a tomato in sight. But Eater Austin is happy to expand the horizons of Pizza Week, so we sat down with the Meadors family to hear how they built their okonomiyaki business. (The partial answer: in their driveway. Literally.)
Drew Meadors had time to kill before his best friend's wedding in Manhattan back in 2007, so he found himself wandering Chinatown before ending up at the East Village's Otafuku. "It's like a closet," more than a restaurant, Meadors remembers. But he was fascinated by their okonomiyaki. Then, when he started "courting" Julie, he says, they always tried to "one up each other" with food--so he explored Austin's Asian markets looking to make the perfect Japanese pizza. Before long, he and Julie were running an okonomiyaki delivery business in town.
After the two married, a visit to Julie's family in Mississippi lead them to their "tiny little tin box" of a trailer, which Julie's dad drove home to Texas for the couple. Parked in their driveway, the truck got new plumbing and a coat of paint whenever Julie, who's an engineer, and Drew, a radio consultant, could find time to work on it between their two full-time jobs.
"We did everything on the weekends," remembers Julie. But they were excited about what they were sure would be an Austin hit.
"We just really felt like okonimiyaki is a really cool, fun food," says Drew. Most importantly, it was unique. "You don't want to be a taco truck in Austin. You're like, 'Mine are better than Torchy's!' Probably not," he jokes.
Even though it's definitely not pizza in the classical sense, says Drew, "it’s got the mixes in it, which are similar to toppings, and I think that’s best translated as pizza to someone who’s trying to wrap their brain around it."
Osaka Soul's okonomiyaki is a cabbage-based pancake filled with "toppings" like smoked bacon, shrimp and kimchi, then drizzled with brown okonomi sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, aonori and bonito flakes, a fish flake that seems to dance atop their steaming-hot pies.
Traditionally, okonomiyaki is highly personalized, and the Meadors family encourages people to experiment with their "toppings" since the word "okonomiyaki" literally means "how you like it, grilled" in Japanese.
"You really can have it however you want," says Drew. "It looks like a bird's nest, but it's so, so good."