Kaimuki’s Newly Renovated 12th Ave Grill is Bigger and Better
The biggest little neighborhood restaurant.
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12th Ave Grill's new bar is much larger than the one in the restaurant's former location.
It took almost a year to gut and retrofit the new restaurant, to install new plumbing and electrical wiring, to rip out the old kitchen, to ponder the future of the dumbwaiter, which used to shuttle food up to the banquet floor. In the end, all Hanney kept was a pair of etched-glass swinging doors, which now lead to the private dining room.
In the blank space, he installed the same wood table tops and similar banquette seating from 12th Ave Grill, updating the booths with black leather, instead of the “grandma-pattern,” as a Honolulu Advertiser food critic once called them. With the tall space, Hanney could’ve gone with an industrial, reclaimed-wood-and-concrete-floors look, but he just wanted the feel of the original.
And a real bar.
Previously, 12th Ave Grill’s bar was 10 seats around a counter facing the kitchen, where the bartender shared a space with the kitchen pass (where the food comes out). The new 12th Ave Grill has a real bar area now—a boon for both patrons and the bartenders. The wine list remains extensive, plus there are now seven beers (and one cider) on tap. The drink menu includes a matcha sour—a frothy mix of bourbon, egg white and green tea; and an apple-tini—not the green Jolly Rancher-flavored cocktail you might know, but a mix of apple brandy, apple juice and housemade apple bitters. The bartenders don’t make a big deal out of the details, but they are there for you to relish if you care to, such as the perfectly clear, large chunks of ice sunk into the whiskey drinks.
12th Ave Grill is that rare Honolulu restaurant that serves good food and good drink. Don’t drink? The bar mixes nonalcoholic drinks, too, such as a bright lemongrass tonic to balance out some of the heavy dishes.
There’s a special food menu for the bar, though only available for an hour after opening (5 to 6) and before closing (10 to 11). I go out of my way for it—for the juicy, fat burger; the meatloaf sandwich with Taleggio cheese; and twice-cooked duck wings that are the equivalent of duck bacon. All of it is under $10. At the bar—and for Sunday Supper—12th Ave Grill is at its best, unfussiest self.
The regular dinner menu is much the same as the original restaurant’s—meat heavy, hearty plates of short ribs, steaks, pork shank and pork chops. Hanney did not open a chophouse, as the “grill” in the name might suggest, but there’s as much meat on the menu as if he had. The vegetable accompaniments are more interesting than at a steakhouse, though, such as the tomato jam and a fennel watercress salad accompanying the beer-and-Tabasco-marinated skirt steak. I like to go light with the duck over pink peppercorn tagliatelle tangled with kabocha, tomatoes and a lemon ricotta sauce.
But there is no going light with the Sunday Supper. On another night, it’s fried chicken, that dish that seems to elude finer restaurants—I rarely find a specimen that’s better than what Cajun fried chicken chains and casual joints deliver. 12th Ave Grill, though, has it nailed. As we bite into the thin, crackling crust, the juices run out, almost burning us. There is half a chicken per order (minimum of two orders for Sunday Supper), plus a biscuit with Surinam cherry butter, a bowl of pork sausage gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans. The biscuits and gravy could be a meal in themselves. But we eat it all—with five people this time—and barely save any room for dessert, buttermilk chocolate cake with thick layers of fudgy frosting.
It’s homey and old-fashioned, perhaps not as old-fashioned as the pudding of Victoria Inn days, but a fitting finish to the biggest little neighborhood restaurant that makes us wish we could all come home to Kaimuki.
12th Ave Grill, 1120 12th Ave., (808) 732-9469, 12thavegrill.com.