Inalienable Delights In Wailua
This just in: The coconut wireless has been active as locals do time in the slammer. Rampant puns and criminally good food incite residents to escape their kitchens and make a run for Jailhouse Pub and Grill. Confinement is makai side of Kaua’i Community Correctional Center.
The location is circumstantial, as owners Darrell Horner of Horner Bail Bonds and Kaua’i’s criminal defense attorney Michael Soong apprehended wife, general manager and executive chef Liana Soong to oversee the establishment.
Set on the manicured greens of Wailua Golf Course, the bright and breezy dining room sports an ocean view. Framed pictures and articles depicting Kaua’i’s criminal past line white walls, valances flutter as the sun shines through the open windows.
The cheery pub opposes the usual dark and dank suspects. It isn’t typical Irish pub food either. Soong’s menu champions her IrishHawaiian-Filipino roots and she campaigns with a fresh twist. “The only thing you’ll get here that you can get at any other pub is Guinness,” says Soong, who traded in her roller-derby hobby for drag racing.
The lineup: Corned Beef and Cabbage ($8.95), presents with slices of tender meat and crispy edges: “I marinate the brisket for five days, boil it in beer for three hours and let it cool overnight in its own broth,” says Soong, passion lighting her dark eyes. “Then I fry thin slices on the grill so the fat gets crunchy.” Fresh cabbage quickly sautéed with bacon and buttery carrots roasted with brown sugar make this dish an exquisite example of fresh Irish comfort food.
The fish in the Jailhouse Fish and Chips ($9.50) haven’t been imprisoned in the big freeze, but vary with Horner and Michael’s daily fresh catch. Today the beer battered fish is uku, a grey snapper with sweet flesh.
Breaking Gaelic tradition, Soong serves fresh ulua, Hawaii’s top game fish prized by locals for their fight as well as taste. The reef fish is used in a spin on Thailand’s Tom Yum Soup. “We marinate the ulua overnight in butter, ginger and soy sauce. Then we encrust it in lemongrass and quickly sear it. It’s served with a Tom Yum broth, somen noodles, and topped with bamboo shoots in sweet coconut milk.
“We wanted to do local food and we wanted to do fresh food,” says Soong who co-creates the menu with sous chef Nicole Lucidarme. “This makes a difference in taste, and you can feel the love in the food.”
As a child, Soong enjoyed cooking but never thought she was going to own a restaurant. “I watched cooking shows like the International Kitchen with Nino J Martin, and Julia Child, and I always thought I was going to do a cooking show,” she recalls, noting that her first creation was meatloaf cupcakes stuffed with vegetable soup. “I remember I was in the kitchen, demonstrating to nobody!”
House-made pupu is created every day, and includes Michael’s kiawe wood smoked pork, and Horner’s dried Aku Poke. “Today we have deep-fried Spam musubi, a cucumber namasu and Vienna sausage with kim chee,” says Soong, a recent Kaua’i Community College Culinary Arts Program graduate.
The Vienna sausage is a wry homage to former instructor and silent partner Mark Oyama. “Chef Mark told me from the very beginning ‘I don’t wanna eat pupu at your place that you can find anywhere else, even if you open a can of Vienna sausage!'”
Tongue-in-cheek references fly faster than Michael’s fishing line. In the spirit of calming the savage beast, bartender Sachiko Rodgers created the Pink Room ($8) with pomegranate liquor and Malibu Rum. The name was inspired by the pink walls of the correctional center’s solitary confinement.
“We are good neighbors, and they’re good neighbors too,” says Soong. “Many times my alarm goes off and somebody will call my cell phone, or if people are loitering in the parking lot, they’ll call.”
Judicious security, good food and good people justify doing time at the Jailhouse Pub and Grill, and just
might provoke a good time. Just be careful, because the only type of shenanigans allowed are from the staff.
The Jailhouse Pub and Grill
3-5350 Kuhio Hwy., Lihu’e
246-1110 Open Tuesday-Saturday 7 a.m. to midnight
Happy hour daily 2-5 p.m.