Dining: Parking-Lot Food
The Farmers’ Markets are cookin’, literally.
(page 1 of 3)
From my years on the East Coast, I don’t miss snow tires and storm windows. I do miss street food—quick, cheap food cooked right on the sidewalk and eaten on the run, everything from roasted chestnuts to the spicy Middle Eastern lamb sandwich I bought last time I was in Manhattan, a giant, tasty thing for $6.
When I first moved to Hawaii, I strolled down Kalakaua Avenue, anticipating teri meat sticks grilled on a sidewalk brazier—and there was nothing, not even a manapua wagon. Hawaii is impoverished by whatever regulations keep people from selling street food.
Then I heard someone complain about how our Farmers’ Markets are jammed with people looking for prepared food to eat on the spot.
Bingo. We may not have street food, but we have parking-lot food. I set out to get me some.
Kailua Farmers' Market
Kailua Town Center Parking Garage // Thursdays, 5 to 7:30 p.m. // www.hfbf.org/FarmersMarketKailua.html
Kailua is civilized: It has its Farmers’ Market in the evening, an hour that guarantees folks will arrive hungry. I was not surprised to find food heaven. Garlic shrimp plates! Poi-battered fish! Salmon and capers! New York steak!
I stopped at the booth that offered the most exclamation points, former restaurateur and disk jockey Tom Purdy’s Taro Delight, which offered the Oh Wow LauLau!!! [all three exclamation points his].
Purdy’s thing is finding new uses for taro, like dips and “taronaisse.” But behind his dip table were pressure cookers, which he assured me could cook laulau in half the time as steaming. “Plus the sound, the smell, draws a lot of attention,” he said. The perfume of cooked taro leaves was intoxicating.
The Oh Wow laulau contains tender taro chunks and tangy, fatty salmon belly, wrapped in “plenty leaf,” just as it says on the sign. For $7, it is as Big!! as Purdy’s double exclamation points promise.
I needed to follow up with something smaller, so I wandered by Country Comfort Catering, which was offering deep-fried foods from many cultures—beignets, lumpia and wondrous arancini.
Arancini are a Sicilian version of rice balls, a step up from musubi. You start with risotto—in this case, a risotto with mushrooms. Put mozzarella in the middle, roll the whole thing in bread crumbs and cook it golden brown. It’s sort of like fried mozzarella sticks, except round and actually good to eat, two for $3.
While I was waiting to get hungry again, I stopped by the cheerful Kele Smith of Na Ono’s “Farm Fresh from the Chef,” and spent $3 on a fun-to-nibble Kahuku corn on the cob. Na Ono offers conventional corn toppings, but, ever adventurous, I got mine slathered in shoyu butter and sprinkled with furikake. Not bad.
Refreshed, I went back to the plates. North Shore Cattle Co. was offering everything from steak to burgers. Being in a local-food frame of mind, I ordered the chop steak plate, $8. Mistake. The beef was tasty enough, but the chop steak was soupy and numbingly sweet, with far too much celery and hardly any onion. I tossed it.
Next, I waited patiently in line at Starpoint Catering, where I had sausage and pepper pasta, a big plate with salad and bread, $7. Starpoint’s owner, Kate Wagner, insisted I have spaghetti instead of gemelli pasta—“Overcooked,” she said.
The firm links of mild Italian sausage and the charred baby peppers were cooked separately from the chunky tomato sauce, and still had great integrity. It’s difficult, though, to cut sausages and peppers with a fork in a parking lot. “North Shore Cattle has plastic knives,” said the girl at Starpoint. I figured they owed me after the chop steak.
Dessert got interesting. Gerry Nakashima founded ColdFyyre! [exclamation point his], which makes small-batch ice cream. It’s seriously a niche product, available only at the Kailua Farmers’ Market on alternate Thursdays, made with things like apple bananas which he buys from Na Ono, the same people who sell the corn on the cob.
The resultant ice cream ($3 a scoop) has that little unripe acid tang that sets off apple bananas. While I was thinking how good it was, Nakashima handed me a sample of his “Green Seas” ice cream. “We’re thinking outside the cone on this one,” he said.