Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kam Bowl/Kapiolani Coffee Shop

Kam Bowl is no more. Sure, the home of great ox tail soup is still alive.

Kapiolani Coffee Shop moved out when Kam Bowl shut down, but the ambiance, the history, the location, are all gone. I suppose I'll take my nephew to visit Kapiolani Coffee Shop in its new location some time. Won't be the same seeing Walgreen's there soon. But here's an ode to one of my favorite old-school eateries. These photos were taken two years ago, long before Kam Bowl closed down.

When my nephew, Josh, was still a student at Kapalama Elementary School, this was one of our favorite places to eat at. Same when he was going to summer school at Kamehameha. Talk about prime location for hungry kids and hungry old guys.

My pals Donald and Kua came along, too, since we all know and appreciate truly good local food. Especially when it's pretty cheap. Donald pulled a surprise on me and order a breakfast meal. I didn't know they served breakfast any time! Bacon looks good, eggs even better.

I've been watching a lot of PBS and National Geographic channels lately, so the sight of yolk breaking reminds me of critters stealing eggs from eagle and turtle nests. There was even an episode of No Reservations when an African tribal hunters found some eggs in the bush. They cracked those eggs open over a large, flat rock and let them cook under the scorching sun. The eggs were scrambled, gritty and (to the hunters) very tasty. Anthony Bourdain, the host, could barely eat the eggs. Too much dirt. Yum.

I worked in Burger King, had my share of Whoppers. I grew up eating a Big Mac now and then. But the hamburger deluxe at Kapiolani is simplicity and complexity in a beautiful combination. I could go for one right now. Sometimes I like mustard in my burger, but not in this one. Simple ketchup and mayo do fine. A burger just ain't a complete burger without tomato and onion. I'm that spoiled. At Kapiolani, this burger is just $2.50, totally stacked. Pupule-O-Meter: 3 1/2 stars.

When I first took Josh here, he was in kindergarten and I wasn't sure if he could get his mouth around a burger, let alone finish one. Guess what? He always finished his burgers, sometimes before I did. I never saw a little, skinny kid eat so much! One thing I did for him was to cut the burger into quarter pieces. Made the job a lot easier. This is also one of the only ways he'll eat tomato and onion.

There's something primal about a beautiful plate of freshly-cut, freshly-cooked french fries, or wedges. At Kapiolani, these are probably the best bargain. Just $2.20 and takes two normal people to finish it. Remember to sprinkle your salt (and pepper) on it while the fries are still wet. Once it dries, forget it. Salt bounces off to the bottom. And let the fries cool off for a minute or so because the interior of each wedge is still hot, hot, hot. Once it cools, it's the perfect combo of tender potato inside and crispy exterior.

This has nothing to do with any of our meals. It's just a container of chopped ginger, a staple for everyone who enjoys the famous ox tail soup at Kapiolani. I passed on the ox tail soup in favor of a burger, but I usually pass these days anyway. When Josh was a kindergartener, a large bowl was $5.50. Then the price went up to $7.50 a couple of years later. Now, it goes for $10.50!

I think the price is too high, but as long as people are willing to pay a premium for great ox tail soup — it has five spice, parsley, peanuts — Kapiolani should charge as much as it can. It's the signature dish of the establishment, and they want to run a good business. I understand all of that, and I miss the cheap price of yesteryear. Waah.

Figures that the skinniest one of us, Kua, eats the most fatty stuff. Isn't that how it usually works? I remember being young and skinny and eating like an animal. The hamburger steak plate here is just decadent, smothered in brown gravy and onions. Totally worth devouring. Totally filling. This could probably hold your appetite through the day.

Finishing off the fries isn't difficult. I enjoy them with ketchup, and occasionally with Huy Fong's Sriracha Sweet Chili sauce. A restaurant that doesn't stock this sauce is missing the boat. It's a great condiment that I love.

With so many great old-time restaurants closing down, icons of my youth crumbling down, I guess I shouldn't complain. Kapiolani Coffee Shop isn't dead. It's just in a new place.

Time to start a new ritual.

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