Pi Pizza Truck may be off the streets to prepare for its upcoming brick and mortar restaurant, but owner Anthony Calleo has good news for Houston diners. Beginning Sunday, he’s partnering with Ninja Ramen owner Christopher Huang on a pop-up series they’re calling Kung Food Fighting: A Test Kitchen.
Set to take take place at Grand Prize for the next six weeks, Kung Food Fighting will allow both men to build on a collaboration that already won fans when Calleo served a ramen pizza with mazemen sauce and cold furikake pickled shrimp. It also fills a gap for the popular Montrose bar, because pitmaster Willow Villarreal recently departed to work with Russell Roegels on the barbecue concession at soon-to-open waterpark Typhoon Texas in Katy.
“Probably the weirdest pizza I’ve ever made, just outside my wheelhouse,” Calleo muses about the ramen pie. “The response from doing that, and the way it expanded my brain about working with things I don’t usually work with, and the experience of working with Chris — when this came up, I got him on the line and said, hey, do you want to get weird?”
In addition to having an opportunity to get weird — none of the weeks will include either pizza or ramen — Huang tells CultureMap that the pop-ups will also allow him to test ideas he has for non-Ninja Ramen concepts he might want to open in the future.
The format will be simple. Each menu will feature three or four appetizers and one main dish created by each cook. Starters will include Huang’s Taiwanese-style riff on chicken fried steak and a weekly egg roll.
“Each week there will be a main from Chris and a main from me,” Calleo explains. “For one, I ripped this off from LJ Wiley, (but) he never made it. Back when I was still doing real estate, I repped him on a concept he was trying to do. On the menu, it said General Tso’s chicken on a burrito, ftw. It’s been in my brain ever since. I’m doing it.”
Huang says he’s contemplating doing riffs on Southern classics like crawfish, chicken and waffles, and shrimp and grits but giving them his own spin.
“I’m not spoiling the surprise, but I’m using ingredients that have never been in shrimp and grits,” Huang says. “Same for the chicken and waffles. They’ll have a totally different batter, the chicken will be done differently. The crawfish are the best crawfish I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
On weeks three and six, Calleo and Huang will “battle” by creating their versions of classic dishes and inviting diners to vote on who serves the better. Tacos will be first; served with their takes on both rice and beans and chips and queso, naturally. They still haven’t settled on a dish for week six, but it will be something similarly classic.
“Feeding people makes me happy, so that’s good for me,” Calleo says. “Chris gets to work on some things he’s been wanting to work on. The bar gets something in there while they figure out a long-term solution (for replacing Villarreal). I think it’s something people will respond well to. It’s a win-win-win for everybody.”