Local Hawaiian Vacation: Aloha Friday at the Grass Shack
A dear friend of mine, who lives on a coconut plantation in Hawaii, recently invited me to visit Kauai. Island time and tropical drinks enticed me but instead of blowing my latest paycheck on a plane ticket, I did the next best thing. I took my husband and 14-year old to the Grass Shack in Phoenix, Oregon. Now, on an Aloha Friday, with “no work ‘til Monday,” we were in luck and had big island appetites.
As soon as we entered, palm-tree covered tables, faux grass shacks, and a friendly vibe greeted us, along with an “Aloha.” We must have looked like tourists because one of the owners (Paul McMahon) asked if we’d been in before. He offered menus, told us to order and pay up-front first and then settle into a table where we would be served with down-home hospitality. A small Dixie-cup sample of their “ono” sauce (which my son reminded me means “delicious”) was offered to each of us. An appealing tangy, teriyaki-style sauce that was sweet music to gurgling bellies.
The menu had an assortment of chicken, pulled pork, Yakisoba noodle dishes and desserts too. I predicted that my teenager would choose the teriyaki burger, and I was not disappointed. I chose the combination plate of Kahlua beef and pork and my husband decided on the Ono beef plate. With no big crowd, the ordering was easy, and we went back to our table eager to sample the island fare. If it had not been a cold February evening, we might have elected to sit outside in the courtyard, but instead I hummed Hawaiian tunes inside and noticed that another party seemed to be really into their food.
Lemon Ginger grass, Passion-fruit and Pineapple-flavored iced teas in color-coordinated cups were brought to our table by Lani McMahon, Paul’s wife. We all sampled, and I was most intrigued with the pineapple. It was refreshing and not too sweet, but I enjoyed the Lemon Ginger grass too. Although the phone was ringing with call-in orders, the atmosphere was relaxed and reminiscent of the only tropical adventure I previously had too many years ago. When the plates arrived, they were well-presented, abundantly portioned and aromatic. Mine had two mounds of rice, purple and green cabbage with green onions sprinkled throughout near a medium pile of pulled pork and five or six pieces of Ono beef. It came with a small cup of mango chutney too, macaroni salad, and a scoop of potato salad. I tried the beef first. The flavor was tangy and inviting, but also chewy. As I looked over at my son, he was inhaling the burger. Between bites he said quickly: “juicy, sweet and bursting with flavor.”
My husband’s plate looked like mine except for having all beef and no mango chutney. My pulled pork was a mixture of flavors that I had not experienced before and a backdrop for the variety of sauces available at a nearby side-table. I liked it best with the sweet chili and mango chutney sauces. Creamy macaroni salad and dill in the potato salad were excellent counterpoints to the tangy Ono sauce. While we were all chomping away, Lani brought a small plate of three identical dessert bars with a few red-foiled chocolates.
By desert, I was full and supremely enjoyed the lemon, passion-fruit bar that was soft, fresh and less sweet that the passion-fruit iced tea. We all remarked about (well my son did not) the incredible value of the meal for a family of three (less than $35) and planned to go back. My husband felt it was authentic Hawaiian food with a well-rounded array of spices that complimented one another. My only concern was tipping at the start of the transaction made it difficult to determine what to give for the excellent service. And that next time I hoped the beef might be more tender. Overall, it was a satiating affordably-priced down-home cooking experience.
The Grass Shack
12 – 8 pm, Wednesday – Saturday
205 Fern Valley Road, Phoenix