Drinks and Pupu in Hawaii
Pupu on the Rocks: You can’t always judge a great drinks and pupu place from the outside.
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I am of two minds about Nacho Tater Tots. On the one hand, nachos are nachos: gooey, liquid “cheese” squirted out of a pump, salsa, sliced jalapeno, black olives, green onions and sour cream (if I had to guess, artificial). Yawn.
On the other hand, Tater Tots are a childhood favorite of mine. They’re a step up from corn chips. They’ve got crunch and salt, but also better flavor and (is this a word?) biteability.
As nachos, they’re a mess. With a chip, you can at least theoretically scoop up the toppings with only one end, keeping your hands from getting covered with goo. “Oh, go on, get your hands dirty,” urged my friend. “They’re worth it. Aren’t they?”
Yes, in the sense that they’re food that you don’t have to take seriously, nor can you take yourself seriously while eating it, which may make sense as you order your second round of Jim Beam on the rocks.
No Maker’s Mark; it wasn’t that kind of bar. Hardly the kind of place with hand-squeezed juices and exotic bitters. “Don’t order anything complicated,” instructed my friend. “We did once and regretted it. We’re here for food.”
Kalbi noodles: Unexceptional yakisoba with some standard kalbi ribs piled on top. This wasn’t exactly a dish, just two things piled on the same plate.
Pork chops. “Since Side Street, all local pupu places have to have pork chops,” said my friend. Home’s pork chops were similar to Side Street’s, not an exact copy.
Home’s chops are thinner, with a remarkably even brown crust, which gave them an exceptional crunch. They were piled with grilled onions, which added a just enough sweet bite. Not Side Street’s, which have the aura of legend when you bite into them. But certainly good on their own, and a nice attempt not to reinvent the dish, but put Home’s own spin on it.
Finally, and this should be Home’s signature item, garlic chicken. Real chicken pieces, boneless, heavily coated with batter and deep-fried. (This is bar food, after all, not Peace Café.) The real winner was the sauce, good, sweet-spice-garlic flavor, and nicely drizzled, just enough. The sauce soaked in and didn’t make your fingers sticky. Then you could dive in and pick out the garlic chips. Bar-food heaven.
Drinks and pupu for three was only $80 with tip. I’ll come back Home one of these nights.
Café Duck Butt
901 Kawaiahao St., (808) 593-1880, Daily 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Limited parking, major credit cards, Facebook: Café Duck Butt.
I told the g.m. of a major Hawaii restaurant chain I was going to Duck Butt. He said, “I’ve driven by it, but I was scared to go in.”
It’s a gray, one-story, nearly windowless building in the back streets of Kakaako, hardly any parking. It does have a comic duck on the sign, but, given the exterior, the duck seems slightly sinister.
I was prompted to try Duck Butt by my far hipper and younger friend, Gene. Did Gene know the place? When he walked in, late, because cool dudes are always late, the waitress said, “Oh, hi, Gene.” She fetched him his vodka and soda without even asking.
Inside, Duck Butt’s a reasonably nice, lit bar, with white booths. In the back, two karaoke rooms, which means that the main room stays blissfully karaoke free, although it does have K-pop music videos playing incessantly on eight large TV screens, with girl groups in matching outfits singing about bubbles or something.
My favorite part of the décor: fluorescent Post-It notes overflowed a bulletin board on the back wall, scores and scores of them. If you loved Charlene or felt Hilo was Da Best, you could register your sentiments without resorting to graffiti. Just write it on a provided Post-It and stick it on the wall.