Waikiki Town Center
2301 Kuhio Avenue #2
Honolulu, HI 96815
Tel: (808) 924-7887
Hours: Monday – Sunday, 10AM to 10PM
Refreshing twists to orthodox food or dishes is a delicate balancing act when it comes to yours truly…
For some things, I am a devout traditionalist and really appreciate those who respect the “old way” and cringe at words like fusion, or “east meets west”. At other times, I am much more lenient with a chef’s creative inspirations and open minded to trying something “different” from the classic interpretation.
I can’t say I have a hard and fast rule to describe where this fine line exists, but it could be that it rests with just how “common” a food item may be. The more “everyday man” food it is, the greater the probability that I will accept a variation that is above and beyond the standard image I hold of it in my mind. Dear readers, would you say you hold a similar or contradictory mentality when it comes to “new ways of doing food”?
It was by just sheer chance that I came across Puka Dog while strolling along Kuhio Avenue. Previous to me stepping in front of the doors, I had never heard anything about this place and thus was unaware that it had a cult following and had received some press from the likes of the Travel Channel (as the manager of the store keenly mentioned to me when he asked what brought me to his counter).
I responding that the lettering on the glass window facing the street suggested to me it was something unique and thus curiosity got to me. The influence of Japadog in Vancouver probably got me thinking this way – another way of presenting and flavouring simple hot dogs? That’s something I just had to try.
The ordering process is your basic conveyor line approach. Walk inside and the cashier takes your order. Step one, choose either the Polish sausage or Veggie dog – the latter being a much thinner wiener from what I saw (and apparently harder to get cooked right in their grill). Next, select the heat level of the “garlic lemon secret sauce”: Mild Original, Spicy Jalepeno, Hot Chili Pepper, or Hot Hot Habanero.
Then the flavouring choices diverts into two paths: Tropical Relishes or Traditional (ketchup, mustard, regular relish). Not sure why you’d want to go with the latter, as that doesn’t really make the whole experience happen, but some in line I heard did. The Hawaii-influenced relishes include Mango, Pineapple, Papaya, Coconut, Banana, and Star Fruit. I elected to try the Mango relish and added a side that came in a small cup of the Hawaiian Lilikoi mustard, as recommended to me, and it indeed was a good match when pasted in with the small ice cream cup wooden spoon.
Watching the construction of the dogs is interesting. As seen from the above image, the buns first of all, are not your regular hot dog type. The soft texture reminded me of the delicious Filipino bread rolls better known as Pan De Sal. Each long single bun is wrapped in paper and literally pierced on one side down the middle (with “puka” meaning hole in Hawaiian) by placing it on this rack of hot steel tubes that look like mini missiles that heat and toast the core. The sausages are placed in a grilling deck that shoots them out once they are fully cooked in a nearby resting tray. The key here that really surprised me was just how evenly crispy the sausage was, even at both ends. Taking that first bite, it was like a cap tearing off the tip of the dog – great for crispy food lovers.
Once the bun is ready, some squirts of the garlic lemon sauce (from plastic bottles) and the relish (from the multiple relish taps that line the counter much like beer taps in a bar) is deposited in the bottom of the bun. Next, the wiener is inserted with some tongs, and then more of the sauces are added in from the top. With multiple orders, I could see how painstaking a process this is, in making sure you are putting in the right type of garlic lemon sauce and relish into each dog. Nothing worse than expecting a mild tone and finding an erroneous inclusion of hot Habanero sauce! Eating it feels very much like consuming a donair or Shawarma as you work your way down the bun trying to keep all the insides from dripping out of the paper envelope.
As much as I enjoy your standard fare hotdog with ketchup, mustard and relish, this Puka Dog was so unique not only in its flavoring combinations but the texture and cut of the bun and the all-around crispy wiener, that makes me proclaim that perhaps its my new favourite type of hot dog. I only wish they had an outlet on the west coast of Canada. If you are ever on Oahu, or Kauai (their first branch), I recommend you give it a try as the hype is well deserved! Oh, and don’t forget the fresh squeezed lemonade.