Would You Wait 2 Hours For This?
Magnolia Bakery and Café and Nitrogenie open at Ala Moana Center to crazy-long lines.
The famous banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery & Cafe and the Mango of Summer ice cream from Nitrogenie, both at the ‘Ewa Wing of Ala Moana Center.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
There aren’t too many things I’d wait two hours for.
First off, patience is not one of my virtues. And secondly, one of the perks of my job has been not having to wait very long for anything. Like when Keizo Shimamoto brought the Ramen Burger to Honolulu last year and people—including my younger sister—waited four hours to try one, I strode into the kitchen and grabbed a burger that Mark “Gooch” Noguchi had set aside for me. I agree, it’s not fair.
It’s hard to know what something is worth when you don’t have to wait for it.
But I have stood in line for one of Magnolia Bakery’s coveted cupcakes in New York City—and the wait then, albeit I was on vacation, was well worth it.
Now that it’s opened its first location in Hawai‘i—in the new ‘Ewa Wing Expansion at Ala Moana Center—people are standing in line for hours at both the grab-and-go bakery and nearby café for a taste of the its famous baked goods, skillets, pancakes and banana pudding.
They’re also waiting in two-hour-long lines next door at Nitrogenie, an Australia-based ice cream franchise that uses the “magic” of liquid nitrogen to create ice cream in nostalgic flavors right before your eyes.
Both opened on Nov. 12.
“We were thinking doing 500 to 600 (cups) a day would be fantastic,” said Todd Farr, co-founder, chef and general manager of Nitrogenie. “But we did 700 the first day, 800 the next, and the other day we cracked 1,000. I nearly died. It was insane!”
By the time we arrived on Sunday afternoon to try a few of the most popular items on the menu at Magnolia Bakery & Café, the ’Nolia Pies were sold out. That was a surprise to co-owner and chief baking officer Bobbie Lloyd.
“We sold all 240 of them in two days,” she said. “We just didn’t make enough.”
The wild mushroom roast skillet at Magnolia Bakery & Café, one of three skillets offered on the menu.
Instead, we tried the wild mushroom roast skillet ($12), which came in a small cast-iron skillet with creamy polenta and cheese. The scrambled egg was fluffy and light, and it went well with the creaminess of the polenta. The mushrooms gave it an added saltiness and texture.
The café serves the croque monsieur ($10), a traditional French sandwich with grilled ham and Gruyere cheese on a brioche toast with a nice béchamel sauce. (When it comes topped with an egg, it’s called a croque madame.) To me, this open-face sandwich was the perfect size, even for its price, and baked perfectly. I really hated sharing this one.
The Croque Madame at Magnolia Bakery & Café, topped with a fried egg on brioche bread.
Some of the café’s most popular breakfast items are pancakes, which are served in a small cast-iron skillet with warm pure maple syrup. The Apple Dutch Baby ($9) is one Lloyd used to make for her two kids, and it does feel very homey when you eat it. It’s a baked pancake that comes out of the oven puffy—though when it arrives to the table, it’s often deflated—and filled with sweet cinnamon apples.
The Apple Dutch Baby is the most popular pancake served at Magnolia Bakery & Café. Other flavors include red velvet and classic buttermilk.
And what about the bakery’s famed baked goods.
Lloyd served us mini versions of her two most popular cupcake flavors—vanilla with vanilla buttercream and chocolate with chocolate buttercream—that she frosted herself. The vanilla cupcake, which Lloyd said has been the most popular flavor for 20 years, was everything you want a vanilla cupcake to be: moist, light and buttery.
Lloyd’s favorite dessert, though, is the super-rich chocolate cake, which she nibbled on at our table. This layered dark chocolate cake is made with Valrhona French chocolate, so it’s decadent without being overly sweet.
But the star of the spread was the bakery’s famous banana pudding, featuring layers of creamy vanilla pudding, fresh banana slices and vanilla wafers. It’s a simple dessert—made with, of all things, vanilla pudding mixes—that’s a harmonious blend of flavors that just make sense. The vanilla wafers add a much-needed crunch.
By the time we had finished eating dessert—around 2:30 p.m.—the line outside the café had dwindled down to two people. I made a mental note. Late lunch; no line.
Outside Nitrogenie, the line didn’t seem like it had moved at all.
It was obvious the allure of this ice cream shop was the “show”: workers creating ice cream using liquid nitrogen in stand-up kitchen mixers.
But, to me, the real appeal was the product itself. Made from real milk and real eggs, the ice cream product is flash-frozen and tempered for three days, so it’s creamy and not icy. Then it’s sent from Australia to shops around the world, including the one at Ala Moana Center.
In the shop, workers add fresh ingredients to the base flavor, put it in a mixing bowl and add liquid nitrogen, which, according to Farr, freezes it so fast ice crystals can’t form, making it super smooth.
Inside Nitrogenie, as workers create ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
But it will melt. And fast, especially since Nitrogenie doesn’t use artificial stabilizers in its ice cream and, well, it’s Hawai‘i.
“It’s really meant to melt,” Farr said, laughing. “It’s ice cream.”
The menu is full of nostalgic flavors: Granny’s apple pie, lemon meringue pie, caramel fudge sundae, salty caramel popcorn. The prices range from $4.99 for a regular cup, $6.99 for a large cup and $7.99 for a shake.
While it may seem pricey for a cup of ice cream, consider the product is really packed into the cup without those annoying empty spots you get from soft serve done wrong. So it’s a lot more than you’d expect.
The Nutella Cornucopia was a favorite of chocolate-hazelnut lovers. It had a smooth, velvety texture, though it melted quickly. The Mango of Summer—the only nondairy option on the menu—was like eating creamy, ripe mangoes. The flavor was pretty intense. And the Lemon Meringue Pie—Farr’s favorite; mine, too—was tangy and creamy, reminiscent of lemon curd, and topped with a meringue that was torched to a golden brown. It tastes so much like lemon meringue pie, so if you don’t like that, chances are you won’t like this, either.
Chef and general manager Todd Farr holds up the Lemon Meringue Pie flavor—his favorite—at Nitrogenie.
While we were standing outside the shop, a couple walked by and asked if the wait was worth it. I honestly couldn’t answer. I hadn’t stood in line for my cup of lemon meringue pie ice cream.
So I let her taste it.
She paused, savored the last bit on the little plastic spoon, and nodded her head.
“It’s worth it,” she said. “I’m gonna stand in line.”