Prior to traveling to Hawaii on vacation I was speaking with my mom on the phone telling her of all of the amazing food places I had planned to try out on the Big Island and Oahu. I told her about the shrimp truck on the North Shore, the shave ice store in Kona, the pizza place in Honolulu when she interrupted me and asked me if I was going to go get some Hula Pie. I was dumbstruck for a moment as I had no clue what Hula Pie was, as I’d never heard of it before. My mom told me to look up Hula Pie as it was incredibly popular and something that a lot of tourist visiting the islands say you’ve got to try. How is it possible that I’d missed such a thing? My mom told me that the 2 prior years during her research for her trips to the Hawaiian Islands all she had read about was people going to Hawaii to have Hula Pie, and though she’d never had it herself, she couldn’t believe how many people had raved over it. After doing some of my own research, I was sold. Now, I just needed to sell the idea to my husband. During our first full day in Oahu, after a long day spent touring around the Valor in the Pacific National Monument and things such as the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin submarine and the Pacific Aviation Museum, we were in need of a place to relax and unwind for dinner. This was the perfect opportunity to dine at Duke’s Waikiki, home to the original Hula Pie!
Duke’s Waikiki is located on the beach inside the Outrigger Waikiki hotel. What more could you want on a perfect Hawaiian evening than to dine on good food in an indoor-outdoor setting that fronts the white sand beach of Waikiki Beach as you listen to the waves crash against the shore?
Duke’s is one of the mainstay restaurants in the T S Restaurants Hawaii and California Group. Named after the one and only Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, also known, as the “Father of International Surfing,” the restaurant located not that far down the beach from the bronze statue of the Duke which immortalized him and his legacy in 1990. Born and raised in Waikiki, the Duke, as he’s affectionately called went on to win 6 Olympic medals for the United States at the Summer Olympics in sports ranging from swimming to water polo. The Duke also had parts in 28 Hollywood movies, introduced the sport of surfing to the Atlantic coast and Australia, served as Hawaii’s first Official Ambassador of Aloha and became the first person ever inducted into both the US Swimming and Surfing Hall of Fame. The Duke embodied the spirit of Aloha, the spirit of the Hawaiian people and culture, and ultimately now, the spirit of this restaurant chain, whose mission statement is to, “Have Fun. Make Money. With Aloha.”
Dining in Hawaii, under the stars, on the beach, means accompanying your meal with some sort of fruity, tropical drink. I chose the tropical smoothie, which is a blend of mango, fresh bananas and vanilla cream. You can’t go wrong with these tropical flavors with a hint of vanilla blended into it. And banana and vanilla always make a nice pairing together. Such a creamy, rich and delicious drink that was perfect for this tropical night.
My husband decided to order a drink called the South Swell. The drink was a combination of Karma silver tequila, triple sec, Monin hibiscus syrup, pineapple, lime and club soda. My husband’s first reaction to this drink was that out of all the drinks he had during our time in Hawaii, this was the most fruit, tropical drink he’d had. When you think of fruity drinks, the kind you’d want to have in your hand as you lounge on the beach, those drinks you’d imagine come with those paper umbrellas stuck in them, my husband said this South Swell is exactly the kind of drink you’d think of. It had the sweetness and flavor of the tropics with the hibiscus syrup and the pineapple. Refreshing and cool.
To start our meal, my husband wanted to try the crab and mac nut wontons. Served in a traditional Chinese bamboo basket, the golden brown, deep-fried wontons were stuffed with crab meat, cream cheese and macadamia nuts and served alongside a mustard plum sauce. My husband loved the wontons and could have easily finished off the whole order on his own. The wontons were perfectly crispy with just the perfect amount of stuffing. The combination of the creamy and sweet crab meat with the crunchy macadamia nuts was a match made in heaven. It was the addition of the macadamia nuts which elevated these wontons from a traditional crab Rangoon. What a way to start the meal.
With every entrée you purchase at Duke’s you get access to the plentiful salad and bread bar. You could probably gorge yourself on the salad bar alone as there’s literally 20+ different kinds of salads to choose from, and it’s buffet-style, so you could go back as many times as you want. That is, until you realize you have your actual entrée still to come and there’s no way you can stuff yourself with that much salad without filling yourself and becoming unable to eat your actual meal. But when you see all of your options, trying to exercise self-control becomes difficult. You’ve got your standard bread rolls as well as taro bread rolls. I don’t know about you, but only in Hawaii would you see taro bread rolls. And what about mini macadamia nut muffins?
Oh right, we were looking at salads, not breads. There’s the couscous salad with veggies, or how about the cold pasta salad with pine nuts and pesto?
How about the spicy broccoli salad with raisins, slivered onions and sunflower seeds? Personally, I liked the Chinese chicken salad with sesame dressing. Or there’s the traditional macaroni salad with mayonnaise-based dressing.
There’s also the fava bean salad, or the garbanzo bean salad with radishes. Or the Israeli couscous and cranberry salad. Maybe the kale salad with candied walnuts and red onions is more to your liking.
Of course, what’s a salad bar without being able to make your own salad? Choose your greens – spring greens, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce – and add your toppings. Sliced cucumbers, sliced mushrooms, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes, diced red onions, black olives, even pineapple wedges are all there for your taking. Finally, top it off with your choice of salad dressing: Caesar, sesame, Italian, French, Thousand Island, oil & vinegar, it’s all there.
For his entrée, my husband ordered the seven spice ahi. Seared to a perfect medium rare, just the way my husband likes it, it was served with a papaya mustard sauce and served with a side of white steamed rice. The ahi was tender and fresh and perfectly cooked. The papaya mustard sauce added a nice hint of acidity, citrus and tanginess to pair with the fresh ahi tuna. And, the Asian influences on Hawaiian food is evident in the side of steamed white rice rather than serving vegetables or mashed potatoes or rice pilaf. My husband gobbled up the ahi tuna in about 5 seconds, so I’d say he liked it.
I chose the fresh fish, which was opa that night, prepared with sautéed mac nut and herb crusted. The opa filet was lightly dusted in parmesan cheese and bread crumbs to create a nice crispy, crunchy breading. The finished fish was then served over a lemon and caper butter sauce. The acidity of the lemon butter is exactly what this salty and crunchy opa file needed to compliment the herbs. The whole capers, for me, I could have done without, but again, I’m not a fan of whole capers, so that’s a bit of a biased opinion. The fish itself was perfectly cooked and flaky and light with a buttery texture and taste. The breading added a perfect amount of flavoring and created the perfect texture to the dish. All in all, a filling, and again, tropical, Hawaiian meal.
Now, time for the Hula Pie. After a very filling dinner, my husband and I decided that we’d order one Hula Pie to split. In the end that was the right decision as this thing was a monstrosity of a dessert. Officially known as Kimo’s Original Hula Pie, the dessert was invented at Kimo’s restaurant in Lahaina on the island of Maui. As a member of the T S Restaurants Hawaii and California chain, the Hula Pie is now served at most of the groups restaurants, including Duke’s Waikiki. Hula Pie is essentially macadamia nut ice cream piled high atop at chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream and even more macadamia nuts. It’s essentially a play of the Southern favorite Mississippi Mud Pie. This dessert is advertised in the islands as, “this is what sailors swam ashore for in Lahaina.” Luckily, as we were dining, we had seen a few other tables order the Hula Pie, and when it came time for us to order, we knew that after the drinks, the appetizer, the salad bar and the entrée, we’d only need one slice of Hula Pie to share between the two of us. What I loved was that the dessert comes served on its own special Hula Pie plate. When have you ever seen anything like that before? A dessert with its own special plate! As for the Hula Pie, it was delicious. You couldn’t tell from the pictures above?!?! The macadamia nut ice cream was smooth, and sweet, and loaded with chopped macadamia nuts. And this is coming from a girl who doesn’t even like nuts! The cookie crust was perfect, it wasn’t sweet so it didn’t overpower the pie, but it was nice and thick and created a nice texture balance from the creamy, rich ice cream. And of course, chocolate sauce and ice cream are the perfect combination. As you can see, my husband and I devoured the Hula Pie. And we were stuffed!
Duke’s Waikiki, right on the beach, was a nice setting for a relaxing dinner. With the restaurant facing the ocean, and the indoor-outdoor feel of the set up of the restaurant so that you could watch as the waves crashed onshore, you couldn’t ask for a more laid back atmosphere. The drinks were tropical and fruity. The appetizer was perfectly Hawaiian. And the entrees, with their selection of fresh, locally caught, in-season fish, was tasty. But the Hula Pie, that was the star of the show. Even if you only come to Duke’s Waikiki for the Hula Pie, you should do it. It’s worth every single last sinful bite!