Jack in the Box plans fall through, but Hawaiian restaurant on tap

photo by: Courtesy Hawaiian Bros. Island Grill

The Hawaiian Bros. Island Grill in Belton, Mo.

If you have ever wondered who would win a battle between a jack-in-the-box and a rice and macaroni salad-eating Hawaiian, bet on the latter. That’s my way of telling you that, indeed, plans for a Jack in the Box fast food restaurant on 23rd Street have fallen through and have been replaced by plans for a Hawaiian eatery.

I reported late last year that plans had been filed for a Jack in the Box restaurant to locate in the former Long John Silvers/A&W restaurant at 1503 W. 23rd St. But for reasons that aren’t quite clear yet, that deal fell apart and a Hawaiian restaurant plans to open in the space next month.

Hawaiian Bros. Island Grill hopes to be open in the space by early August, said Jackson Kelsay, general manager of the company’s Belton, Mo., restaurant. That Belton restaurant is the lone shop for the company, so this isn’t some sort of national chain. Rather, it is a Kansas City-area company that is looking to grow what it thinks is a unique type of food offering: Hawaiian plate lunches.

photo by: Courtesy of Hawaiian Bros. Island Grill

Traditional plate lunches from Hawaiian Bros. Island Grill.

The Hawaiian plate lunch dates back to the 1800s, when it became a popular meal for immigrant workers — from Japan, China, Portugal and other countries — on the islands’ sugar and pineapple plantations. Near as I can tell, the defining characteristic of a Hawaiian plate lunch is that it includes one meat entree, a scoop of macaroni salad and enough rice to make a sumo wrestler blush. The standard plate lunch includes two large ice cream scoops of white rice, plus one scoop of macaroni salad. The restaurant, though, offers a large version that includes three scoops of white rice and two scoops of macaroni salad.

While that may sound excessive, it actually is just right to help you dream about being in Hawaii, because I know if I eat that much rice, I’m going to fall asleep in the parking lot. But Kelsay said the rice was a big part of authentic Hawaiian food.

“You are going to receive a lot of rice,” Kelsay said. “Hawaiians like their rice. It is white rice. That is what it is, but it is authentic.”

The macaroni salad also isn’t anything elaborate, Kelsay said. It is macaroni, mayonnaise and a blend of spices. But he said in Hawaii, a plate lunch stand is often judged by the quality of its macaroni salad. He said Hawaiians appreciate the coolness the salad brings to the plate.

Those of us on the mainland, though, may be more interested in the meat. Chicken and pork are the big items on the menu. The most popular meat dish is something called Huli Huli Chicken. It is marinated overnight in a Hawaiian-style teriyaki sauce, which is sweeter than the standard version of teriyaki. The chicken is then grilled — no fried chicken here, as the restaurant doesn’t even have a deep fryer — and then more of the teriyaki sauce is applied. The sweetness is the signature flavor, Kelsay said.

The restaurant offers another grilled chicken dish called Molokai chicken that has that same sweetness, but uses a spice blend that also gives it a fair amount of heat. A third grilled chicken option is Honolulu chicken, which combines the sweetness with a more savory blend of garlic, green onions and sesame.

The lone pork dish is Luau pig. No, the restaurant doesn’t have a beach with a pit for its luau-style cooking. But it does smoke a pork shoulder overnight using the blend of Hawaiian spices and marinades. It then offers a side of pineapple-based barbecue sauce.

All the meats are available as part of the plate lunches, which will cost you about $8.50 for a standard size, although they are served in a take-home box, in case you decide four pounds of rice isn’t the best strategy to get through the afternoon. The meats also are available in sandwiches, which are served on Kings Hawaiian buns.

“We think we’re going to fit in really well in Lawrence,” Kelsay said. “What we are really excited about is bringing a different flavor to the area.”

For those of you who were looking forward to a Jack in the Box flavor coming to Lawrence — it serves hamburgers and some Mexican food on the same menu — I’ll keep my ears open for more news. The idea of a Jack in the Box wasn’t mere speculation. There was a plan filed at City Hall that listed the restaurant as a tenant, so that is a sign there is some seriousness on the part of the chain to be in Lawrence. I’ll let you know if I hear more.


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