Let’s Head South, Y’all
We all hit that point in the day, month or year when we feel like we could really use a vacation. In fact, you’re probably feeling that way right about now for a myriad of reasons. But when planning an actual trip just isn’t plausible, don’t forget that you can always take your taste buds on an exotic journey that is sure to bring that much-needed moment of relief to your daily grinds.
This week, Ono, You Know‘s chosen form of escapism is embracing the flavors of the South, since an increasing number of eateries showcasing that good-ol’ Southern charm have popped up around town in recent years. And while the barbecue sauces, fried chicken and grits are like a breathe of fresh air for our appetites, it’s also comforting to know that they actually have more in common with local food than you may think: Just like the cuisine of Hawaii, Southern fare was built on the mingling of a multi-cultural population and its diverse food traditions. In essence, it’s their very own version of the mix plate.
We don’t have the space here to explore Southern food in its diverse entirety, but we can put a little Louisiana lovin’ into our tummies with some of the iconic flavors of the food mecca of the South!
Now, in the more rural areas of Louisiana’s Acadiana region, large, family-style pots of rustic Cajun seafood simmer with their signature red kick of cayenne-pepper seasoning. All it takes is one trip to Raging Crab to get a taste of those flavors here in Hawaii, complete with seafood boils over-flowing with crab, lobster, crawfish, shrimp, mussels, clams and more.
I recently ventured to Aiea Town Square to check out Raging Crab’s new location (the original one is on Keeaumoku Street), where I got completely swept up by one of its new menu items (only available in Aiea). It takes the eatery’s already beloved Cajun Fries — french fries doused in an addicting Cajun seasoning — and turns them up a notch.
“They’re called Chowder Fries ($7) and it’s literally our Cajun french fries that we’re known for with our house-made chowder drizzled over them,” says co-owner JC “Moto” Chow, when describing the poutine-esque creation. “And then we add Old Bay Seasoning, parsley, mozzarella and little pieces of bacon bits on the top.”
As a side note: I know the chowder is not exactly Southern, but it’s worth mentioning here simply because it’s chunky, creamy and delicious. Try it in the Raging Bread Bowl ($12.99; $8 when ordered with Captain’s Special), spewing out of a locally made sourdough bread bowl and topped with Manila clams.
Getting back to those Cajun flavors, Chow reminds Dining Out readers to take advantage of an exclusive offer in which you’ll receive complimentary Cajun Fries with the purchase of 1 pound of a la carte seafood (must present coupon on page 7). She also recommends Raging Noodles ($8; add shrimp, clams or mussels for additional $4 each), a new hit that’s flavorfully cooked in Raging Crab’s house boil.
99-082 Kauhale St. Ste. B-10, Aiea (and on Keeaumoku Street)
Aiea: 487-CRAB (2722) ragingcrab.com
Louisiana also is home to the rich tradition of Creole cuisine, which stems from the bustling hub of New Orleans. One of the most classic Creole dishes is gumbo, described by Brian Chan, local chef and owner of Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop, as a cross between a soup and a stew.
At his Chinatown eatery, which regularly shows Oahu how seasonal brunch is done, Chan recently gave me a complete education on glorious gumbo, and I’ve never wanted to pay attention more.
“It’s probably my favorite Creole dish — hands down,” says Chan. “When you go to New Orleans, it’s going to be on everyone’s menu; there’s so many variations of gumbo.”
Not surprisingly, Chan, who loves to incorporate Southern flavors into his breakfast and lunch fare, has made many a gumbo in his day, and the one he currently has on the menu is a champion, to say the least.
Deviled Crab Cake & Chorizo Gumbo ($8 small, $14 large) starts out with a dark, coffee-colored roux (a mixture of flour and fat), browned slowly and simmered to completion with the “holy trinity” of Southern seasonings: bell pepper, celery and onion (think mirepoix of the South).
Though traditional in some ways, this gumbo is not without some exciting twists and turns. Instead of typical Andouille sausage,
Chan uses impactful Spanish-style dried chorizo (as bold as the roux itself), and a few other personal touches.
“Gumbo is almost always served with rice. In our case, we do it with a garlic scallion rice, and then we top it with a deviled crab cake,” he says.
That hunky crab cake he’s referring to — both crispy on the outside yet tender and creamy within — is pure magic in this dish. “All the flavors you get from a deviled egg go into our crab cake,” describes Chan.
Overall, the spiced-up and hearty dish is just what any gourmand needs for a delightful escape. “It’s a very comforting meal, especially when it’s cold,” confirms Chan.
Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop
1030 Smith St., Chinatown