New Takes on Old Classics

Columns Foodie Fare

June 2, 2013

Story By: Christina O Connor | Photos by: Leah Friel

While Big City Diner may serve up island-style comfort food at its five locations around the island, don’t expect its kitchen staff to get too comfortable.

Dennis Franks, who loves experimenting in the kitchen, gets to showcase his culinary prowess as senior executive chef at Big City Diner. He says that the restaurant’s menu has evolved throughout the years, and that they also run a range of weekly specials.

“We try to have dishes that we rotate on a regular basis for our regular guests, so that they can have something different,” he says.

This is, after all, the same restaurant that has brought diners its take on a classic dish, Baby Back Ribs ($22.99). BCD’s version of ribs are bathed in a mango guava barbecue sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes. The sauce, which is made in-house, adds a distinctly local flavor to the ribs, and Franks says that it’s one of their most popular dishes.

For a tasty appetizer, Franks recommends Calamari Tempura Strips ($9.99), which are breaded and fried until golden-brown and served with a garlic wasabi aioli.

If you’re after some diner classics, Big City has that covered as well. The Club Sandwich ($10.99) is filled with generous portions of smoked turkey, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, jack cheese and Cheddar cheese, and served with fries. And Cobb Salad ($12.99) features turkey, ham, tomato, red onion, olives, roasted corn, Cheddar and jack cheese, and avocado.

Big City Diner is so creative, in fact, that it even takes a dessert as classic as Apple Pie ($7.49) and puts its own twist on it.

“It is a little different than normal apple pie. We have our pastry on the top and the bottom, and in between our two pieces of crust is our apple filling,” Franks explains. “But it does come with a scoop of Bubbies’ real vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream drizzled with caramel.”

Currently Big City Diner is tweaking its menu again. Always looking to keep things exciting, the restaurant plans to add new items soon. Other than getting creative in the kitchen, Franks says that customer feedback is a huge consideration at Big City.

“That is the kind of stuff we feed off of — positive and negative feedback,” he says.

On the Side

Big City Diner opened its first restaurant in the late 1990s in Kaimuki. It was such a hit that the Kailua restaurant opened a couple years later, followed by Ward, Waipio and then Pearlridge. Out of the Pearlridge location, the restaurant also conducts catering business.

And its expansion is not stopping there. Another one is planned to tentatively open later this year on the Windward side, exact location to be announced.

Senior executive chef Dennis Franks started out in the restaurant industry at 14 years old, when he began washing dishes at an Italian restaurant.

But he didn’t stay by the sink long. “I became interested in the cooking aspect and in the food that was being served,” he recalls. “So I started inquiring the cooks and just doing stuff in the kitchen. And it kind of ended up being natural for me. I was able to put out the food with the quality and the speed that was expected, and I started cooking from there.”

He honed his cooking skills by learning from the chefs at the restaurant and took the initiative to perfect his craft outside of work.

“After I realized that that is what I loved to do, I just researched a lot on my own and just experimented by myself,” he says.

Franks was a kitchen supervisor by the time he was 16. After working his way up at other restaurants, he joined Big City Diner about 12 years ago.

“Overall, I think my passion for cooking started with creativity — understating the flavors and the textures of the ingredients and putting it together,” he says.

He also loves when he gets to have other people enjoy his cooking, something he gets to do often at Big City Diner.

“In the end, that is what I really like, preparing food that people enjoy,” he says.

Big City Diner

Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-midnight
Various locations
487-8588 (catering)
738-8855 (Kaimuki)
263-8880 (Kailua)
591-8891 (Ward)
678-8868 (Waipio)
487-8188 (Pearlridge)

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