Hawaii eats section At new Ranch House, the meats stand out
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
RANCH HOUSE MEMORIES POUR IN
If your Hawai'i history predates the 1980s, or you spent your time mostly on the Neighbor Islands, you probably think the Ranch House is just a paniolo's way of saying "home." But for many, the Ranch House, once a popular Island restaurant, bar and musical hangout in 'Aina Haina, lives on in memories that are surprisingly fresh, considering that the eatery has been closed since 1987.
When we heard a new restaurant was opening with that much-storied name, we asked readers to send us their recollections of the restaurant.
Readers complied by the dozens. And you could tell that every one of them would give a lot for just one more chance to walk past the wagon wheel and dig into the coconut cream pie and "the ever so tender mahi mahi," as Bev Nagel wrote. And this is not to mention (as Sam Kakazu did) the raucous evenings with the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau playing music, and waitress Lonnie running between packed tables while dancing the hula.
They reminisced about a giant banyan tree that used to shade the restaurant. Everyone, without exception, mentioned the complimentary whole pineapple shell stuffed with juicy sticks of fruit to be dipped into the signature house sauce of marshmallows, mayonnaise and orange rind.
Those who visited as children recalled how they were fascinated by the giant fish tank; Marion Kittelson-Villanueva's family always sat at a reserved table right next to the tank.
Keiki waited eagerly to be allowed to pick out a gift from a treasure chest. "I remember I got a yo-yo once and a coloring book, and crayons another time. The entry area always seemed so dark and mystical with the glow from the fish tank, the wood decor and the treasure chest," recalled G. Hite.
Patricia Bryan said her children learned their "company manners" at the Ranch House, and everyone cheered when a serviceman would succeed in meeting the challenge of consuming an entire 72-ounce steak (if you could eat it, it was free!).
But for others, particularly former employees, it's the people who come back most clearly.
Jane Bright, who started as a pantry girl in 1953, remembers how the three owners of the time, chef Albert Schmid, Svend Anderson and Ken Emerson, kept a sort of menagerie in the rear of the restaurant: spider monkeys named Mambo and Quaduck and a mynah bird named Coco.
"Working at the Ranch House in those days was the best; (they) took good care of their employees," she wrote.
Sally Schmid, widow of Albert Schmid, wrote from Delray Beach, Fla., to recall former employees. "Those waitresses were worth their weight in gold for caring and kindness," she recalled.
Kyle Kwock recalled being hired as a parking lot attendant in 1970 and running a customer's Lincoln Continental Mark III over a sprinkler head, which drenched him as he tried to fix it. He thought he'd get fired, but instead, he got sympathy — and eventually a promotion to floor supervisor.
Many customers recalled special kindnesses. Medford G. and Masu Kusume Dyer of Kailua had their first date there in 1956 and went back for their wedding dinner in 1957. Their hostess, learning of the occasion, gave them a pair of salt and pepper shakers, which they still cherish.
Tina Jensen, who lives in Hale'iwa now, recalls the camaraderie of walking to work with the crew that included kolohe waitresses Flo and Penny and busboy Billy. "The kitchen staff would let you fill up a whole gallon jar with 'ono homemade soup for only $2, and that would be lunch and dinner at home twice!" she wrote.
Louis Barnes Jr., who now lives in Palo Alto, Calif., wrote that the Ranch House "was not a destination for food. Rather, it served up a menu of good music and friendship."
When the banyan tree came down and the new, and final, owners changed the menu in the late 1980s, wrote Betsy Stickney, "it was the symbol of cruel change. With its demise, there was the loss not only of a cherished landmark, but as the gathering place for lovers of Hawaiian music, a memorable chapter that held fond memories."
SHAKEY’S IS BACK
After a 30-year absence, Shakey's Pizza is back on the island and is counting on fond memories of the pizza parlor to bring back the crowds. The new Shakey's, in the Waipahu Town Center, is the first of three planned locations, all of which will resemble the old Shakey's, but with a few changes. The pizza and the popular "Mojo" potatoes (potato slices dredged in fried chicken batter and fried until crispy) haven't changed, but instead of a pizza parlor that hosts ragtime sing-alongs, the new Shakey's is a pizza restaurant with a game room and TVs tuned to the sports channel. It's Shakey's 2.0. And best of all: Large parties with lots of kids don't scare them. So bring it on.
NICE AND ICY
Korean shave ice doesn't always work for us. The problem? Thin, milky syrup, or not enough richness to meld the flavors of fruit, red beans and milk into icy harmony. Then we found Ireh's version ($4.95, 943-6000). The secret's in the condensed milk infused with nutty roasted bean powder, and cinnamony red beans.
— Mari Taketa