Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sandwich Island Fever (Part 4)

Aloha, Readers!

If you were not aware, these blog posts about Hawai'i have been thoroughly enjoyable for me, not only in the experiences had trying sandwiches in our 50th state, but in the memories brought up by reminiscing about them.

For example, this week's sandwich may not have been the best one I've ever tasted, but the memories of hiking prior to dinner made the day, and this memory all the better.

One of the main stops we wanted to make during our stay on The Big Island was to Volcanoes National Park. Situated at the southern end of the island, this massive park provides a ton of fantastic hikes, beautiful scenery, and the chance to see cooled lava flows and the devastation left behind.

It's really a fascinating experience, and one that we didn't think would take an entire day, but it did. We left the park around five in the evening to find a place to eat before we returned to see the lava glow at Kilauea at nightfall.

There are not many places to stop at in the areas around the park, but we did happen to find one spot that drew us in, not far from the park and off of the main road.

Situated in a densely tree-lined road, Lava Rock Cafe called out to us with its glowing neon in the fading sunlight. The inside was a cozy, cabin-like setting filled up with locals and other hikers from the park. Settling down with a menu, local flavors again caught my eye but in the end I ordered a burger solely because its added ingredients interested me.

The Magma Burger is a local grass-fed all-beef patty with taco seasoning mixed in, topped with salsa and Muenster cheese. With our mindblowing experience at Volcanoes all day, this burger had a lot to live up to, and sadly did not.

The patty was nothing substantial, which I had been looking forward to after a day of hiking. There was a mild flavor, but the taco seasoning definitely did not stand out. The Muenster cheese on top was melted well but only provided a little bit of its sharp flavor. The salsa added a cool contrast with a little bit of spice, but overall this burger did not live up to the high expectations I had hoped for.

Besides the food though, this was a great stop to rest after a day of touring, with a mostly quiet atmosphere and occasional evening music provided by local musicians. Service was excellent and they have quite a few local beers on tap, mainly Kona Brewing though. If there was a better meal or sandwich on this menu, it might have gotten a higher rating. As far as places in the area of Volcanoes National Park though, you could definitely do much worse than the Lava Rock.

Maybe next time I'm there, I'll give it another chance.

Next week, I wrap up my week long stay in Hawai'i with what could potentially be the best sandwich of the five.

Until then, Readers...

Magma Burger
*** Stars
Lava Rock cafe
19-3972 Volcano Rd.
Volcano, HI 96785

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sandwich Island Fever (Part 3)

Greetings, Readers!

While vacationing in Hawai'i, we split our time between the islands of Oahu and Hawai'i. Two very different locations despite being a short flight between each other.

Oahu is much more populated and has a much bigger allure for tourists. The Big Island though can be much more rural in spots, especially in a town on the windward side of the island called Hilo.

Hilo is the type of town where everyone knows each other, all the shops close around 8PM and there's a breathtaking view of the ocean and a volcano no matter where you look.

Walking through downtown Hilo one afternoon, we stopped at a little place called Cafe Pesto. The menu looked fantastic, and I almost ordered something not on the sandwich menu, and then I almost ordered a burger since it was so well reviewed. On considering my lunch options though, I realized that I should pick something more pertinent to my trip to the islands: seafood.

Kalua pork is a staple, and Spam is also a huge hit, but with so much ocean around them, it hadn't occurred to me until I was in Hilo that seafood would be an excellent choice. As long as I could find a good sandwich with it as the showcase item.

Keeping this idea in mind, I noticed a sandwich called Miloli'i, an open-faced sandwich topped with garlic basted shrimp, Pacific crab meat, sliced mushrooms and a blend of cheeses on French Bread.  The blend of cheeses weren't listed but definitely included Mozzarella and Parmesan, along with another one I couldn't quite place. The combination led to a very umami flavor of the sandwich, smoky, smooth and all delicious.

The garlic shrimp cut through the smooth flavors of the cheese with just enough kick to stand out. The shrimp were tender, plentiful and cooked long enough to bring out their flavor but still allow for a pop in your mouth with each bite. The crab meat was mixed in between each of the shrimp and provided a smooth, slightly seafood flavor.

The sliced mushrooms, while not adding much flavor compared to the other ingredients, were cooked just right.

The French bread was toasted to a crisp outside while still having a soft inside, providing a great contrast to the rest of the sandwich. Overall, this was an excellent example of a seafood sandwich from a great location.

The third stop on my trip to Hawai'i was a resounding success, and if you ever find yourself on The Big Island, specifically Hilo, I'd highly recommend you stop by Cafe Pesto and take in the much more relaxing pace of the town.

Until next week, Readers...

**** Stars
Cafe Pesto
308 Kamehameha Ave, Ste. 1
Hilo, HI 96720

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sandwich Island Fever (Part 2)

Greetings, Readers!

As the temperatures spike here in Los Angeles, it is beginning to remind me even more of the fun adventure I recently had in the Hawaiian Islands.

Though it is considerably less humid here.

 While still on Oahu, we spent a long, beautiful morning at Hanauma Bay, a former volcanic crater which had been fillled with sea water over the years. After hours of snorkeling among the shallow reefs, and before heading to North Shore, we decided to stop and have something to eat to recover from our morning outing.

Above Hanauma Bay, near the standard gift shop, is a snack bar. This isn't a place that I would normally point out as a place to stop unless you're already at the bay for snorkeling, as there are plenty of other places on Oahu to visit for a sandwich. But if you're already here, I would have to recommend you stop for the Kalua Pork sandwich with a side salad.

Kalua is a traditional way of cooking in Hawaii in which you end up roasting in an imu, an underground oven. More than likely, the roast pork in this sandwich was not cooked in an underground oven and is probably Kalua in name only, but we won't judge it on that.

Besides the layer of pulled barbecue pork, the sandwich also had sliced tomatoes and spinach between two lightly toasted slices of white bread.

The pulled pork was decent, but not too heavily flavored. It actually felt like it was almost hidden from the flavors of the tomatoes and spinach, which don't have much flavor by themselves for the most part anyway. It worked at the time because the sandwich had a light taste which may have been more enjoyable due to the temperature outside of the time, but in the end was not a standout sandwich in the least.

I had lots of Kalua pork in the islands, most notable at an amazing luau, and this would have to be the least flavorful and enjoyable of the bunch.

That being said, when not compared to standout Hawaiian pulled pork, this was still a decent pulled pork sandwich.

I've had a few people ask me if I had any Spam sandwiches in Hawaii, and I must admit now that i did not. The Waikiki Spam Jam was held this past weekend, a whole week after I had already left Oahu. But while most people know of Hawaiians' affinity for that processed meat in a can, I would like to help further promote the deliciousness of their pulled pork.

Anytime you can try it, I highly suggest it.

Until next week...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sandwich Island Fever (Part 1)

Greetings, Readers!

How have you been? Have you been sandwiching in my absence? Last week, I spent my honeymoon in Hawaii, but have no fear, I still had plenty of time to be sandwiching on the islands of our 50th state.

There were plenty of options for burgers and other sandwiches that I've had on the mainland, but while I was in a new state for myself, why not try something inspired by the tastes of the islands.

Did you know that at one point, the Hawaiian Islands were called The Sandwich Islands, named after John Montagu, the legendary creator of the sandwich? How fitting then that I would have so many to review after my trip.

I've got five sandwiches to review for the blog here over the next few weeks, so let's get started with the sandwich I had only a few short hours after landing in Honolulu.

After we checked into the Outrigger Reef in Waikiki Beach, we headed down to the Shore Bird, a restaurant/bar on the main floor of the hotel overlooking the beach.

Wanting to just unwind, we ordered some beer form Kona Brewing, a delicious pale ale called Fire Rock. To accompany this slightly bitter beer, we added some of the pork sliders with mango salsa. The pork itself had been slow cooked and yet was still moist and delicious. Each bite melted in your mouth.

The slightly savory flavor of the pork was paired with the slightly sweet flavor of the mango salsa, which wasn't overpowering but still shined through the delicious pork. The small, sweet buns that encased this delicious pork (one of many times i'd eat slow roasted pork this past week in the 5-0) were delicious and easily held everything in until the end.

This wasn't the best sandwich of the week (so many other fantastic ones), but it definitely was a great late night eat, paired with a delicious beer, for the first night in Hawaii. The beach location didn't hurt either.

Until next week, Readers...

Mango Pork Sliders
**** Stars
Shore Bird Restaurant (inside of the Outrigger Reef)
2169 Kalia Road
Waikiki, Oahu
Hawaii 96815