Homemade Food Straight From The HeartCover Story Features
March 29, 2016
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
When was the last time you ate some Creole Shrimp n’ Grits? It probably wasn’t in the 808 State, but if it was, did it offer a sumptuous bed of creamy South Carolina grits topped with hearty chunks of andouille sausage and Kauai shrimp, all smothered in redeye gravy enriched with the flavor of the sausage and a zing of coffee?
Believe it or not, you actually can enjoy such uniquely delicious flavors right here in the Islands at Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop, where each dish is made up of one part handcrafted goodness, one part Southern flair, five parts heart and soul, and a big dollop of originality.
For going on two years now, the modern Chinatown dining nook outfitted with a fun, retro vibe has been mastering the art of made-from-scratch brunch fare. The eatery changes its menu seasonally, but it’s known for a handful of classics that always are on the menu, including a bacon-filled “BLT Benny” Benedict ($13), and the playful “Milk n’ Cereal” Pancakes ($10), which brings patrons right back to those childhood days of slurping up the yummy, sugary milk at the bottom of the cereal bowl with its rich, fluffy pancakes, Frosted-Flakes topping and mouthwatering “milk” syrup.
There always is an element of surprise and loads of creativity that go into the breakfast escapades at Scratch. The cuisine is full of live-liness, but at the same time it’s seriously impressive when it comes to the intricate combinations of ingredients and complex flavors that arrive from the classic dishes the menu is based on.
Both the vibrant spirit and the gourmet spark found in this fare are a direct reflection of the man behind the menu, owner and head chef Brian Chan. His positive energy floods the dining space as he goes back and forth between chatting with customers and helping his kitchen crew, whom he refers to as family. Chan, who received his culinary degree from Kapiolani Community College, previously worked in Las Vegas and served as head chef at Restaurant Epic nearby, isn’t afraid to spice things up and bring new flavors to Hawaii’s taste buds — specifically the Southern and Latin flavors he fell in love with during his travels on the mainland. That open attitude combined with plenty of experience makes for some wonderfully whimsical food.
“It’s just down-home cooking basically. We try not to fuss around with the food too much — taste is first for everything. And we cook everything from the heart — part of our soul goes into everything we make and we take pride in our food,” he says.
Scratch introduced its spring menu about three weeks ago, complete with many an exhilarating bite. BC Burger ($13), for instance, presents a new range of flavors inspired by a cheese platter. Kua hiwi beef and smoked bacon are enhanced with griddled apple, melted Brie and honey mayo on a buttery brioche bun.
Many regulars anticipate some of their favorites from previous menus either making a comeback or being reinvented on the updated menus. This time around, Loco Moco Royale ($25), version 2.2, is back by popular demand, with an elegant touch of pan-seared foie gras coupled with braised beef short rib, garlic rice and egg. It gets better, though, as the gravy is made dreamy with a sultry French onion soup base. Meanwhile guests who adored the zesty Chilaquiles from the last menu now can enjoy a different transformation of the dish: Chorizo & Potato Breakfast Burrito Ajogado ($12). Soft scrambled eggs meet spinach and black beans, while the same addicting jalapeno lime crema and ranchero sauce jazz things up.
The colorful eatery also caters to those wanting lunch-worthy dishes, such as the NOLA Muffaletta ($13). This holy grail of deli-meat sandwiches comes together on a French hoagie panini with Mortadella, prosciutto, capicola and salami, all layered with smoked provolone, raspberry aioli, and a spicy olive salad with cauliflower and giardiniera pepper.
The enthusiasm found on Scratch’s menu extends beyond the cuisine to the entire dining experience. The atmosphere is buzzing with laughter while the kitchen crew works in unison in the open kitchen, where storage is kept to a minimum so that all the homemade items — from pastries and baked goods right down to the sauces and ketchup — are fresh as can be. And infectious joy from upbeat oldies music playing (to the tune of Ain’t no mountain high enough!) spreads through the space, making it impossible to sit still in one’s chair.
Scratch shows no sign of slowing down — in fact, Chan recently expanded with a new dinner menu (see sidebar). He’s also headed to New Orleans in April, so we all can look forward to the next imaginative culinary ideas he’ll come up with.
Mi Casa, Su Casa
With the friendliest staff and warmest bites in town, Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop exemplifies the Spanish phrase, “Mi Casa, Su Casa.” Now, with it’s new dinner menu, served Thursday-Saturday from 5:30 to 9 pm., patrons may taste some Spanish flair as well.
“Dinner we do tapas-style, so a lot of Spanish tapas dishes,” explains owner and head chef Brian Chan, who was inspired to bolster his menu after successfully setting up his brunch operation. “It just lets me be a little more creative as far as (offering) more fine dining.”
Like Scratch’s brunch menu, the dinner selection is seasonal and guests can currently munch on small plates such as Chicken Fried Deviled Eggs or Bacon-wrapped Lamb Chops, as well as full-on feasts a la Cider Braised Pork Belly and Apple Pasta.
Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop
1030 Smith St., Chinatown
Brunch: Wednesday-Monday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., closed Tuesday;
dinner: Thursday-Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m.