First Look: Easy Que in Kailua
The creators of Over Easy bring aloha barbecue to former Cactus Spot.
Mexican-style corn on the cob, pork ribs and the wedge salad.
Photos: Robbie Dingeman
A Hawai‘i regional take on American-style barbecue is slow-rolling into Kailua, the latest creation from the husband-and-wife duo who brought us the fresh, stylish Over Easy breakfast restaurant.
The initial dinner options include a tangy and tender kalbi brisket, thick fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, a vegetarian roasted curry cauliflower served whole, as well as a wide array of side dishes served on shiny personal-size sheet pans.
Owners Nik and Jennifer Lobendahn have been preparing for months: cooking, tasting, hiring and outfitting the new space. They bought a top-line Southern Pride smoker. (They’re told there are only two on the island; the other is at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.) And they’ve learned some lessons from their experience at Over Easy where they sold out of food regularly when they first opened. The public opening is May 15, with limited hours: initially 5 to 8 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. Their soft opening began in early May as they invited friends, family and media to try out the new concept. Because barbecue requires a lot of slow cooking—meat spends an average of 12 to 15 hours in the smoker—there are capacity levels to determine what they can produce fresh each day. Expand too fast and they risk running out of food. Once they find the proper balance of how much food to prepare each day/week, the plan is to expand to 3:30 to 9 p.m.
OWNERS NIK AND JENNIFER LOBENDAHN
The attention to detail that makes Over Easy memorable emerges at the sister restaurant. Take the sauce; they opened with three flavors. The early standout is Kailua Green, bright and spicy with a mix of Thai green curry, vinegar and cilantro, explains Jennifer Lobendahn. They’ve also created a beguiling crack-seed sauce that’s got a li hing bite mixed with the sweetness of cherry but they’re not satisfied with it overall (it’s a little thin) and will continue to refine it. And they serve a classic BBQ sauce to accent the tender meat. For the launch menu, the emphasis is on beef and pork with talk of chicken later.
And although barbecue is traditionally meat-centric, the menu here offers vegetarian options including that hearty spicy roasted cauliflower roasted, BBQ mushrooms and a wedge salad that everyone will fight over. The everyday iceberg lettuce gets dressed up with dehydrated mushrooms, a crumble of blue cheese, a garlic cilantro dressing dreamed up by chef Mark “Mole” Urquidi, and, the over-the-top ingredient: Yukon gold potatoes grated, mixed with cheese and smoked to create a lacy crunchy riff on a hash brown.
Spicy roasted cauliflower
Other sides we want to go back for include: pickled okra—all crispy snap without a hint of slimy texture; two kinds of slaw, purple and green; Mexican-style corn on the cob, creamy mac and cheese; and smoked Brussels sprouts.
Plates come with a choice of two sides and bread. Get one meat choice for $17 and two for $21 but everything can be ordered ala carte. Salads are $9; and sides begin at $4 each.
As part of their research, the couple tasted barbecue from across the country and traveled with the core team to Austin, Texas. They kept tasting each region’s specialty before they found their focus. “What was missing was Hawai‘i,” says Nik Lobendahn, who grew up in Kailua. “It’s so important to hit you with that flavor of where you come from.”
The restaurant space that hosted Cactus Latin cuisine got a makeover: darker floors, white subway tile in the bar, wooden accents. There’s a full bar but the space is designed to feel more casual with a counter at the entrance where you order your food. “We wanted to do something more casual and easy,” Nik Lobendahn says.
A shoutout to the former Cactus tradition is a new frozen slushy machine that debuted with two boozy flavors: a hard lilikoi sweet tea, and a guava orange, that can be swirled into a layered version of an adult POG. The draft beers are from Waikīkī Brewing and the cocktails include an Easy Bourbon that includes ginger beer and bitters; and a tequila-lemongrass-cilantro She Smash.
Guava orange slushy
Friendly for all ages is a soft-serve machine that can churn out two flavors; the chefs started with pineapple and yogurt. They took the dessert from ice cream to parfait level by baking jammy pie crust as a topping.
This looks like the beginning of a lot more barbecue in our lives.
767 Kailua Road, No. 106, (808) 762-3089, overeasyhi.com