Heels & Picks: Fresh new cocktails in Chinatown
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
After four years of business in Kakaako, Fresh Cafe still wants to get fresh with you. Now there are two places to stop and enjoy Fresh Cafe’s food, beverages and hospitality following last month’s grand opening of the new Fresh Cafe Downtown in the former Indigo location at 1111 Nuuanu Avenue. It’s something we’ve let you know about here at the Pulse, with pictures from the grand opening party and posts about new food and drinks available on the menu.
FRESH CAFE DOWNTOWN
1111 Nuuanu Ave.
Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. daily (except Sundays); open late on Fridays, Saturdays and for special events
To recap, the pupu menu features items like fried baby carrots, Kalua pork nachos and my favorite, fried avocado. The dinner menu is more extensive and is served in the dining room and available at the bar starting at 4 p.m. Breakfast items, including pancakes with fruit butter and biscuits with bacon gravy, are served in the coffee bar starting at 7 a.m. daily (except Sundays).
While Fresh Cafe Kakaako is known for its delicious, fresh breakfast and lunch items and hosting live music, art and community events out back at Loft in Space, the new downtown location has added a new element to the mix with handcrafted cocktails.
“This drink menu is a collaboration of six minds,” said bar manager Leland Asato. “(At) a lot of places it’s just one person who creates the cocktail list and all the bartenders follow that lead. At Fresh Cafe, all of the bartenders worked together to make a unique menu.”
The result of this meeting of the minds is an inspired list of specialty cocktails. Patrons can enjoy a B&B (Bacon and Bourbon), a drink made with house-infused bacon bourbon. Bacon and whiskey goes into a mason jar and is frozen, which allows the bacon fat to separate from the liquor. Once the fat is removed, the remaining bacon-infused bourbon is ready to drink.
The drink menu also features blueberry-infused and jalapeno-infused vodka along with mango-infused rum, all of which are made on site.
In an interesting twist, the jalapeno vodka is used in a spicy concoction called the Pickled Pedro, which is blended with pickle juice. I know, you didn’t see that coming. Neither did I.
“We add a little pickle juice to the Pickled Pedro to mask the spiciness,” Asato said. “Pickle juice is becoming a big chaser. People ask for a chaser shot of pickle juice after taking a shot because it masks the flavor. So we thought it would be cool to add it to a drink.”
Asato whipped up two classic cocktails for me to sample — a refreshing fruit-based beverage called the Pear & Peach, and his favorite off the menu, the Gin & Ginger.
The Pear & Peach is light and upon the first sip, it is clear that the drink is made with fresh fruit, rather than sugary, processed syrups. Fresh peach puree replaces the peach syrup you will likely be served at establishments not committed to handcrafted cocktails. Other drinks, like the Fresh Forty-Four and the Strawberry Lime Refresher are made with fresh squeezed lime and lemon juice.
The Gin & Ginger is on the savory side, with the hint of sweetness delivered in the form of housemade ginger syrup. This is not the only syrup crafted by the bar staff; they also make their own mint and macadamia nut syrups.
WHO ARE the minds responsible for creating this drink menu? You may recognize some of these bartenders from your favorite local establishments. Asato has mixed drinks locally for 12 years; guests may remember him from behind the bar at the Lewers Street Fish Company or from his 10-year stint at the Shorebird Waikiki.
Bartender Nina Pullella grew up in New Jersey, taking in the scene at the bar her parents owned. She has tended bar at Nextdoor and The Shack on Oahu. Stephanie Toshi honed her skills at Pint + Jigger.
A commitment to freshness is what patrons have come to expect at Fresh Cafe. After years of serving fresh food in Kakaako, when it came time to create a cocktail list for the downtown location, owner Tiffany Tanaka and her bar staff wanted to make sure customers would enjoy the same quality in the drinks they served.
Another aspect of Fresh Cafe that patrons have come to know and love is their commitment to the arts and community. This month in Kakaako, Fresh Cafe will host a donation-based community yoga class and a slam poetry event. Tuesday’s yoga class is designed for fun and includes props to play with like hula-hoops and balls. Thursday is the slam poetry night, a monthly event that falls every first Thursday.
DJs and live music are offered every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, as well as other special events. Many of Honolulu’s favorite musical acts make acoustic appearances, and if you stop in on Aug. 26 you’ll find yours truly performing some live indie-rock.
Getting in on the First Friday excitement in Chinatown, Fresh Cafe features local vendors; last month’s Fresh Fridays was the temporary home to local jewelry vendors, handbag companies and in a twist, record sellers and ice cream makers.
On Aug. 26, the SKAL Dine Around will take people on a foodie journey through Chinatown with stops that include Grondin and Soul de Cuba as well as Fresh Cafe. On Aug. 30, a whiskey and cigar night is planned.
Keping the food, vibe, events and drinks fresh is the motto as well as moniker at Fresh Cafe. Whether you’re interested in local music, fashion, food, or just want to stop by for a handcrafted cocktail, they have something for everyone.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.