Something new: Hawaiian Pie Company

IMG_0112Flour, butter and water run through Hawaiian Pie Company owner Joel Hori’s bloodline. He’s a third-generation baker tracing his proud lineage back to Kohala’s Holy’s Bakery on Hawaii Island.

His grandfather, Yoshio Hori, opened a bakery bearing his last name back in the 1930s. The story goes that his strong Japanese accent was misunderstood while he was ordering packaging for his new business, and once the products arrived, he had no choice but to use Holy’s instead of Hori’s. His bakery became well known for its breads in surrounding towns, even supplying the military near Kohala. When World War II began and Japanese Americans were ordered to internment camps, senior military officials vouched for Hori and his much-needed baking skills, which kept him from being sent to a camp. Holy’s Bakery still exists today and is run by Joel Hori’s aunt.

IMG_0169In 1979, Joel and his father, Richard Hori Sr., opened a new bakery on Oahu called Holy’s Bakery Manoa. For 15 years, the bakery served as a gathering place, where you could pick up baked goods, pies and raisin bread. In 1994, the second-generation bakers decided to retire and closed the Manoa outlet.

In May 2014, Joel Hori retired as an air traffic controller and decided to resurrect his family’s baking legacy on Oahu. After searching for a suitable location where the production and retail operations could be housed, the Horis settled in a small space on Waiakamilo, and the Hawaiian Pie Company was born. Although their roots trace back to Holy’s Bakery in Kohala, Hawaiian Pie Company has its own special pie recipes and is not affiliated with Holy’s Bakery.

They currently crank out 500 pies every two days, hoping to add a second baking shift to make 1,000 pies. Although differing in shape and size from the original Holy’s Bakery, the Hawaiian Pie Company named a line of pies “Grandpa Yoshio’s,” featuring classic flavors like apple and coconut, to honor him. Joel and his grandfather, Hori Sr., also worked on a deeper pie that retains the filling and butter more efficiently, creating a rich and robust product.

IMG_0126They’ve also created new pies in such inventive flavors as passion pear and peach pineapple, and introduced a Hawaiian topping with the consistency of butter mochi with flecks of coconut. When I asked what was in the Hawaiian topping, the Horis were tight lipped and chuckled at all the guesses thrown at them.

Their full flavor list includes apple, coconut, mango, passion pear, peach, peach pineapple, pear, pineapple, strawberry guava and tropical. Each nine-inch pie weighs in at a whopping three pounds and is deeper than your standard pie that you’d buy from other bakeries around town. On our first visit, we sampled the coconut, peach pineapple and passion pear with the secret Hawaiian topping. The coconut pie was sweet and densely filled, with plenty of shredded coconut that reminded me of a luscious Mounds bar. The peach pineapple had that acidic zing to balance the natural sweetness of the pear, while the passion pear was a peculiar combo really brought together by the secret Hawaiian topping.

Pies are sold whole or by the slice, either fresh or frozen. Whole frozen pies range from $20-$22, with an added dollar for the Hawaiian topping. It costs a dollar or two more to get them fresh out of the oven. The Hawaiian Pie Company celebrates its soft opening today, Thursday, Dec. 18.

Hawaiian Pie Company

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The business is all within the family with (front) Jan Hori, Richard "Grandpa" Hori Sr., Lindsey Chun-Hori, (back) Matt Chun-Hori, Andrew Chun-Hori and Joel Hori. Each person has a specialty in the pie-making process. Matt's specialty is the crust; Lindsey, the crimping; and Drew, the fillings.

Hawaiian Pie Company
508 Waiakamilo Road
Tuesday-Saturday: 7 a.m.-2 p.m.

Something new: Gokoku Sushi

signGet used to hearing this name: Pierthirty.

It’s a Japanese company with more than 200 restaurants in Japan and China, but now has set its mark on Hawaii, with ambitious plans to open 20 restaurants (yes, 20…) here in the islands. This Sunday, Pierthirty will debut its first Oahu restaurant, Gokoku Sushi at Koko Marina Center.

We attended Tuesday evening’s VIP grand opening of the restaurant, a packed, somewhat chaotic affair filled with media, Hawaii leaders, entertainers and Japanese guests. But we also sat down with Pierthirty CEO and president Akiyuki Takahashi to learn more about his master plan for Hawaii.

—Photo by Melissa ChangTakahashi says of the new Hawaii restaurants, two will launch at Ala Moana Center in 2015. One will be an Italian bakery, and the other, a tempura bar. Eventually, the company hopes to have four Ala Moana restaurants, with the rest of the eateries rolling out over the next five or six years.

So why Hawaii, when Pierthirty literally could have chosen anywhere to expand? “I’ve been to many places around the world, including China, Singapore, the mainland U.S. and Australia, but Hawaii is ichiban, number one,” says Takahashi, who founded the company in 1986, at age 30. “Hawaii has beautiful skies, is surrounded by a beautiful ocean and everyone is so friendly and pleasant… We open a new restaurant every two weeks, and hopefully we can start opening new restaurants every week.”

IMG_9688There are several Gokoku restaurants now in Japan. In Japanese, “gokoku” means five grains, and Takahashi says the name was inspired by the idea that when Japanese elders are asked what they’d like to eat, they typically respond, miso soup, rice and tsukemono. “The Japanese concept of their ‘last supper’ is a simple and healthy request, and gokoku — five grains — captures that concept of serving nutritious, clean foods,” he says.

The Koko Marina location, set on the water, is an impressive space, with dark wood floors and tables. One of our Japanese friends from Japan told us it resembles nicer restaurants in Japan with its contemporary, opulent feel. The menu is fish-centric, with sushi, sashimi, but also other Japanese dishes. Takahashi says the company owns its own fish processing plant in Japan to supplies its restaurants. Gokoku also will source fresh fish from Tsukiji and Fukuoka. Prices are likely to run about $70 per person.

Before visiting Gokoku, the biggest question on my mind, considering its address and prices, is whether diners would drive out to Hawaii Kai for higher-end sushi and Japanese fare. After sampling some of the offerings at Tuesday’s party, it’s clear the sashimi is the star of the show. The hirame (flounder), amaebi served head-on (sweet shrimp), hamachi and abalone sashimi were excellent, well prepared and flavorful. As far as other dishes, the chawan mushi, served in the shell of a brown egg, not only looked beautiful, but delivered luxurious wealth of flavor and subtle hit of truffle oil. The tempura, however, fell short of my expectations for a restaurant of this caliber. The lightly fried pieces of kabocha, ika, fish, shrimp and eggplant were heavily battered and slightly greasy.

If you’re a fish lover, I’d recommend giving Gokoku a try. I’m still undecided though if the rest of the Japanese menu is worth the drive.

Gokoku Sushi will celebrate its grand opening through Jan. 14, 2015. Diners ordering an entree during this time will receive a voucher for 20 percent off your next visit.

Gokoku Sushi

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Pierthirty CEO and president Akiyuki Takahashi (white shirt, no jacket) with his team. —Photo by Melissa Chang

Gokoku Sushi
Koko Marina Center
Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m., 4-10 p.m.

Feeling nostalgic at Heights Drive Inn

IMG_9558Ever since Melissa Chang shared her Yoyogi Milk Hall experience, my mom hasn’t stopped talking about the days when she and her best friend used to save their money to buy Japanese magazines (that they couldn’t even read) just to see pictures of their favorite J-pop celebrities. I’ve realized how powerful these memories are, and thought back to my own childhood filled with Otter Pops, Koala Yummies, Surge and Hungry Hungry Hippos.

I took my own trip back in time with a recent visit to Heights Drive Inn in the Aiea Medical Building. I’ve been coming to this Aiea landmark since I was kid to visit my pediatrician, Dr. Yano at Children’s Medical, and my dentist, Dr. Tanoue. My mom, a beautician at Hair Direction also worked in the building. I spent many days reading Ranger Rick, finding Waldo and playing with the Magic Eye books while listening to a looping dance mix of Ace of Base, La Bouche and C&C Music Factory.

IMG_9525After long days of standing on her feet, my mom and I would head over to Heights Drive Inn at lunch and sometimes even dinner for plate lunches and all-day breakfast specials.

My favorite thing to order was a simple cheeseburger, ketchup on the bottom bun, a sweet relish mayo on top and a hand-formed burger on a toasted bun. Then I moved onto their perfect-sized Spam musubi. With the perfect ratio of Spam to rice, the small, but satisfying, musubi was perfect for the 6-year-old me. As I got older, I started to expand my horizons and order different plate lunches ranging from the fried noodle with boneless chicken special (with one scoop rice and mac salad to top off this carb-heavy plate) to the breakfast platter with smoked link sausage, eggs, rice and toast (with shoyu and ketchup all over the rice and eggs). The one thing that always remained the same was the green river drink. Heights is one of only a few places that still serves the sweet, bright green soda, and it hits the spot every time.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite small-kid-time dishes from Heights:

Heights Drive Inn

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The fried noodles with boneless chicken ($8.45) is a carb lovers dream of savory fried noodles, rice, a creamy mac salad and two large pieces of marinated chicken. Regulars will order it as the "boneless special."

The Heights Drive Inn
99-128 Aiea Heights Drive
Monday-Friday 6 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Something new: Bethel Street Tap Room

IMG_8138The sudden and unexpected shuttering of Rakuen Lounge left a large vacancy in downtown’s nightlife and bar scene. Interested in who would take over this prime space, I kept walking past the storefront for an indication of what was to come. A curious sign promising drinks, provisions and sweets was posted, while murmurs of a bar serving complimentary bacon at happy hour along with cupcakes and beers kept appearing on my Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Those enticing teasers have finally come to fruition with the recent launch of Bethel Street Tap Room. Let Them Eat Cupcakes owner Kawehi Haug (a former Honolulu Advertiser entertainment/food writer) teamed up with Kim Potter (of Laughtrack Theater Co.) and Karen Winpenny (an organizer of the Waikiki Spam Jam) to transform the former sushi bar into a cozy and inviting cupcake/sandwich shop during the day and lively bar at night.

IMG_9283Leveraging their worldly experiences, the team has assembled a tasty menu of sandwiches and hearty appetizers to complement the sweets, inventive cocktails and brews. Tapping into her fond memories of living in Germany, Haug created a list of beer cocktails, including a Bavarian inspired “radler,” a drink made popular by cyclists mixing a light lager with a fizzy lemon-lime soda like Sprite resulting in a refreshing, chuggable concoction. Potter, meanwhile, added fully loaded hoagies wrapped tight in butcher paper, which reminded me of the popular Chicago sandwich maker, Potbelly. I was surprised to find out that Potter spent the better part of a decade in the Windy City and likened the Bethel Street sandwich creations to the Potbelly franchise as well.

Bethel Street Tap Room opens at 9 a.m. for cupcakes, which are available through the night; serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; happy hour (with complimentary bacon) from 4-6 p.m.; and dinner from 6 p.m. until closing.

Working downtown myself, I see this as a destination when wanting a filling, satisfying lunch, with offerings like the “BIG Bird” hoagie ($9) — loaded with a generous serving of turkey breast, muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and the secret ingredient, dill vinaigrette — or the “Little Piggy” ($9), stuffed with kalua pig, havarti cheese and caramelized onions on a lightly toasted hoagie roll with chips and homemade pickles.

The homemade pickles are a must, with the crispness of a Vlassic, but unique pickling juice with the right amount of tang and sour. According to Potter, not only do the pickles hit it big with customers, but the pickle juice is used in the house special dirty pickle and dirty bleu martinis and can be ordered as a chaser for Jameson shots. One of the quirky details: They’re installing a self-serve dispenser for the pickle juice along the bar.

During happy hour, there’s free bacon and everything’s $1 off. At dinner, try the bacon cheeseburger dip ($8), a thick, hot dip of melty cheese and ground beef topped with crispy bacon and served with both French bread and potato chips. For the adventurous drinker, there’s the house “root beer,” a cocktail of Coca-Cola, vanilla ice cream and Jeremiah Weed’s sarsaparilla whiskey providing the classic root beer flavor.

Overall, Bethel Street Tap Room is a great spot for friends to gather for quality and affordable bar food, beer cocktails and some of the best cupcakes in town.

Bethel Street Tap Room

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Owners Kim Potter, Karen Winpenny and Kawehi Haug share a drink.

Bethel Street Tap Room
1153 Bethel St.
Bethel Street Tap Room on Facebook
Monday-Friday 9 a.m. until close (closes as early as 10 p.m. if slow; 2 a.m. if busy)

Honolulu Juice Company arrives downtown

IMG_8793After closing up shop in the Honolulu Club at the beginning of the year, the Honolulu Juice Company renovated and opened last month in a new location in the City Financial Tower. The cafe sits on the ground floor facing Richards Street between Merchant and Queen with indoor and outdoor seating.

Specializing in fresh juices, smoothies and meals, Honolulu Juice Company is a much-needed addition to the downtown food scene. Owner Christopher Black takes inspiration from his mother, an amateur chef, to take fresh ingredients and turn them into flavorful, healthy creations. All the dressings, salads and turkey meatloaf are homemade and use as many local ingredients as possible.

I sampled the Poipu juice, kale chiller smoothie, deluxe acai bowl, Southwestern quesadilla and hummus.

IMG_8875The juice is a little tart, a little bitter and tastes healthy. Personally, I’m not huge into juice and prefer the kale chiller smoothie. The apple juice base is sweet with a touch of ginger, giving the smoothie a bit of spiciness. The acai bowl is loaded with toppings and easily enough for two. I would definitely order one of these filling morning meals for a nice mid-morning breakfast.

The Southwestern quesadilla is perfectly toasted, creating a nice bite to the crispy tortilla. The gooey melted cheese is dotted with chunks of chicken and black beans and slathered with a homemade Southwest dressing that results in a creamy, rich, sultry quesadilla.

I was most surprised by the housemade hummus. The overall flavor is tangy with a nice citrus flavor up front that mellows to a familiar nutty garbazo and tahini flavor at the end. I can see myself keeping a container of this in my fridge to use as a dip for carrot sticks or tortilla chips.

Parking is tight around downtown and your best bet is to park at the post office next door ($0.75 for a half hour) or look for metered street parking. The hours are tentative for now during their soft opening and credit cards are accepted.

Honolulu Juice Company

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The chicken penne pasta salad ($9.95).

Honolulu Juice Company
201 Merchant St.
Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.