Join Mac 24/7’s Dining Revolution
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Let’s go back to the year 2007, when Hawaii’s dining adventure would turn over a whole new leaf with the opening of MAC 24/7 Bar & Restaurant in Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel. The restaurant has received international acclaim, as its popular Mac-Daddy Pancake Challenge was featured on the hit TV series, Man vs. Food.
Executive chef James Aptakin is a culinary genius, and although some may think the establishment operates on the philosophy of comfort food with “the bigger, the better” portions, Aptakin understands Hawaii’s ethnically diverse melting pot and has advanced the restaurant’s dishes so that the foundation is distinctly American, while still encompassing the Islands’ one-of-a-kind, eclectic, international flair.
Dining Out recently caught up with Aptakin, who brought his enthusiasm, wit and passion for cooking to the table. With our stomachs grumbling, we made ourselves comfortable in the chic diner, as chef dished about all that is MAC 24/7.
DO: It’s been said that the restaurant doesn’t close unless it snows! MAC 24/7 is the mecca for Modern American Cooking (MAC) done right. Recently, the restaurant went through a transformation of sorts. What can fans expect from MAC 24/7?
JA: Since the beginning, we’ve been known for our big, obnoxious portions of food, but now we’re taking this concept of traditional, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food and refining it with new culinary techniques, better presentation and implementing a more farm-to-table concept. We’ve also introduced gourmet dishes to the menu. All this is in hope of reaching a wider audience.
So, if a party of three comes in and two people want mac and cheese, and pancakes, but the third person prefers something healthier, our Kale & Roasted Beet Salad is the perfect choice.
DO: For MAC 24/7’s loyal patrons, it’s common knowledge that Mac-Attack is the best-seller by far. Exactly how does Kale & Roasted Beet Salad compete with that?
JA: Mac-Attack ($16) features French toast or pancakes and freestyle eggs, served alongside breakfast potatoes, applewood smoked bacon and link sausage. You can add one of our five signature pancake flavors, such as Bananas Foster with walnut pralines and chocolate ganache. Every month, we sell 1,500 to 2,000 orders on average. But, Kale & Roasted Beet Salad ($14) is a beast in itself — a healthy one — featuring locally sourced kale, truffled gold and red beets, Hauula tomato, pineapple, macadamia nuts and Naked Cow goat cheese topped with balsamic Maui onion dressing.
DO: Chef, you’ve been an active part of the culinary scene for 24 years, and during this time, you’ve really sparked an interest in all types of cuisine. Where did you receive your training?
JA: I studied French cuisine at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and Culinary Institute of America in Napa. Originally from Miami, I worked in the Navy and cooked aboard CVN72 Lincoln aircraft carrier. In 2012, I moved from the Bay Area to Hawaii and wanted to dive right into the restaurant scene here because there’s no other place in the world like it. I’m floored by the aloha spirit from other local chefs, and impressed with the farm-to-table movement. Hawaii is a melting pot of cuisines old and new.
DO: In what ways have you made your mark at MAC 24/7?
JA: For starters, I wanted to push the envelope of my career, so my team and I took six weeks to create the best pancake — 26 recipes later, our goal was achieved. We finally figured out the “mad-scientist” formula for the perfect pancake. This is a prime example of the passion that my team exhibits every day, always influenced by teamwork, integrity and loyalty.
I also recently created a newer item, which I’ve dubbed Hawaii-inspired Vietnamese Roll ($10 special price). It’s an award-winning appetizer that’s a roll within a roll. Tea-smoked Mongolian kalbi, along with salt and pepper Kauai shrimp, are rolled in fresh ‘Nalo greens, Big Island heart of palm and macadamia nut pralines wrapped tightly in rice paper rounds. A side of Kona coffee caramel shoyu is an awesome and unique dipping sauce.
DO: Both the pancakes and the Vietnamese rolls have proven to be extraordinary. There is no doubting the integrity of the food here, but, what is one misconception that people have about the restaurant?
JA: A lot of people only associate MAC 24/7 as a place for breakfast or a spot for late-night dining. While the restaurant is known for that, we want to reiterate the fact that it’s also a great place for families to celebrate parties and special occasions throughout the day. We’re more than capable of hosting private parties, such as birthdays, business functions and bridal showers, to name a few. With the holidays coming up, we’re already taking reservations for our Thanksgiving and Christmas buffets.
DO: The sweet thing about MAC 24/7 is that each dish on the menu is available around the clock. Deep Fried Short Rib Bites, as well as Fresh Island Fish and Chips are mouthwatering. Everything is better fried, correct?
JA: Of course! Fresh Island Fish and Chips ($19) consists of our fresh catch of the day (usually opah), beer-battered and deep-fried. Key lime tartar sauce and malt vinegar are served on the side, along with Asian slaw and a side of fries or onion rings.
As for the Deep Fried Short Rib Bites ($12), this appetizer features our famous Hawaiian Boneless Short Ribs, which are demiyaki-braised for 12 hours and deep-fried tempura style, paired with wasabi-scotch bonnet oil, Thai mustard Mongolian glaze and fried avocado.
DO: That’s a whole lot of savory! What do you recommend for the sweet tooth?
JA: Executive pastry chef Lynn Schenk bakes an unbelievably good brownie. Lynn’s Famous Ooey Gooey Mac Nut Brownies ($7) features a molten salted caramel center and vanilla ice cream. It’s this added touch that really makes this dessert superior.
We also introduced Mactails ($9.50 each), which is MAC 24/7’s adult take on childhood-inspired beverages. Old Timer’s Root Beer Float has three olives, vanilla vodka and Blackmaker Root Beer liqueur. Red Velvet Chocolate Milkshake with 360 double chocolate vodka and 360 glazed doughnut vodka, and Pop Rock Martini are a couple more indulgences. Sweet non-alcoholic drinks include Orange Bang and MAC Ginger Ale.
DO: Chef, besides MAC 24/7’s immaculate fare, what else can patrons look forward to?
JA: We host Student Night every Thursday from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.; bring your valid student ID and get 20 percent off food, take advantage of $5 fireball shots, Reverse Happy Hour from midnight to 3 a.m. and choose to play from our wide selection of board games, including Connect Four, Scrabble, Battleship, Apples to Apples, Jenga and more. We’re also known for our full bar open from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily, our four happy hours, as well as the nine flat-screen TVs mounted throughout the restaurant.
Mac 24/7 Bar & Restaurant
Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel
2500 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu
Open 24 hours daily
Note: Follow @Mac247waikiki on Instagram and Facebook to keep up-to-date on the restaurant’s latest specials, offers and promotions. Always $3 valet parking when dining at MAC 24/7.