Islands brings on the burgers
Hawaii is not only home, it's also a great brand. Over the years, apparel companies and other retailers have been able to cash in on the islands' cachet. But in the food biz, we've had to watch as chain companies swooped in to sell Hawaii right back to us, not as cuisine -- which is as generically all-American as it gets -- but as concept.
On the heels of Wahoo's Fish Taco comes Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks at Ala Moana Center's expanding Ho'okipa Terrace. The California-based restaurant chain offers a Pacific and South-of-the-border-inspired menu, if mostly in the naming of burgers such as the "Pipeline" (with chili and cheese) and "Hula" (with sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese), salads and smoothies.
Of course, any allegiance to the notions of "local first" or "locals only" is easily crushed by the lure of another burger. So much for willpower.
Islands certainly has aloha spirit, though staffers have gone overboard in the excitement of its first few weeks. Even though the joint was packed and servers should have had other guests to tend to, no fewer than six were stopping by our table every five minutes to ask if we were all right, needed anything, needed a refill. It was so annoying we considered constructing our own sign, Bubba Gump style, saying, "GO AWAY!" (Note to every beginning waiter: Too much attention is as bad as too little.) I believe they've chilled by now.
The restaurant is also trying to make friends, island style, with the offering of two pounds of free fries through coupons initially handed out at the door and now accompanying your bill. These are great fries (regularly $2.99), cut thick with the skin still attached, awaiting a sprinkling of garlic seasoning salt at your table. At least four people are needed to finish the task of devouring them.
The restaurant is constructed in the open style of beach restaurants such as Buzz's in Kailua or Jameson's. Sitting on the outside "deck," you have a view of shoppers on parade. Depending on the time, you might be subjected to music from the Mai Tai Bar, which can be good or bad, depending on your taste. Pop music inside the restaurant can be obnoxious, but at least it isn't as loud as the bar bands can be. You'll have to be the judge of how much you can take as you're checking out the surroundings.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Stephanie Story shows off a giant Hawaiian Burger and a Deep Blue Sea drink at the new Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks.
The menu starts with appetizers, but portions here are so huge you could easily do without. At $6.49 the quesadillas (add $2.39 for guacamole, $3.69 for spicy chicken or $5.49 for carnitas) are enough to feed two. Ditto for the moadillas ($8.99), a flour tortilla topped with onions, cilantro and barbecue chicken slathered in red sauce.
The barbecue chicken reappears in a Wiqui Waqui chicken salad ($11.29) with lettuce, tomatoes, crisp jicama, onions, tortilla strips and ranch dressing.
The Kaanapali Kobb salad ($11.09) is shredded throughout so that pieces of chicken, bacon, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and blue cheese crumbles are all the same size, and painted white with a creamy dressing. It's topped with a few cubes of avocado and is a salad for people who don't like veggies all that much.
But the burgers are the main draw. Meat lovers will want to start with the "Big Wave" ($7.49) with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and mustard, to get a taste of the seven ounces of Angus beef. Other selections tend to bury the beef, as with the "Sunset" topped with barbecue sauce, and "Kilauea" ($8.79), which piles on the heat, starting with a smoldering volcanic crust of chopped jalapeños and crushed black peppercorns, pepper Jack cheese and chipotle aioli. It's definitely not for timid taste buds.
Several trios of soft tacos are also offered. If you like onions, try the Cabo Loco ($9.69), which starts with shredded pork, caramelized onions, potent onions and cilantro.
Like so many others, they offer island fish tacos as well, but the fish comes in deep-fried fillet form, which is not islandlike at all. (Check out Maui Tacos for fish tacos as they should be.)
Keiki 12 and younger are served a Gremmie menu of $4.99 selections, from a hot dog to grilled cheese sandwich to Jr. Wave burger.
Desserts take the form of ice cream cake and ice cream-topped brownie, and like everything else, they're huge. Bring a lot of friends to share and you'll be fine. That's the Islands style.