Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Gerry and the Zip Pack.

Foodies across the world may revolt. Nadine Kam (the Honolulu Star-Bulletins' food critic) may stop talking to me. Worshippers of Alan Wong and Chef Mavro might burn me in effigy, but to me, there Zippy's Chili is the definition of local, Hawaii cuisine.

Nothing else compares. It's a delicate balance of meat, beans and spice. Not too much, not too little. Just right. It's not the in yer face kind of chili so popular on the mainland, it's subdued. It's balanced. It melds beautifully with rice. It's a mix of American and Asian tastes. It's perfection. If you could only eat one dish to sample Hawaii's cuisine, it should be Zippy's Chili.

I'm so fanatical about Zippy's Chili that I once spent $80 to have some shipped to me in Maryland. It is quite simply food that inspires passion.

Zippy's Chili with cheese and onions.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't fine dining. It's barely even "fast casual" dining. This is down-home, in your gut, cuddle up with a girl, comfort food. It's not meant to be fancy. It has no pretense. It's just something that tastes good, warms your heart (perhaps clogging it too) and fills your soul.

We've come to Zippy's after a day of reckless endangerment and we must eat. For me, the perfect accompaniment to the chili is their fried chicken. Zippy's, with an eye on satisfying the soul and ignoring health, only uses thigh meat for their fried chicken. It's tender, juicy, crispy and oh so delicious. That juicy crunch of chicken paired with a spoonful of chili and rice - it's unbelievable. I must have more.

Fried Chicken Mini Plate with fries and scoop mac salad.

Korean Chicken plate.

Riding In Planes With Girls

Michelle's hot nuts and the first of many mai tais.

I travel quite a bit during the course of year and most of that travel is done completely alone, which absolutely sucks.

Sure, there have been a few highlights over the years, but usually it's just hours and hours of silence sitting next to strangers while trying to occupy yourself with the movie selection, a magazine or the iPod. Fun and interesting conversations are the rarity.

Which is why I routed my trip to Honolulu to coincide with that of my friends. At least I would have someone to fly with and even if we were separated, at least I would know people on the plane.

Mixed Salad with Javanese Dressing.

The problem is that airlines like United make asinine choices to fly aircraft like the 757 and 767 to Hawaii. Gone are the days when 747s and DC-10s ruled the skies. Just cram everyone into these small planes and make 'em fit. Once upon a time, flying to Hawaii on United sucked because it was a seniority route that boasted the surliest flight attendants. Today, flying to Hawaii on United sucks because it's just a generally shitty experience compounded by the fact that the planes are overbooked and overfilled.

Which is why I prefer to opt for an upgrade to first class.

Now I know many of you may be thinking that first class really is flying First Class. It's not. Yes, it is better service than what you experience in steerage. Your alcoholic beverages are free. Meals are free. You board at your leisure. And you get to use real silverware.

Mango Cheesecake

But all is not that pleasant in the friendly skies. Once upon a time in United First to Hawaii they actually had linen tablecloths. And multi-course meals. And a meat cart upon which you selected a fresh cut of beef. They even had a Haagen Dazs ice cream sundae cart. Back then they had champagne service and mimosas during the boarding process to entice you to sit early, relax and enjoy the flight.

Today, all of that is gone. Just plastic trays filled with food with cold, hard bread and disgusting whipped corn oil posing as butter.

What's that you say? I'm complaining while you're suffering in the cattle car? Okay, true but I would like to see domestic first class be at least equivalent to international business class where the seats are more comfortable, the amenities more plentiful and they still use white linens.

Filet of Beef with Au Gratin Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus

The choice was at hand: upgrade to first and sit alone with grumpy first class passengers or wedge myself into the misery that is economy to Hawaii with the rest of my friends. United we stand, divided we fall.

I would like to tell you that I took one for the team and joined my friends. That I was a good friend and didn't let them take it in the neck by themselves. That I stood by my comrades. But I can't. When the option to upgrade came my way, I took it. And left them behind the blue curtain in the process. I feel ashamed.

Okay, no I don't.

At the last minute, Michelle decided to cash in her miles and fly out to Hawaii for the weekend. From Washington, D.C.. She arranged to fly on the same flight as the rest of us and, like me, she also decided to let our friends take it in the neck by upgrading to first class.

Michelle and I are similar in many ways. Flying first class isn't so much the whole "see and be seen" scene as much as it is just a small measure to pad us from the horrors of life. It's not all Maybach and Mansions. Just a few luxuries here and there to ease the burden of la puta vida.

Ever the benevolent Lord and Lady, we visit with our friends in cattle.

To celebrate our good fortune, we start off with a mai tai cocktail. Maybe it's because I used to live in Hawaii and think it's touristy cheesy, but I have an aversion to mai tais. But the mood is right and I give it a try. It's good. Damn good. Actually, it's pretty darn fantastic. Prior to my trip I made a conscious decision to maintain sobriety this trip. Enraptured in the moment, I make a conscious decision to use moderation.

But those mai tais are too good to resist and we spend the entire trip across the Pacific downing them. I lose track of the actual number, but I think it hovers somewhere around eight. Whatever the number, we drank enough to bring a question to the minds of our flight attendants. Happily, we're not belligerent drinkers. We just get more friendly.

However, like all good things on United, they must come to an end. Once the airline depletes it's current inventory of mai tai mix, they will stop carrying it altogether. In fact, they just eliminated the ice cream sundae cart in July. Less amenities and more cost - not to mention that most people have to pay for their checked baggage? Bastards.

Oh well, I guess there are more barbaric ways of traveling to Hawaii.

One too many mai tais?

Ruby's Dinette - LAX

Baby Ian on his first trip to Hawaii.

Our adventure begins at LAX where we experienced something called a "code" at the TSA security checkpoint. During these "codes" everyone must stand perfectly still. Why? I don't know, but I was standing there waiting for something to explode. Happily, nothing happened and we were on our way following Benjamin Bratt and Talisa Soto with one too many luggages.

Maybe it's the celebrity thing, or maybe it's a parent thing, but those guys were loaded down with baggage. I suspect it's the former because Anna managed to pack everything for her, Christian and Ian in one bag.

Bacon Cheeseburger - only $9.49.

Other than the rather odd experience of riding in a cab with a Russian-Armenian taxi driver who absolutely needed to blast Russian techno music the whole way there, and the near-miss from the absent bomber at the TSA checkpoint, things were going well. I'm enjoying the rare opportunity to travel with friends and our flight is two hours late.

Onion Rings

Tilly and Gerry are flying in from Baltimore and Michelle is flying in from Washington DC. Our rendezvous point is here at LAX, but since we're hungry we camp out at Ruby's Dinette close to gate 60. Ruby's is a fifties style diner and the food is pretty good. The prices are typical airport "ream you in the butt" prices but at least it's freshly prepared and actually tasty.

As our crew slowly gathers from across the nation, we add more chairs and add more food. Soon, there's burgers, fries and onion rings covering the table. My bacon cheeseburger is pretty good but what I'm really excited about are the onion rings. To be honest, there's nothing overly special about them other than the fact that they're perfectly crisp, satisfyingly crunchy and, most importantly, the onion breaks away when you take a bite - it doesn't pull out like a string leaving you with a battered shell. Douse it with ketchup and it has everything I could ever want from an onion ring.

Tilly shoots.