Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wild Pineapple Grill

(NOTE: Better experience the second time, but still nothing special for me. See part 2, posted March 2012)

Wild Pineapple Grill, located in Salem, Oregon, serves Hawaiian plate lunches. Since I'm originally from Hawaii, I was interested to see how their food stacks up.

The place is basically a small shack where customers can walk or drive up to one of two windows to order their food. I liked the setup because it evokes a simple, honest business, much like many food places in Hawaii -- at least the ones that resemble family businesses.

Upon reading the menu, I immediately gave it mixed reviews. First, the menu is pretty small. They have a few of the traditional "Hawaiian" plate lunches here, such as the kalua pork (pulled pork) and the teriyaki chicken. A pulled pork sandwich (with BBQ sauce) is not necessarily Hawaiian, in my book. However, I'm glad to see that Wild Pineapple Grill also has Friday specials such as yakisoba and poke (poke is basically raw fish cut into cubes and combined with soy sauce, onions, etc.).

A second menu on the window lets me know they have coffees here as well. It does make me wonder if they would sell Kona coffee...should have asked about that. After all, they are passing themselves off as a place for Hawaiian eats, so surely they could get some Kona coffee, right? Heck, they could go to Uwajimaya and get Hawaiian Sun or Aloha juices, if they wanted to really go for broke.

I was told the Wild Pineapple's most popular item is the teriyaki chicken, and they may be doing some teriyaki burgers soon. I like the teriyaki burger idea. Definitely something you'd find in Hawaii.

Again, the menu was small, so I expected them to knock it out of the park with their food. I ordered the Big Island plate for $10. Pulled pork, teriyaki chicken, one scoop macaroni salad, and one scoop rice:

I received my order quite fast, which produced mixed reactions. I liked the fast service, but then I suspected the food was not as fresh as I would want it to be.

My first reactions upon opening the container...damn. I love the portion size! That is a vintage Hawaiian plate lunch: a generous amount of food. Definitely worth $10 in quantity...but is it worth $10 in quality?

Nope. Not by a long shot.

(1) The pineapple wedge is not something I'd find in a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch, but at least it speaks "Hawaii" when you see it. The pineapple itself was on the sour side; you could tell it would be sour just from looking at it. Not a good start there.

(2) The best item in the plate lunch was the pulled pork, although that's not saying very much. It wasn't temperature hot, which means it wasn't freshly prepared. I enjoyed the smoky flavor, but the pork lacked moisture and needed more salt. Serving pork with BBQ sauce? No, not for a Hawaiian plate lunch. Serve the pulled pork moister, a little saltier, and have an option to have the pork with some cooked cabbage.

(3) Upon seeing the teriyaki chicken, I knew it would be dry, and I was right. I will concede that the Wild Pineapple's teriyaki chicken had a wonderful glazed teriyaki look on the outside. But again, it was lukewarm, which leads me to believe the chicken was also prepared well ahead of time and they're just scooping it out of a container or tray somewhere in that shack. Serving it with a side of teriyaki sauce will not work with me.

(4) The macaroni salad was not bad. The macaroni itself was perfectly cooked, and I felt they kept the mayonnaise-to-macaroni ratio reasonable. The peas were nicely prepared and added some much-needed color to the dish. However, it needed a lot more seasoning, and the cheese inside the macaroni salad didn't work for me. It added no extra flavor and just made the dish more caloric. Where's the green salad option for the health-conscious? At least L&L Hawaiian Barbecue does that.

(5) Finally, the rice was average. I liked the texture of the rice (typical of what I'd find for Hawaiian plate lunches in Hawaii), but the rice again was lukewarm. At least prepare the rice in a huge rice cooker. After it's done cooking, the rice will stay very warm in there all day long. And where's the brown rice option for the health-conscious? Yeah, L&L does that too.

Because it was such a gorgeous day today (5/19/11), I decided to walk to Wild Pineapple, walking about a mile to a mile and a half (one way) in the process. I also figured with the food I was going to eat, I might as well get more exercise in for the day as well. So basically, I walked about 2.5 to 3 miles total for what I felt overall was subpar Hawaiian food. Wild Pineapple, you have friendly staff, but you really need to step up the freshness of your product.

From the looks of your menu and your website, you're only open for three hours two days a week (Thu and Fri from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.), is that right? If so, blow the customers away with very fresh plate lunches.

Quantity is great, but the QUALITY is what counts here. It shouldn't matter if I get there at 11 in the morning or if I place my order at 1:59 in the afternoon. The food is what ultimately brings people (like me) back. Unless you step up your game with the food, I doubt I will be back. I'd easily drive to Tualatin, Beaverton, or Portland for fresher-tasting (and a larger selection of) Hawaiian plate lunches before going back here.

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