Monday, August 18, 2008

Kamuela Deli and the Chicken Curry Katsu

Teri Beef and Chicken Katsu Mixed Plate

It's been a long day of flying, driving and shooting and we're hungry. Other than the bibingka at Lorie's house, we haven't eaten anything since breakfast at Honolulu airport. The problem I've found with the Kailua-Kona area is the general lack of great places to eat.

Sure, there's lots of places for tourists to eat. Along Ali'i Drive you'll find all sorts of places like Hard Rock Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp, but I want to eat local food - not this cheap, frozen, gimmicky tourist shit. Once upon a time, there was a rundown joint on Ali'i Drive, but that's gone now. In the mid 1990s, the Kona Ranch House had amazing breakfasts but that's gone too. Even the venerable Sam Choy closed his industrial park eatery. I can only imagine that living in Kailua-Kona must be miserable.

But at least there's Kamuela Deli in the Kona Coast Shopping Center off Palani Road.

Chicken Curry Katsu Plate

Kamuela Deli is your typical Hawaii plate lunch joint. For a few bucks, you get your choice of entree with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad. To someone from the mainland, the delivery of two starches is just odd. For the rest of us, it's the National Dish of Hawai'i.

While you can get all sorts of meats, the one meat that has come to the center of the plate in the islands is the tonkatsu derivative known as Chicken Katsu. It's simple: take some chicken thighs, debone and pound until thin. Dip in flour and eggwash, coat with panko breadcrumbs and fry until crisp. Serve with traditional tonkatsu sauce.

Roughly thirteen years ago (or maybe fourteen), a shop in Honolulu called I Love Country Cafe started pouring curry sauce over their chicken katsu. Back in 1994, they were the only place you could order this new-fangled thing called Chicken Curry Katsu. Today, you can find it at plate lunch joints worldwide.

Side of Fries

After a long day of shooting all along the southern coast of the Big Island, it was time to grind. Gerry went with the standard chicken curry katsu while I opted for the chicken katsu & teriyaki beef combination plate. The katsu on both was as it should be: moist and crunchy. Paired with the curry sauce and the katsu comes alive, but the teri beef was tough and dry - I should have stuck with the katsu.

While it's not the best plate lunch in the islands, it's pretty darn good - and perhaps the only choice in Kailua-Kona.

Kamuela Deli
Kona Coast Shopping Center
74-5588 Palani Rd # 10
Kailua Kona, HI 96740

Ka Lae

Ka Lae - South Point. The Southernmost tip of the United States.

One of my favorite places on the Big Island is South Point, aka Ka Lae. It is the southernmost tip of the United States and the view (as well as the surf) can be amazing. Situated on Department of Hawaiian Homelands land, I can't help but peer off the sheer cliffs and be tempted by the deep blue waters below.

It's at least a thirty to fifty foot drop into fifty foot waters. On a hot day, the water looks so inviting and calm - and the climb back up the cliff seems simple with the human-mounted metal ladders. Each time I step the edge, I want to jump. I want to let loose and feel free. Feel myself soaring through the air and then splashing into the cold waters below. I imagine it would be an incredible experience.

That's about the time I remember that the locals like this spot because of the deep waters to catch deep water fish like aku or sailfish, which means the possibility of sharks, and who wants to experience the exhilaration of soaring through the air only to drop into a school of hungry tiger sharks?

Instead, we spend the rest of the afternoon shooting more segments for Barista del Mundo. Segments featuring the fishing at Ka Lae, nearly getting stuck off-roading in our rental Saturn Vue SUV, harvesting macadamia nuts, eating raw sugar cane and visiting Punalu'u Black Sand Beach.

But someday, I wish to soar into the deep blue Pacific waters at Ka Lae.

Rusty's Hawaiian Ka'u Coffee

The view from Rusty's Coffee Plantation. Elevation 2000 feet.

Darn it.

Sometimes flying by the seat of your pants bites you in the ass.

The plan was simple enough: fly to Kona, grab a rental car, drive to Na'alehu, pick up some sweetbread, visit Rusty's Hawaiian Ka'u Coffee, drive back to Captain Cook, visit Pele Plantations and then fly out on the last flight back to Honolulu.

It was a simple plan based on ignorance.

Had I really thought it through and used a map, I would have realized that Lorie Obra's farm in Ka'u was actually closer to Hilo than Kona. So, instead of a two hour plus drive from Kona, it could have been an hour and twenty minute drive from HIlo. We'd get there earlier, shoot the segment, haul ass over to Captain Cook, shoot another segment, cut across the Big Island using the illegal Saddle Road and be back in HIlo for the last flight back to Honolulu (it's always cheaper to return the rental to the same place you picked it up from).

But no. I just relied on my old memory that Ka'u is next to Kona so it couldn't be that far.


Farmer, Processor, Roaster Lorie Obra surveys the land.

My error resulted in our missing our window of opportunity to shoot at Pele Plantations. Originally, I had wanted to do a basic comparison of Kona and Ka'u coffees, but now that would have to wait.

All wasn't lost though. On the way to Ka'u, we ended up shooting additional segments for the show featuring lava and other unique and interesting factoids about visiting The Big Island - not to mention shooting a short segment at Kona Mountain Coffee's retail location just off Ka'ahumanu Highway near the airport.

I had been introduced to the owner of Rusty's Hawaiian Ka'u Coffee, Lorie Obra, by old friend Miguel Meza of Paradise Coffee Roasters. Over the past year, Miguel has been telling me about his ventures into this developing growing region of Hawaii and his efforts to find quality conscious growers willing to experiment with different techniques.

I won't talk about those techniques here since that's what this episode of Barista del Mundo is about. You'll just have to wait for the show to air or visit Lorie yourself. But what I will tell you is that I found their experiments to be wildly fascinating and daringly exciting.

Originally, Rusty and Lorie Obra were from New Jersey via The Philippines. At the turn of the century, the Obra's decided that they wanted to retire from their scientific and medical backgrounds and take advantage of the offer in Hawaii to rent old sugar plantation land as coffee farms. With that in mind, they moved to Ka'u and made it happen.

So committed to this project that Rusty dug the holes and planted each Guatemala variety coffee tree by hand on the upper part of the farm - some six hundred trees. If anything, these Filipinos are committed.

A planting of Guatemala variety coffee trees on the upper part of the plantation.

Unfortunately, two years ago Rusty fell ill and became a victim of cancer. However, instead of selling off the farm, Lorie took over the reigns of the operation and now runs the farm almost single-handedly.

When it comes to television personalities, it's hard to come by someone as animated, comfortable, relaxed and funny on camera as Lorie. She tells her stories, shows us how she processes the coffees and serves us freshly brewed coffee and bibingka without any self-consciousness about the camera. In an email following our visit, Lorie would ask if she really did say "Oh Shit" on the video.

We spent several hours with Lorie and her dogs and had a great time. Her and Rusty's story flowed effortlessly as we climbed either the rafters in her drying room or the hillside of the plantation. It was a wonderful time and I'm really looking forward to airing this episode.

Rusty's Hawaiian 100% Ka'u Coffee
PO Box 845
Pahala, HI 96777
866-928-8916 toll free

Going To Kona

Gerry Chose Wisely: Spam, Eggs & Rice.

Getting up early to catch a flight can be a difficult proposition - especially if you've been out until late the night before. This morning we're on our way to Kona on the Big Island to shoot an upcoming episode of Barista del Mundo - the jet setting travel show about coffee and coffee professionals from around the world that I've been shooting for the past year.

At such an early hour, how can one expect another to make wise and sound meal choices? Like a fool, I went for the immediately familiar Burger King. Smartly, cameraman Gerry went for the breakfast plate of Spam, Eggs & Rice.

I would be off my A Game all day.

I Choose Poorly: Burger King Croissanwich and hash rounds.