As themes go, I happen to love Hawaiian the tikis, Elvis and 1950s surfer images make me weak in the knees. When I heard about Kahuna Grill off South Orange Blossom Trail, I conjured images of a vintage beach hut arising out of the ocean of boring suburban edifices. I was hoping for Trader Vic's, but what I got was more TGIF with a spatter of Hawaiian.
Why should I expect more? Because Hawaii has been made into a caricature of itself in pop culture. Hawaii is no longer a state so much as a state of mind. I first noticed the beachy, tropical atmosphere when I approached the sizable bar that opens onto an outdoor patio and spills out into the parking lot. In fact, I would say that Kahuna Grill is bar first, restaurant a far second.
Kahuna Grill serves American pub food with a few Hawaiian dishes thrown in. This is exactly what owners Todd and Regina Cassidy had in mind when they opened the restaurant, and it completely reflects their collective background. Todd worked for the Bennigan's corporation for many years, making his way through the ranks to management. He met his wife, Regina, while living in Hawaii, where she grew up. In 2000, they combined talents to open the first Kahuna Grill in Deerfield Beach.
The décor consists of surfer paraphernalia hung on orange walls. The hostess showed us to a standard restaurant booth and sat us at a laminated table with a vintage surfboard design. I kept looking at the volcano mural and bamboo wind chimes, wishing I were in Kauai instead of in Florida's summertime humidity.
The menu confused me. It made me feel like I was at three different restaurants in one space. The sandwiches are a myriad of bar specialties and deli classics, such as burgers ($5.95), turkey clubs ($5.75) and Reubens ($6.50). There are Buffalo wings ($5.95), fried mozzarella ($6.25) and stuffed mushrooms ($8.25) galore. Many of the standard dishes had an Asian influence, such as the filet mignon with wasabi ($18.95). Perhaps the dish most representative of a menu that doesn't quite know what style it's going for was the very strange plate of "nachos" deep-fried won ton triangles smothered in boiled baby shrimp, mozzarella, salsa, crushed peanuts, dried-out shredded carrots, plum sauce and a sprinkle of mixed herbs. If it's hard to imagine all these flavors mingling on one plate, you're on the right track. There was simply too much going on, and one bite was enough to leave me wondering about a world in which mozzarella cheese and peanut sauce were allowed to intermingle.
We were more pleased with our entrees. One friend greatly enjoyed a platter of do-it-yourself lettuce wraps ($10.25), with marinated strips of chicken, fresh vegetables and dipping sauces of peanut and plum. The mahi-mahi bites ($12.95) grilled fish kebabs with mushrooms, onions and peppers were small, chubby pieces clinging to skewers and giving off a scrumptious aroma. I ordered the most Hawaiian thing I could find, kalua pork ($11.95). This luau dish came out on a partitioned wooden platter with a heap of cured, shredded pork surrounded by steamed rice and lomi lomi salmon, basically salsa with bits of salmon. It was perturbing that I was brought the dish without first being told they were out of the side dish of starchy coconut cake called haupia. The ditzy server put the plate down, telling me that I could have more meat or rice, but couldn't substitute anything else off the menu. Silly rule. Another friend got the slow-cooked ribs ($16.75) and when asked if he liked them, he just shrugged. I tasted them and agreed.
I was in the bathroom when dessert arrived. What I came back to was an abomination. Mr. Ribs fancifully called his dessert the "double penis delight," and I can't come up with a better description for the banana lumpia ($3.95). Two bananas were wrapped in rice paper and fried, then laid on a scoop of vanilla ice-cream with bright red sauce and whipped cream haphazardly thrown on the plate.
But that's Kahuna Grill for you odd combinations of ingredients thrown on plates willy-nilly.
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