This Gourmet Grille is Hidden on a College Campus
Become one of Vanbanna Pie’s many fans.
Grass-Fed Island Beef Burger, $8.
Photos: Maria Kanai
Ah, Kapi‘olani Community College. We remember grabbing huge Costco muffins between classes, slurping spicy ramen noodles for lunch—eating anything but the food available at the KCC cafeteria. Euch.
But, for eight weeks each semester, a campus foodie haven opens. 220 Grille, normally gated and unlit next to the cafeteria in the ‘Ōhi‘a Campus Center, is back in business. Cue the rush of students and faculty, desperate for elevated campus cuisine, all priced under $10.
Open only between 11 a.m. and 12:45 p.m., the “learning laboratory” is a student-run restaurant where the cooking, baking, pastry, dining room and cost control-classes of the culinary arts department work together for hands-on restaurant experience. It’s an eight-week module that’s taught twice a semester. This fall, it’s headed by instructor Daniel Swift—it’s his first time teaching the Intermediate Cookery Class—and there are about 27 students running the show.
“Students are graded both individually and in groups based on the assignments for a particular course,” says Swift. “The class is an opportunity to collaborate with other classes and departments, with a balance of theoretical knowledge and practical application that prepare them for employment in the culinary, pastry and hospitality and tourism fields.”
You might think: What? I don’t want to be a guinea pig! But, based on what we’ve tasted, Swift has this class under control. Of course, the students are just starting out, so there are some mishaps (serving the dessert with the entrees, the credit card machine breaking, slow service) but it’s still an impressive feat for first-time students. As they get better, so does the food.
Speaking of the food, we were impressed with the Grass-Fed Island Beef Burger ($8). There’s good char on the meat, a generous slather of ‘Ewa sweet-onion mustard mayo on fresh ciabatta bread and surprisingly good house-made potato crisps. This baby is up there with actual burger joints around town … dare we say, even better?
Vanbanna Pie, $4.
Then there’s the Vanbanna Pie ($4). Back when Chef Eddie Fernandez manned 220 Grille, he came up with an incredible dessert that became so popular it spawned a mini-fan base with KCC students. (You can even find it on Facebook!) The pie combines banana-infused, chocolate-covered almond-and-vanilla ice cream with a Ritz cracker topping and crust, paired with apple-banana brûlée and banana rum caramel sauce.
When Fernandez retired, he left the recipe behind, and the Vanbanna Pie is back on the menu every semester.
This semester, though, we were surprised (and a little disappointed) to see that it’s gotten a bit of a makeover. Gone is the classic pie form; instead, the ice cream is molded into a small cylinder shape with fewer fruit toppings. Swift says this is due to the increase in prices for the ingredients. “We were forced to reduce the portion to keep it affordable to our guests—this is actually a great example of ‘real-world’ activity for the students,” he says.
Despite the makeover, it’s still an interesting and creative dish. Thank you, Vanbanna Pie, for making us proud to be KCC alumni.
NOTE: This is 220 Grille’s last week for the first module; Oct. 8 is its last day. The restaurant will reopen Nov. 10 through Dec. 3.
220 Grille, Kapi‘olani Community College Ohi‘a Campus Center, 4303 Diamond Head Road, Sept. 22 to Oct. 8.; Nov. 10 to Dec. 3.; Tues. through Fri., 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., 734-9598, culinary.kapiolani.hawaii.edu
READ MORE STORIES BY MARIA KANAI