Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Aloha Addiction

In 2007, Ludi and Renus Domingo moved to Idaho. The drawback: Hawaiian food was virtually absent. They weren’t the only ones craving the authentic tastes of ‘back home’.

“There’s a huge Polynesian community in Nampa,” said Ludi, “We were calling out ‘hey, auntie, hey, uncle,’ all the time. The islanders weren’t alone; there was a demand among people who were once stationed on-base in Hawaii, too. We found a lot of local support.”

With a huge leap of faith and a few tables, the unique Island Kine Grinds was launched in Nampa last April.

The owners are passionate about two things: food and people. Renus, a former server and retail worker, has always been out front. Ludi, cooking since age seven, says, “Instead of playing with Barbie dolls, I was inside playing with pots and pans.”

Teaching grade school for eight years, Ludi searched for something she could be passionate about that also came naturally: cooking resurfaced. After meeting Renus, the son of a catering business owner, things were set into motion.

At Island Kine Grinds, everyone’s an auntie or an uncle; the island way is family.

“You’re gonna get Hawaii here,” says Renus, “We create a comfortable home away from home. I answer as many cultural questions as I can. The music, the food; people appreciate that. People tell us our portions are generous, maybe a little too generous, but I’d rather they took food with them. We put a lot of love into our food.”

Hawaiian food is a melting pot; an array from every culture that’s ever lived on the islands. Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese, Portugese, Korean. Even so, people still want to know one thing: is the chef Hawaiian? Ludi frequently leaves her post to prove that she’s the real deal. She answers questions about the food, but one thing neither owner can answer for is the teriyaki sauce. Ludi’s family makes it, shipping gallons of it from Hawaii. They only know it has a touch of soda in it.

“We’ll get the recipe when we visit,” Renus then joked that they might not be allowed to leave the island again.

The sauce compliments things like lettuce wraps with tender chicken, bean thread, and crisp julienned vegetables. Musumi? That took convincing.

“Don’t knock it till you try it,” Renus said, “It’s basically fried Spam sushi.”

The verdict? Alarmingly good.

Pork lau lau, butterfish and pork wrapped in spinach, tea, and taro leaves was said to be an acquired taste. Ludi commented, “Those who’ve been to Hawaii and have gone to a luau; they’ll know what that is.” I’d done both, but still didn’t know. No matter; I cherished every moist and flavorful bite, and as Roman Tudela, the restaurant’s own ukulele superstar, strummed and sang, I leaned over to Ludi and asked:

“Can I live here?”

I’ll bet they get that all the time.

Ludi and Renus invite you to taste the Aloha. A word of warning: Aloha addiction is real. I have it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wheeler's Handout/ Nampa, Idaho

In the animal kingdom, parents teach their offspring survival techniques. This has been done not only in the wild, but in Nampa, Idaho. Four generations of humans have found that the key to maintaining their thriving species is simply this: Wheeler’s Handout. One of the last great American burger stands.

Hundreds flock daily to the double-drive-thru windows, participating in that sacred ritual; the first taste of a Wheeler’s Long and Juicy. While confused offspring might initially argue that their burger is not ‘shaped right’, a kind and loving parent will silently encourage the errant child by knowingly handing them a napkin.

Generic burgers are not to be found here; these dreams on hoagie buns are dripping in personality. Just ask the Wheeler Dealer, a double-pattied Beast, sporting several proud banners of thick bacon; he’s been called the one ‘to die for’. His cousin, the Bronco Burger, is nothing less than a spiritual experience. Certain censors, however, restrict us from mentioning the famous ‘special sauce’, which has been described in terms far too adult for the general population.

Word has it that amateur diners have often become emotional when they are told they can have a chocolate Coke, or a Raspberry Sprite, or whatever flavor their heart desires. It would only be unkind for a youth to learn prematurely that the drink of their choice could also be made into a float; so this information is used with extreme discretion.

Grandpa knew it. Mama knew it. You know it. Answer your primal need for survival at Wheeler’s Handout. You’re a lot hungrier than you think.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!