CUISINE ON A SHOESTRING
Volcano Joe's, Hukilau Cafe fill a tasty niche
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
|Volcano Joe's, near the University of Hawai'i campus in Manoa, offers hearty sandwiches, soups and pastries as well as coffee drinks and smoothies.
Deborah Booker The Honolulu Advertiser
Coffee House and Bakery
1810 University Ave.
6 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays
Right across from the University of Hawai'i-Manoa campus, on the site that once housed Burger King, sits Volcano Joe's, a bustling java-infused coffee house and bakery. The interior is tiny, but there are several tables outside from which you can watch the world go by.
Kate Buccigross is the young and capable general manager. Her presence helps make VJ's a cut above most other coffee places.
A graduate of the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., Buccigross was trained in classic Italian bread-baking techniques at Il Fornaio Restaurant and Bakery in Portland. That's as impressive a bread pedigree as you'd want in a baker.
Checking out the menu, I enjoyed the roasted chicken and guacamole sandwich ($4.95), a gourmet 9-inch pizza ($7.95) with basil, pine nuts and fresh tomato slices, and the Greek salad ($3.75) with greens, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. Everything was fresh and good, but I think my favorites were the parmesan garlic focaccia ($1.45) and the heavenly smoked ahi spread ($2.50 for a tiny cup).
For a sweet treat, I took home three (65 cents each) offerings: a soft chocolate-chip cookie, a volcano jammie (Italian butter cookie with strawberry jam filling), and a guava pocket (similar to the jammie above; with guava jelly inside a folded over butter cookie). Fearing that wouldn't be enough, I also put the blueberry muffin ($1.45) and a slice of Kate's famous cheesecake ($2.50) in the take-home sack.
There's a lot more good stuff to try here, and the owners and Buccigross tell me they're planning to open a casual, affordable and healthy gourmet restaurant next door.
55-662 Wahinepe'e St.
7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays
My foodie friends Nicole and Jay told me about Hukilau Cafe, an out-of-the-way place up in La'ie that you'd never know about unless someone mentioned it to you.
Hukilau's breakfast service from 7 to 11 a.m. is legendary; people wait in line for the beef stew omelette ($5.95), despite the fact that it isn't really an omelette at all it's a heaping portion of beef stew over rice, topped with two eggs.
The corned beef hash is homemade here and served with two eggs, along with rice or potato, for $5.35.
Breakfast sandwiches such as grilled cheese ($1.60), fried egg ($1.65), ham and egg ($1.95) and Spam and egg ($1.95) are inexpensive and filling.
The pancakes are popular (short stack $2.75, full stack $3), fluffy and hot. They'll do up banana pancakes or coconut pancakes for $3.75, or with blueberries for $4.
I'm told the Hawaiian sweet bread french toast (the name hasn't yet been changed to "freedom toast") is incredible for $3.95.
At lunchtime (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), you better try the teriyaki beef ($5); it's probably the best plate lunch teri beef I've ever had.
All of the plate lunches come with rice and mac salad, of course. The mahimahi tempura ($5.50) and the shrimp tempura ($5.60) are crisp and hot and flavorful. The Hukilau burger ($3.95) was screaming out to me; it's a construction of hamburger patty, teri beef, fried egg, grilled onions, cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a sesame seed bun. Oh, baby!
I enjoyed the food here; it was simple, honest and flavorful. But I loved the experience even more.
A very friendly Lehua Makia was working the day I came in. She runs the show with a contagious smile and a side order of delicious chatter, making you feel like you are a guest in her home. Talk about an ambassador of aloha.
Reach Matthew Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, and suggestions.