Bringing Back An Old Favorite
I’ve always been a fan of oldies: When it comes to music, I live for rock from the ’60s and ’70s; if we’re talking about style, I love shopping for vintage clothing and furniture; and as for exploring food, I always aim to seek out the classics, giving a nod to dishes that have been cemented into culinary history.
Most younger folks these days aren’t into the idea of eating liver, but just a few generations ago, the organ meat prepared in various ways was a common fixture on American dinner tables. It has long been valued for its health benefits and is described as one of the most nutrient-dense foods available, gram for gram — more so than the lean muscle cuts of meat we commonly consume today. I like to think of liver as the superfood of yesteryear, decades before acai or kale burst onto the mainstream food scene.
If you ask many kupuna, they’ll tell you that liver and onions, typically made with beef liver here in Hawaii, is one of the most popular ways to enjoy our star ingredient. The place to find it? Old-school local diners, where the entree is proving it still has a place in the hearts and tummies of local patrons.
NEW EAGLE CAFE
My first stop on this trek for tradition was New Eagle Cafe, where an island-style mix of classic diner food comes together with local-and Asian-inspired favorites to create one comforting-as-can-be menu. On any given day, droves of regulars flock to the eatery to enjoy some of the eatery’s best sellers, such as oxtail soup and prime rib.
Despite its name, New Eagle actually is an old favorite with roots going back to the 1960s, when the Teruya family took over downtown’s former Eagles Cafe. After a location change in 1976, the restaurant settled in the Nimitz area in 1988.
New Eagle Cafe now sports a clean, modern look — with the nice, cozy booths that all good diners should have — and it offers another popular dish: Beef Liver ($13.50).
“I know people would think it’s not exactly “I know people would think it’s not exactly the most popular item,” says current owner Tae Im, “but we actually sell a lot of liver because we’re one of the few places that has it on the menu.”
The distinct flavor of liver is considered an acquired taste to some, but it’s also simply adored by others, especially those who grew up with it. Server Melani Midbrod draws similarities between New Eagle’s beef liver and steak, while others say it is reminiscent of meatloaf.
You can decide for yourself by trying the dish, which presents thin slices of liver grilled and topped with a tried-and-true serving of golden onions and a strip of bacon. In good diner fashion, hot vegetables come on the side, and customers may enjoy this specialty with white or brown rice, mashed potatoes or french fries.
Another plus to sampling liver? It is said to hold lots of nutrients that keep our brains healthy, such as vitamin B12.
New Eagle Cafe
1130 N. Nimitz Hwy., A-100, Honolulu
WAILANA COFFEE HOUSE
When on the hunt for liver and onions, I couldn’t help but indulge in the nostalgic aspect of the dish. When ordering it at Wailana Coffee House, that nostalgia starts from the moment anyone walks through the door.
Long fabled in Hawaii’s culture, the local diner was founded by the late Francis Tom in 1969, and the establishment’s retro feel still can be felt today. Wailana has hosted a number of local and worldwide celebrities over the years, and used to be one of Don Ho’s hangouts many moons ago. The restaurant also was featured on both the original “Hawaii Five-0” TV series and the current remake.
While soaking up the diner’s rich history, we can all savor its cozy comfort food, which is just as iconic. Tender Beef Liver Dish ($13.95) is known to melt in your mouth and comes with the daily hot vegetable and a starch, not to mention a choice of the fresh salad bar, homemade soup of the day or fruit cocktail.
Since liver is a mineral-rich food and a good source of copper and iron, it has a unique, slightly metallic taste. At Wailana, the perfect mix of seasoning, flour and grilling helps to balance out those natural flavors, as do the onions and bacon rasher served on top.
At the 24-hour restaurant, the friendly waitstaff — always clad in vintage-style aloha wear — are just as recognizable as the food, and many of them call the liver dish one of their must-haves. Server Juliet Acosta says the entree continues to be popular among returning customers as well, noting one guest in particular who comes in every month to get her fix of Wailana’s liver.
Wailana Coffee House
1860 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki