The Weekly Eater


Sunday, July 28, 2002

At Grumpy's on Wednesday night, Arlene LePage, left, and Kalei Cazimero held plates of home-style soul food served at the restaurant/club. LePage had a plate of catfish, collard greens, candied yams, and mac and cheese while Cazimero displayed smothered chicken, mac and cheese, and fried okra.

Get your fill
of home-style soul
food right in town

Visitors I met from sprawling Southern California expressed surprise that there are enough restaurants in Honolulu to keep restaurant writers in business.

Oh yes. The multiple burps of the economy could not stop ambitious cooks and restaurateurs from trying to win Hawaii diners over, in spite of statistics that suggest restaurants are among the most failure-prone businesses.

In many cases, I need only wait a year to find myself at some of the same old sites, new owner, new theme.

Take 327 Keawe. This marks my third appearance on the site in two years, one when it was the pricey Blue Room, and twice for Grumpy's, as the establishment — a restaurant/club hybrid bound to confuse 50 percent of the dining crowd and 50 percent of the music crowd — continues to experiment with music and menus that might attract people to industrial Kakaako.

During the day you'll find typical fare such as hamburgers ($4.99) and turkey ($4.99), fried bologna ($4) and grilled cheese ($4) sandwiches, worth noting only if you work in the area. Clearly, something else was needed.

In a serendipitous development, I was craving soul food when Mom's Kitchen's name came up. This usually meant hauling out to Waipahu, where "mom" Ida Pepper holds court at 94-226 Leoku St. But now, Grumpy's brings Mom's home-style cooking closer to the business world.

Pepper developed her style from cooking with her father, who hailed from Savannah, Ga., and she notes "no one can satisfy everyone." One family's tradition may encompass macaroni and cheese and fried pork chops, where another's may embrace ham hocks and chitlings. She figured there's probably little desire for the latter, pig's intestines, in these parts, so she keeps the menu small, but special enough to satisfy those who'll take their fried catfish and collard greens where they can get it.

CENTRAL TO THE menu are those catfish fillets, at three pieces for $7.49 (and one side order) or five pieces for $9.49 (two side orders). The Florida farm-raised fish are raised on corn and taste "cleaner" than catfish mucking about in Nuuanu Reservoir.

Those who've never been to the South may just want to stick with similarly breaded snapper or whiting.

Other menu favorites are the Smothered Steak ($9, with two sides) with its garlic gravy, and the Smothered Chicken ($7.49, two sides), a strange concept when you think about it. That is, taking crisp fried chicken and smothering it in gravy, which defeats the purpose of deep frying, while holding on to the negative health aspect of ingesting oil-soaked chicken skin. This was common practice for an ex-boyfriend of mine, a Southern gent who cooked dinner for me every night, and at the time I considered it more quaint than odd (except for the biscuits and gravy — carbs and fat, yuck). At any rate, the smothered chicken's plenty tasty, accompanied by a pale roux enhanced by Mom's "special seasonings." It's just hard to wrangle the drummettes with knife and fork.

I've mentioned "sides" many times, and you'll generally have a choice of two. The one must is the okra, the slimy vegetable tamed by more cornmeal breading and a date with some cooking oil. Many of the dishes already come with rice or mashed potatoes, so you should read carefully before picking something like the mac and cheese or red beans and rice. Get the cabbage if you're worried about nutrition, but note that it probably won't do you much good once it's been fried with ham hocks.

You'll pay extra for the most popular sides of collard greens ($3.50) and candied yams ($3.50). You'll also pay extra for cornbread (75 cents). I think they should offer complimentary cornbread when guests arrive, particularly because — though servers are efficient — it takes a long 30 minutes for food to materialize from the kitchen, causing patrons to fidget and work their cell phones, while staring longingly at CompUSA across the street.

Sweet potato pie and a mushy peach cobbler are heavy on nutmeg, which doesn't have much appeal to those of us who grew up here on pumpkin pie made from the recipe on the Borden's Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk can, with its subtler blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

Mom's II at Grumpy's

327 Keawe St. / 528-4911

Food starstarstar
Service starstar1/2
Ambience starstar
Value starstarstar1/2

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. daily
Cost: About $10 per person

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Do It Electric!

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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

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