Kaimukī’s Earl Sandwich Launches in Kaka‘ako With a New Menu—and Brunch
When you ‘wich upon a star.
Don’t miss the crispy hot Nashville chicken po’boy, the short rib torta on crunchy pickled carrot strings or, especially, the shrimp toast. Only on Sunday can you score the $10 overloaded brunch burger and fried chicken doughnut (three words we are so happy to have lived to see together).
Photo: Courtesy of Earl Sandwich
We thought we had restaurant game. A new version of the Earl Sandwich shop in Kaimukī had opened in Kaka‘ako. But that was back in March. This was a few months later. So, to beat the lunch rush, we figured, all we had to do was show up at the bell—11 a.m.—and place our orders.
The door was actually open at 10:58. The clean glass box on the corner of Keawe and Auahi streets was empty except for two counter girls, three busy people manning the back and a couple of lounging customers. We stepped up and scanned the menu—and did a double-take. We’d been to the Kaimukī Earl. This was a different menu. Instead of the most affordable avocado toast in town (at one time $7.25 in Kaimukī), for instance, there was Shrimp Toast, something we’d never heard of. Favorites such as the Turkey Jam ($10.25), Drew (pastrami; $13) and a seven-deck Italian Club ($14) had made the journey to Kaka‘ako, and glimpses of other sandwiches emerged among the new iterations (you can get a Beets and a Fun Goat in Kaimukī and a Fun Beet in Kaka‘ako that includes goat cheese, etc.).
Three of the menu’s half-dozen new offerings shot to the top of my wish list. We ordered that Shrimp Toast (shrimp salad, avocado, spicy butter, lemon zest, balsamic reduction, etc.; $10), the Short Rib Torta (braised short rib, chorizo tomatillo salsa, Oaxaca cheese sauce, roasted poblano peppers, picket carrot, hot sauce, sour cream, fresh lime; $13.95), the vegan Almond Joy (almond ricotta, roasted eggplant, avocado, carrot strings, red bell pepper, tomatoes, spinach, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic; $10) and the Fried Chicken Po Boy (which online has “Nashville” in parenthesis—an ode to some serious heat, I assumed), with buttermilk fried chicken tossed in hot sauce, remoulade, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes ($13.50).
An apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, but it will take 15 to 20 minutes. We have so many call-in orders.”
A pause to consult my partner-in-dine, who’d come here straight from the office after a 90-minute surf session and still hadn’t eaten. She looked the definition of hangry. “Fifteen minutes? Can’t you bring the shrimp toast out ahead of the rest of the order?” They’d try, they said.
Waiting, we could enjoy the still-empty, air-conditioned glass box of a dining area. It was a relief after the hell-hot 20-minute walk over from our offices. There was no fryer smell, no food smell at all. Stools and counter space lined the two main walls of windows looking out on the corner. We had a central table, cut lengthwise from a single log and stained dark brown, to ourselves.
Customers began to arrive, and wait. The line at the counter backed up to our table. We sipped our $3 liliko‘i lemonades (good, not too sweet). “It’s been 25 minutes,” my companion sighed. Suddenly down swooped a tin pie pan holding two halves of a buttery toasted ciabatta roll, each weighed under a scoop of shrimp-studded salad on a lettuce leaf, spritzed with balsamic.
We dove in with the alacrity of two people on lunch break. “Whoa!” First bites made a mutual good impression; the dill-flecked salad was cool and chunky with shrimp, not filler. It resembled a lobster roll in composition.
“This is really, really delicious,” said the hangry surfer, who is not one to double her adjectives.
We were still working our way through our toasts when three more pie pans hit the table. Each sandwich came as two thick halves; to the crowd looking on enviously, it must’ve seemed like we’d over-ordered. Spreading out on the still uncrowded table, we dug in. I started with the short rib torta, figuring that if the po’boy was Nashville hot I’d save my taste buds and tackle it last.
In California, I love a good greasy torta (especially from Taqueria El Grullense in Palo Alto) but they do tend to induce heartburn, no matter how much horchata I drink. After taking a precise cross-sectional bite, it was clear to me that Earl owner Justin Parvizimotlagh had solved the equation two ways: There was no grease and the bottom half of the tightly packed roll had a foundation of pickled carrot strings à la a banh mi. The braised short rib meat was juicy and redolent of roasted smoky hot poblano chilies. With the top deck lettuce and tomato, the sandwich came together: meaty, sustained low heat cut by sweet-vinegary pickled carrot crunch.
The vegan Almond Joy sandwich also had a pickled carrot foundation that supported layer upon layer of eggplant, ricotta, spinach and so forth, ending with a pile of greens, including argula. This was essentially a good overstuffed veggie banh mi and we utilized it as a salad course and to dampen the richness between bites of the fried chicken po’boy.
Oh boy that po’boy: It had a lava-red rippled crust and radiated heat, plus there were none of the chilling carrot strings to moderate it, just a couple slices of tomato, some lettuce and a pickle or two. My first bite was all about the crust, which is wonderfully crispy, not even softened by a dousing of remoulade and sauce (on all the Earl sandwiches, saucing is light and tantalizing rather than smothering).
I was deep into the po’boy when I realized I was still able to breathe and wasn’t covered in sweat. Where was the Nashville heat? Still back in Tennessee, thankfully. This pepper punch had the manners to lurk and not steal the show.
The cut of breast was quite large in cross-section, so large that after two bites I did back off and consider it. Was it too big a piece? Which sounds like a picky question, but in some chicken Parms and chicken salad sandwiches the meat can seem a bland, chewy, endless afterthought to the crust. This po’boy’s bird, though, was moist and flavorful. But when I brought a half sandwich back to our dining editor, Martha Cheng, she gave it a raised eyebrow and after a bite wondered aloud if it might have been slightly over-brined.
Overall, Earl Kaka‘ako upgrades the neighborhood significantly; it’s pull-off-Nimitz worthy. I found the po’boy to be a helluva sandwich. The torta also will take a place in my regular rotation for that savory dialectic between acidic pickled carrots and short rib richness. As for the shrimp toast, I have a feeling it’s going to be feeding the hangry surfer a lot this South Shore swell season.
After receiving an email flash that Earl had started Sunday brunch from 8 to 11 a.m., I called Parvizimotlagh with some questions.
HONOLULU Magazine: Why the two menus?
Parvizimotlagh: Some of our Kaimukīcustomers aren’t too excited to see the different menu, until they get here,” he said. “You don’t want to siphon off your own business. You can cannibalize yourself with a second location.
HM: What is your sandwich philosophy?
P: We just try to find classic sandwiches, whether it’s a steak sandwich or a pastrami or a club, and make it Earl. We give it a little flair, something that separates it. We try to hit all the flavor profiles, salt, fat and acid, then raise the profile.
HM: What is made in-house?
P: We make as many meats as we can. Our brisket, our pork belly, our roast pork, our tri tip, just not the pastrami. We break down and brine our chicken.
HM: What about the sauces and pickles?
P: We make all our condiments and our spreads, our tomato and bacon jams. The onion reductions take a lot of time; we use 300 pounds of onions a week. Sometimes the entire staff is crying.
HM: Who does your bread?
P: We get it from La Tour Bakehouse. I worked with Rodney Weddle (executive chef and co-owner), talking all the way. They had a 6-inch ciabatta, we asked for an 8, to deliver more value to the customer. They do a baguette for us that isn’t fully toasted so we can do the finishing bake.
HM: What’s the story behind the po’boy?
P: I guess we just wanted a cool way to give our customers a po’boy. It’s usually a fried something, oysters, shrimp. With a Nashville, it’s extremely spicy, you need a glass of milk to cool it—so ours is not too hot. It’s a butter-based hot sauce. The butter helps cool the sandwich.
HM: And now Sunday brunch?
P: If it goes well, maybe in the next month we’ll do Saturday, too. We do unique brunch stuff: a fried chicken doughnut, really tasty. Prime rib jhun—the Korean version is made with ground meat. It’s egg-battered and we put it on a sandwich with kale, mushrooms, sautéed onion, Hawaiian-style barbecue sauce.
And of course there’s the brunch burger, which has scrambled eggs, remoulade, a homemade Kunoa beef patty, mushrooms, grilled onions, and American, cheddar and provolone—all three cheeses. Then a fried crispy, a potato julienned very thin and fried. That’s all on a brioche bun for $10.
HM: Anything special in the drinks department?
P: At brunch, homemade horchata with espresso. Super tasty, like a chai latte, only with horchata.
HM: Looking ahead, what’s your ambition?
P: We try to do fun stuff, try to do cool things. We don’t want to be a complacent company. We don’t want to get caught in the rut of just doing the same sandwiches over and over.
With two winning locations in hand, it looks as if Parvizimotlagh is going to keep sandwich-lovers on their toes.
400 Keawe St., Suite 103, (808) 744-3370, earlhawaii.com