PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARADVERTISER.COM
INSIDE THE CHARMING, RUSTIC PIONEER SALOON.
BY NADINE KAM / email@example.com
It took me a while to get to get to Pioneer Saloon, but I was glad to visit this charming outpost that challenges expectations. Its name could lead one to expect grinds of the Wild West, such chuckwagon fare as hearty chilies, buffalo burgers, barbecue brisket and pork and beans.
We must leave it to some other restaurateur to bring back a taste of old Americana. The only thing remotely Southwestern here is the heat of summer, without the liquid refreshment you might be seeking. It’s a “saloon” in name only. If you’re expecting a raucous watering hole, you’re looking at the wrong place. Here, you’ll be swilling soft drinks, canned teas and Calpico.
IT’S A “SALOON” IN NAME ONLY. CANNED OOLONG, GREEN TEA AND CALPICO ARE DRINKS OF CHOICE.
Restaurateur Nori Sakamoto’s menu is Japan meets Hawaii, with a light approach to such island favorites as hamburger steak and seared garlic ahi. Plates come with rice and tossed or rotini pasta salad, instead of the more local-style macaroni salad.
It’s a popular place because of the magic combination of good food, plentiful choices and affordable prices. With limited street parking (three stalls on the side and whatever you can find in the vicinity), carpool if you can.
You’re also in for a real treat if you walk to the alleyway next door, home to Kenta Nagano’s Monsarrat Ave. Shave Ice. He makes his homemade fruit and green tea syrups with no added sugar, which eliminates all the guilt associated with the summertime refresher.
Keep in mind that he works solo and there may be a long line of people waiting. You may not be in the mood for shave ice early in the morning, but earlybirds are the only ones able to sample the most popular flavors such as yuzu, acai and mango. These sell out early.
The cost is $4 small (drink cup sizes), $5 medium and $6 large. Extras such as mochi balls, a scoop of ice cream and condensed milk are 50 cents each, but I find them unnecessary if your focus is the purity of Nagano’s syrups.
CHICKEN IS A STAR ON THE MENU. THIS CREAMY SHIO-KOJI CHICKEN ($10 PLATE) WAS A CROWD PLEASER.
CHILI TOMATO FRIED CHICKEN WAS ANOTHER FAVORITE, A VARIATION ON CHINESE SWEET-SOUR CHICKEN, WITH THE TOMATO CUTTING THE CLOYING ASPECT OF THE ORIGINAL.
GET THE SMALL KID TREATMENT. GRILLED SALMON IS FLAKED FOR YOU, LAYERED OVER RICE AND LAYERED WITH AVOCADO AND SHREDDED SHISO, THEN SERVED WITH YOUR CHOICE OF WASABI OR SPICY MAYO SAUCE. I LOVED IT WITH THE SPICY MAYO.
THE RESTAURANT IS PROUD OF GARLIC CAJUN SHRIMP THEY FEEL IS BETTER THAN THE NORTH SHORE’S, BUT THAT’S BY MILD-MANNERED JAPAN STANDARDS. IT WORKS FOR TIMID PALATES, BUT I COULD USE MORE FIRE AND GARLIC.
DEMI-GLACE COATING HAMBURGER STEAK IS ALSO MUCH MILDER IN FLAVOR THAN IT LOOKS.
POKE GETS THE DIY TREATMENT HERE. THEY GIVE YOU THE MIX OF AHI, AVOCADO AND ONIONS. YOU MIX IN YOUR CHOICE OF WASABI OR SPICY MAYO.
THEY’RE NOT MUCH TO LOOK AT, BUT THE OYSTER FRY IS AIRY CRISP AND NOT OVERLY BRINY.
GESO WAS TASTY, BUT THE LEGS WERE SO BIG AND THICK, IT WAS A LITTLE UNWIELDY TO EAT WITH COMPANY, WHEN TRYING TO BE DAINTY. MAY NOT APPLY TO MEN.
WHEN NOT EATING, YOU CAN SHOP FOR PAST CENTURY ARTIFACTS, VINTAGE SHIRTS, AND THE RESTAURANT’S LOGO SHIRTS.
LOOK FOR THE STANDALONE BUILDING ON MONSARRAT, ACROSS FROM THE STRIP MALL HOUSING DIAMOND HEAD COVE HEALTH BAR AND BOGART’S.
WHEN YOU’RE DONE EATING, HEAD TO THE ALLEYWAY NEXT DOOR, HOME TO MONSARRAT AVE. SHAVE ICE. OWNER KENTA NAGANO IS SHY ABOUT BEING PHOTOGRAPHED. THIS IS ONE OF HIS SMALL CREATIONS WITH RASPBERRY AND BLUEBERRY FLAVORS, TOPPED WITH ICE CREAM.
THE SHAVE ICE MENU BOARD.
Pioneer Saloon and Monsarrat Ave. Shave Ice are at 3046 Monsarrat Ave.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instragram and Rebel Mouse.