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It’s All Gravy!

Ono, You Know

March 18, 2018

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

The editor is swimming in gravy this week, starting with Yajima-ya’s signature Mushroom Chicken.

What do loco mocos, hamburger steak, Thanksgiving dinner and Southern-style biscuits all have in common? They’re meant to be slathered in thick waves of savory gravy.

An integral sauce in the pantheon of great American fare, gravy goes a long way toward filling up our tummies — and our souls — with ultimate satisfaction. And while many of us are quick to think of turkey dinners when the subject of gravy comes up (and for good reason), that’s not the only style of this beloved sauce worth pouring all over our plates. An array of luscious beef, pork and chicken drippings go into a slew of brown gravies, and let’s not forget about those white glops of creamy country-style gravy, often spotted with bits of sausage, that are meant for those aforementioned biscuits.

This week, my job was clear: I needed to satisfy some traditional cravings while also searching for an utterly unique gravy presentation. Well, folks, mission accomplished, and I’ll give you a hint as to what’s in store — you’re in for a treat if you love mushroom gravy, in particular!

COVERED IN GOODNESS

Our first specialty can be found within the lovely dining space known as Yajima-ya Japanese and Local Cuisine, but its story begins inside a food truck — the very one that gave the eatery its start for five years before it settled into a permanent location on South King Street over a year ago.

Yajima-ya’s Mushroom Chicken ($14.75, part of teishoku lunch set)

Mushroom Chicken always was a best-seller in the food truck, so it’s not surprising that it continues to be popular on Yajima-ya’s menu today. The restaurant offers a slew of traditional Japanese teishoku, sushi, sashimi and fish, but it’s also home to a fusion of American, Asian and local culinary influences. Mushroom Chicken is representative of that mixed-cuisine concept, and the man behind the unique recipe is general manager Tomoki Ito, who was inspired to create a chicken dish that would cater to local palates.

“I wanted to make something special that no one else was doing, so it’s almost like fried chicken with gravy on top, but with my original twist,” he says.

Rather than using fried chicken, this dish features lighter, tender pieces of poultry that have been pan-fried without oil. And as for that ever-so-tempting gravy, it is nice and creamy with a hint of sweetness from corn and grilled onions.

“There’s no such sauce in Japan, and it’s also totally different from American gravy, so it’s pretty much my original gravy,” adds Ito.

A great time to come in and try this mouth-watering, one-of-a-kind dish is during lunch, when you can order it as part of a teishoku set for $14.75. The set comes with rice, a choice of miso or soup of the day — it was a daikon veggie dashi when I stopped by — kobachi (appetizers) and pickles. Other popular lunchtime teishoku sets are Hamburger Steak offered two ways: with oroshi ponzu or demi sauce.

RIDING THE GRAVY TRAIN

Gravy is synonymous with comfort food, so when craving a classic slathering of it, it makes sense to head to an old-school diner to find just what you’re looking for.

New Eagle’s Monday Meatloaf special ($13.50) MARK GALACGAC PHOTO

As for the right local-style diner to pursue, just follow the flock of Hawaii’s foodies who fly over to New Eagle Cafe on a regular basis. Though its name implies otherwise, New Eagle is actually an old-favorite with roots going back to the late 1960s, when the Teruya family took over downtown’s former Eagles Cafe. After a location change in 1976, the restaurant settled into the Nimitz area in 1998. Currently located in Nimitz Center, the diner’s longstanding customer base has made it a home away from home where they can expect generous portions of flavorful fare for very reasonable prices.

To get a taste of the eatery’s house-made brown gravy, current owner Tae Im recommends coming in on a Monday to try the Meatloaf weekday special, priced at $13.50 and served with your choice of starch and hot veggies. The rich, savory sauce, which gets loads of flavor from pan drippings, is a true compliment to this hearty mound of ground beef seasoned with a traditional mix of carrots, onions, eggs and bread. For some flair and earthy excellence, mushrooms are incorporated into the gravy as well.

According to longtime server Maria Dona, the restaurant has been dishing out meat-loaf since its inception, proving that some flavors never go out of style. She adds that other menu items that feature the gravy (sans mushrooms) include hamburger steak, and chicken or pork cutlet.

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