First Look: The Café by Ethel’s Grill

The beloved Kalihi hole in the wall opens a café in Hawai‘i Kai, with all the favorites plus something called Unicorn Poop.


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Steak

Steak with chimichurri sauce.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox

 

It may sounds like a crazy move for the second-generation owners of Ethel’s Grill in Kalihi to open in the snack shop of the members-only O‘ahu Club in Hawai‘i Kai.

 

But considering Robert Urquidi—who runs the beloved hole in the wall with his wife, Minaka—grew up in Hawai‘i Kai, his chef brother lives next door to the club, and this new spot gives the family some creative license to come up with new dishes, it all makes sense.

 

“It’s totally open,” says Urquidi, who grew up in Mariner’s Cove. “We can play.”

 

Here’s how it happened: The O‘ahu Club was looking for someone to take over its café, which used to serve simple grab-and-go fare such as sandwiches and hot dogs. A friend approached the Urquidis, who were thinking about a second location, and that’s it. They signed a two-year lease and now Ethel’s Grill fans from East Honolulu can easily get their fix. Plus, this café is open until 8 p.m. on weeknights, 7 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. (The Kalihi location is only open until 2 p.m. and closed on Sundays.)

 

Furikake chicken

Furikake chicken.

 

Urquidi enlisted help from his brother, Mark, to run the café. After about a month of cleaning up and renovating the small space fronting the pool at the club, they opened The Café by Ethel’s Grill. Despite its location in a private club, the café is open to the public; you just need to sign in at the front desk. (And the parking here is way better than in Kalihi. Bonus!)

 

Urquidi thought the club was going to want healthier fare, so he started coming up with a variety of overnight oats and smoothies. But no. The club wanted the grill’s mainstays: ‘ahi tataki, steak with chimichurri sauce, garlic ‘ahi and furikake chicken. (I’m lobbying to get the taco rice on the menu here.)

 

“I was all ready with the smoothies,” says Urquidi with a laugh.

 

Ahi tataki

‘Ahi tataki.

 

But there are daily specials in rotation—pork chops with gravy ($9.50), tofu caprese salad ($10.50), curry loco moco ($11.50) and some kind of poke bowl. While there’s no brown rice—only one person has asked for it, so far, Urquidi says—you can substitute sweet potatoes for the white rice.

 

Unique to this location are the breakfast (served from 8 to 10 a.m.) and dessert offerings. Breakfast items include The Big Breakfast ($10.50), with two eggs, sweet potatoes, your choice of breakfast meat, a green salad and a garbanzo-bean marinade; the toast with chopped ham, cheese and a soft-egg scramble ($9.50); and the inventive “edamamole” toast ($8.50), a combo of smashed avocado and edamame with two sunny-side up eggs.

 

Minaka, a pastry chef by training, whips up chocolate-banana coffee cake ($3.75), honey scones ($3.50), PB&J French toast ($8.50) and something called Unicorn Poop ($1.75), a sugar cookie glazed with frosting and rainbow sprinkles. If that’s not enough sugar for you, get the Fairy Toast ($5.75)—a slice of Breadshop’s city bread, toasted and smeared with creamy Nutella and strawberry jam, and topped with toasted mini marshmallows and rainbow sprinkles.

 

Fairy toast

Fairy Toast ($5.75).

 

“Kids love it,” says Mark, “but parents hate it.”

 

On Fridays and Saturdays, the café has a pau hana menu, with $5 dishes—whatever Urquidi and his brother come up with. And it’s BYOB.

 

Most of the customers aren’t club members, though Urquidi says some have signed up since visiting the café. “Every day it gets busier and busier,” he says.

 

Inside the O‘ahu Club, 6800 Hawai‘i Kai Drive, closed Mondays, 394-2233, @thecafe_by_ethels_grill (Instagram)

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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