Or a whole lotta’ hype? That was the question running through my mind upon my first visit to Puka Dog in Waikiki this past weekend.
As you may know, the Travel Channel featured Puka Dog not once, but twice: the first being on “Hot Dog Heavens”, which featured their original Kauai location; and the second time most recently on Anthony Bourdain’s Hawaii episode of “No Reservations”, which paid a visit to this location on Oahu. Not to mention coverage by Bon Appetite magazine, Modern Bride and Travelocity.com, as well as various local media outlets.
Puka Dog’s second location here in Waikiki is located on Kuhio Avenue in the Waikiki Town Center , which is sort of interconnected with the labyrinth of small businesses on the back-end of the Waikiki International Marketplace. So if you’re coming from Kalakaua avenue, enter the International Marketplace and walk all the way towards the back end towards Kuhio and there they are…
The establishment consumes about as much floor space as a small Subway sandwich shop (probably even smaller actually), with predominantly a main service counter that includes all that’s needed to serve up their “simple” menu, and a few small patio tables to dine on both inside and outside the door. As you may notice there’s double doors, which indicate that this place can generate quite a line at peak times, as the manager on duty mentioned. Luckily I arrived at a post-peak 9pm, so it was slow. Which was nice, as it gave me time to really chat up with the staff on duty. This also made service as attentive as it could get. I felt pampered.
The 3-step ordering system is straightforward, as you can see by the menu board here (literally a “board”!)…
First comes the bun, which here’s how that looks before and after the “Puka” (hole) is put into it…
The bun is like a roll-size version of a typical loaf of white sandwich bread; soft, airy and pliable inside, with that said type of brown crust outside. Just your basic white bun.
Taking it to nother level, we go to the next step, where to get that “puka”, this roll is basically impaled on one of these special heated metal rods that resemble some sort of medieval torchure chamber device…
This takes several minutes. As you see, it not only makes the puka, but also toasts the inside and heats the bun to make it more supple – that’s a good thing. It’s put on there with the paper wrapper on to help hold in the heat, which is also a smart idea.
I zoomed in too tight on this odd piece of kitchen equipment, as it’s really a complete “Puka Dog system” if you will, that also includes a conveyor-like heated roller element path below that which does double duty and cooks the hot dogs at the same time. They’re then stored in a warmer bin at the end of the run, here…
Skinless Polish sausages
It really is a neat, all-in-one system that I’m sure they have patents (pending) over. One reviewer on another site said (speculated?) the manufacturers who build McDonald’s industrial kitchen equipment are behind this “machine”.
Continuing on the order, I asked for some sauce and relish recommendations from Joanne, the very friendly and courteous manager on duty, to which she mentioned a few popular combinations (I can’t remember what those were), but in the end said, “braddah, just go with the flow, and get what you feel like.. you can’t go wrong either way!”.
Well, as simple as the menu itself is, there’s a subset of that 3-step system in the form of over 12 relishes and sauces you must choose from. This sort of negates that simplicity and makes the final decision on what to order almost a brain-buster.
As you stand there with your mind and stomach trying to come to terms of whether to make your dog taste fruity, or zesty and spicy, the prominent array of condiment taps on the main counter loudly reminds you of the many choices at hand…
Decisions, decisions, decisions…
I can see this alone holding up long lines, as customers constantly change their minds as their order is being taken. I was no exception, exchanging flavor requests more times than Barack and Hillary trade political jabs. lol
If you’re still not convinced you chose the right one, they do have a samples you can try before ordering…
Puka Dog relish and mustard samples
Having either Polish or vegetarian sausages to choose, I went with the Polish, which IIRC, according to the manager, was made from a combination of pork, beef and chicken. Pork eh? So I’m thinkin’ what goes better with pork but Pineapple, where you get that whole savory-sweet-tangy thing goin’ on.
So my final “condimental decision” was the original mild garlic sauce, pineapple relish, Guava Mustard AND ketchup, which they squeeze and pump into your bun before sticking in the dog. Here’s a cross-cut view of that Puka Dog…
So how is this much-discussed Puka Dog? Excellent. Much better than I expected considering the hype and sort of “gimmicky” concept the idea seems at first hand. What I think is key to my favorable impression is first of all that they toasted my bun nicely, which really punched the flavor of the savory, moderately-salty Polish sausage throughout the bun.
Some reviewers have complained that the bun-to-sausage ratio of the Puka Dog is too high (too much bun), but I didn’t think so. If they made the sausage just a tad bigger, that may dispell most of those sentiments, but for me, the ratio was perfect. The key was the powerful, wonderful flavor of the skinless Polish sausage itself, which pretty much predominated all else. Thank goodness they got the most important part of this equations – the hot dog – right!
As for the garlic lemon sauce, it seemed like a mayonnaise-based garlic infusion, similar to the one featured at the Great Hawaiian Hot Dog stand. I couldn’t taste the “lemon” in it though, probably because I had already sipped the lemonade before digging into the dog, so my palate was already acclimated to anything acidic.
The Pineapple relish had a slight texture to it; not like pickle-based relish, but at it had some texture and not as “saucy” like some of the other “relishes” available there. Pineapple turned out to be a good choice for the savory-salty Polish sausage, acting as an effective palate buffer, and tying everything together.
Next time I’d certainly omit the ketchup and perhaps even the garlic “sauce”, but even with that, as complex as all those flavors were, the fantastic flavor of the Polish sausage shined through it all and made the overall experience quite delicious and memorable.
As for size, this thing is massive. Look at in scale to my hand holding it…
I’d estimate the bun is approximately 8-9″ length end-to-end. The total package ‘got some heft to it as well.
I also ordered a the fresh-squeezed lemonade…
Lemonade station. I missed getting a photo of the lemonade squeezer, which is just to the right of here.
It’s a simple recipe of fresh lemons, granulated sugar, water and ice. I’ve read some reviews that said their lemonade was too sweet, but mine was perfectly balanced in all its components. The refreshing coolness and acidity of the lemonade is also a good compliment to the richness and complexity of the Puka Dog.
A Puka Dog and fresh-squeezed lemonade, $9.25
One thing you can’t deny is how catchy the name “Puka Dog” truly is. It’s marketing brilliance. With that, they have no shortage of collectible memorabilia for the visitors to take back with them…
They also have their own “Puka” version of Shave Ice, where they put ice cream, Azuki beans, tapioca balls and other goodies in a “Puka” in the middle of the Shave Ice. Wow. I didn’t get a price on that, but this is one professional-lookin’ Shave Ice machine, so I’m willing to bet they’re quite good at it…
As for suggestions, I’m wondering if they ever looked at our local sausage manufacturers such as Redondo’s? Also, while the fruity relishes are great for the tourist crowd, you now how locals love their teriyaki. They might wanna’ consider adding that flavor, and also maybe a Chili dog version. A portuguese sausage, eggs and cheese breakfast Puka Dog might also be a hit. They should also experiment with heartier bun recipes such as sourdough and other specialty seasoned breads, such as the ones Subway has introduced. Oh my, the possibilities!
It ended up being a hole lotta’ loot: at $6.25 for a Puka Dog, and $3.00 for medium-sized fresh-squeezed lemonade drink, this likely isn’t something you’d bring the entire family to on a weekly basis, but more of an indulgent, impulsive treat. Thankfully I received a 10% off Kama’aina Discount card for future visits, which is certainly an incentive to return.
Besides, I just can’t help but wonder how the other relishes that Puka Dog offers taste along with their fantastic Polish dog, as well as what their vegetarian dog tastes like. To which I’ll certainly indulge in this “treat” again.
Hype and price aside, I’d have to agree with their slogan that Puka Dog truly is “a Hole Lot of Flavor”.
ISLAND OF KAUAI
Poipu Shopping Village
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr.
KOLOA /HAWAII 96756
Monday – Sunday
11 AM to 6 PM
ISLAND OF OAHU
Waikiki Town Center
2301 Kuhio Avenue # 2
HONOLULU/ HAWAII 96815
Phone: 808 924-7887
Monday – Sunday
10 AM to 10 PM
The Tasty Island rating:
(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)