Dining: Crying Uncle
In which I get over my prejudice against restaurants named Uncle’s.
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Nor did she like the second of the dishes, Uncle Bo’s dynamite shrimp. “Dynamite” sauce is a local sushi bar staple; it’s really just mayo mixed with Sriracha (better known as “rooster sauce”). You mix up seafood and sauce, maybe throw on some bread crumbs and broil. Uncle Bo’s adds a layer of shredded Parmesan.
This didn’t look good, turned out in a lump over greens. By the time it arrived, the melted Parmesan was cold and congealed. Nevertheless, I found it addictive, the combination of flavors and textures, the kicky spice, the snap of pretty good shrimp. Go figure.
Neither the Cajun ahi nor the ribs were anything to write home about. The ribs came in fatty slabs of two or three, curiously dull, except when you hit the sprinkles of uncooked garlic or the undercooked chunks of Maui onion.
But let us praise the clams. These are wokked, not steamed. Uncle Bo’s recipe is secret, so what follows is my best guess. There’s a splash of white wine, garlic, plus oyster sauce, nam pla (fish sauce), a touch of chili (Sriracha again?).
Also into the wok go some excellent tomatoes and choi sum. The whole thing adds up to a delicious, layered flavor. I’d go back just for the clams.
Uncle Bo’s aims to be a modern pūpū place, sort of like dining at the bar at Roy’s or Side Street. It’s less expensive than most, appetizers running from $8 to a high of $11 for the clams, which may help its popularity. The food doesn’t quite make it into the Big Leagues, but those clams were a home run.
After we paid our check, Uncle Bo himself dropped by our table. “It’s nice to see new faces,” he said. “I hear you ordered all our most popular dishes.” Then he gifted us with a shot of espresso-flavored vodka. My friend complained it tasted like fire (it was straight vodka, for heaven’s sake). I found it remarkably smooth.
Uncle Bobo's Smoked BBQ
51-480 Kamehameha Highway, Kaaawa // 237-1000 // Tuesday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. // www.unclebobos.com
“It’ll be like the C&K song,” I told my wife. “Sunday paaarty in the country.”
I was coaxing her into driving with me to Kaaawa—in order to find Uncle Bobo’s Smoked BBQ. My friend Sherie Char had assured me Uncle Bobo’s was the best unknown restaurant on Oahu, a favorite of the Lost cast, since it’s apparently near the fictional island on which they find themselves marooned.
After an hour on the road, I would have driven right past Uncle Bobo’s, had I not known it was between the 7-Eleven and the Kaaawa Post Office. Uncle Bobo’s is not big, though it’s slightly larger than the post office, with which it shares a building.
Uncle Bobo’s has two tables outside, three inside, and was jammed when we arrived for lunch. In the kitchen, three people—a small Japanese woman, a thin surfer dude and a bigger dude with a bandanna wrapped around his head—were literally running, desperately getting out orders.
“In a minute,” said the bigger dude, who I later learned was owner Robert Joyce. “We don’t usually do this much business on Sunday.”
Uncle Bobo’s looks like a fast-food place. Many of its patrons order at the counter with that expectation. Actually, it’s a restaurant, with food cooked to order and served on ceramic plates with real stainless-steelware.
With that in mind, we waited, settling ourselves at a little table with a sticky red-and-white tablecloth. In due time, our patience was rewarded.
We’d ordered a plate of ribs, which turned out to be little edible works of art—smoked, slow-cooked, then grilled, not the least fatty, the meat sliding off the bone with the slightest caress of your teeth.
Best of all, the ribs were dry-rubbed with spices, not sticky and messy with sauce. Of course, there was a sauce on the side—a standard tomato-based sweet-sour with a serious kick.
Both our plates came with redneck rice, one of the scores of Southern “dirty rice” recipes, perhaps not as jammed-packed with flavor as some. The coleslaw and the mac salad were conventional, but I went crazy for the beans cooked up in a rich, onion-y, chili-powder-laced sauce.
The beans went well with our second plate, the “combo,” a heaping, $18.95 threesome of barbecued meats: dry-rubbed, wood-smoked beef brisket, pulled pork shoulder zingy with the barbecue sauce, and smoked chicken. The chicken was the least successful, nowhere near as moist as the menu promised. But the brisket and pulled pork? Ah, backyard barbecue.
Literally. As we walked around the back to retrieve our car, there was Robert Joyce, turning ribs on a charcoal grill out behind the restaurant. “I do everything right out here,” he said, reaching over to pat the large, stainless-steel box half covered with a tarp. “This here is my smoker.”
Finally, it occurred to me to ask: “Are you Uncle Bobo?” Yes, he said, his little niece couldn’t say Robert. “She calls me Uncle Bobo,” said Joyce. “Guess I’m stuck with it now.”
John Heckathorn has been writing award-winning restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984.