Hey, Pee Wee Herman fans! Remember that episode of his Playhouse where he was in a tizzy over who he should invite out with him for the Hawaiian meal he won? If you’re anything like me and have been wondering since then where to get that grub without having to buy a plane ticket to our 50th state in order to experience that, a drive to a Milwaukee suburb should save you significantly in time and travel.
Ono Kine Grindz (7215 W. North Ave, Wauwatosa 414-778-0727) has a name that roughly translates to “delicious food thing,” in Hawaii’s native language. And judging from my introductory meal there, it’s likely as truthful a moniker for an eatery as one will find in Wisconsin.
A mainlander’s first thought of the island chain’s native cuisine may be based on the idea of a luau. There doesn’t appear to be a pit in which to roast a whole oinker on premises. Kalua pig: a smoked pork that offers the next best thing: dark, rich pulled meat, fine on its own, but enhanced by the variety of sauces already at the table; others, including chili pepper condiments and sea salts which are brought to you. In my case, the ones not already near my plate were delivered by the chef, a gregarious fellow with training in French cooking, but a history in and business partner with the place they’re representing gastronomically.The pork sits well in the Styrofoam box (with a china plate and silverware on the table) in which it’s served with some char siu chicken for a combo plate. OKG’s menu describes it as thigh pieces, but its tender whiteness looks more like breast. Whatever part of the bird it comes from, it’s covered in the deep red of East Indian tandoori, but with more than a hint of Chinese teriyaki’s sticky sweetness.
Again, no one should fault you for wanting to savor it on its own, but with the variety of tastes to squirt, pour, sprinkle and spoon on all that savory flesh, there’s a flavorful party awaiting your taste buds, too. Both meats are served over two scoops of short-grain rice (ideal for making sushi…a Spam variety of it anyway, a favorite both in Hawaii and South Korea, is served among the appetizers here) flecked with grains of a purple/black Thai rice, not only for color and texture, but added nutritional value.
A couple of sweet and savory sides cut the spiciness of the entree, especially if all the aforementioned toppings are implemented. On the savory side, macaroni potato salad is adapted from recipes brought to Hawaii by European and mainland U.S. missionaries. A mayonnaise & yellow mustard base bathes the starches, while thickly-cut celery and a tad of sriracha and spices add a slight heat. Sweetly balancing that combination is li hing carrot-pineapple slaw, with the titular root veggie shredded amid bits of the fruit mixed with li hing powder made from dried plums; in a pinch, it could serve as a dessert.
Actual dessert selection was plentiful at my initial visit, however, thanks to one of OKG’s part-time employees, a lady of Hawaiian heritage with family in Menomonee Falls. Among a gamut of cakes including a gluten-free coconut and one flavored with guava, the cocoa cream puff topped with a butter cream rosette stood out. The chocolaty mix of flaky, chewy and creamy consistencies splendidly topped off a meal of such diverse tastes and textures.Beverages also distinguish Ono Kine Grindz as a unique during experience. If an immersive Hawaiian experience is what you’re after, you could go for a local; Dang! brand butterscotch root beer or Kona blend coffee, among other options. Its extensive tea list includes the bagged, seeped drink of my choosing; Noni & sweet herb tea is made from a pineapple relative that lends an accent akin to honeyed citrus to cup of hot water.
Anyone with a wide appreciation for Asian cuisines-from which Hawaiian food adapts liberally thanks to migration, colonization, trade, proximity, and per that macaroni potato salad, at least, evangelism-should fall for Hawaiian fare. And barring a much longer trip, that would mean falling for Ono Kine Grindz.