Fish, Poi And Other Good Grinds

“I remember working with Bert Matsuoka at the Sheraton in Po’ipu from 1981 to 1992,” recalls Jeanne Toulon, longtime Kalaheo resident and director of business and public relations for the Koloa Rum Co. “Bert was the executive chef and he was a very organized, meticulous chef. If he said he was gonna get you a menu in a timely fashion, he did!

“At the time, we did drop-in Japanese lunches for 1,000 people a day,” Toulon continues. “He was a very hard worker putting in extremely long hours. He came in bright and early and then came back for the dinner shift. I think to this day he still works long hours!”

On Sept. 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki struck Kaua’i with such force, many businesses never recovered. Three Po’ipu hotels were severely damaged by the storm, including the Sheraton, which ended Matsuoka’s 24-year tenure.

“I didn’t know what to do,” recalls Matsuoka, who graduated from the Culinary Arts Program at Kapiolani Community College in 1961. “I wanted to do one lunch wagon for long time, something to do with plate lunch. I had a friend in Honolulu and I saw all the fresh fish, so I thought I would do something with that.”

Matsuoka opened the Koloa Fish Market in 1994 in old Koloa Town. In 19 years, he hasn’t changed locations, he still only accepts cash, and he feeds hundreds of customers a day.

My husband Dan and I get there during the lunch rush. Matsuoka, along with a staff of five, including his sons Jason and Randy, are able to fill orders within several minutes. The tiny space holds a cooler with house-smoked marlin, dried aku, scallop salad and seven varieties of poke. Fresh ono, ahi, mahimahi, blue marlin, opah and monchong are sold by the pound.

Behind the cooler, Jennifer Callejo rings up orders.

Along a bar behind Callejo, Randy, Jason and Mapu Duhaylongsod pile hot food into Styrofoam takeout containers. Just behind the bar, a six-burner gas stove poaches chicken for long rice. Pork ribs, cooling in the tidy prep kitchen just behind the stove, will be tossed with house-made barbecue sauce for an upcoming special.

“We run three specials a day,” explains Matsuoka. “Today we have seared ahi ($8.99) with caper butter, teriyaki or wasabi cream sauce; beef curry stew ($7.99) and chicken cutlet with gravy ($7.99). Yesterday we had Korean chicken, seared ahi and meatloaf.”

Clabsha Hasegawa lifts the lid from a pot of steaming lau lau and the room fills with the scent of pork and cooked taro leaves. There are three Hawaiian plates to choose from: pork lau lau ($8.99), kalua pork ($8.99) or a combo ($10.99). Each comes with two scoops rice, mac salad, lomi salmon, chicken long rice and a small cup of poke.

I think Toulon is right – Matsuoka is one hard-working guy. In the hour we spent interviewing Bert and his staff, 100 people must have streamed through that little takeout counter.

Koloa Fish Market
5482 Koloa Road, Koloa
742-6199
Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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