The Honolulu Advertiser’s Metromix Honolulu team has been on a roll lately with their “Who Makes It Best in Honolulu” series (that’s “Honolulu” repeated three times already lol), with the latest “shootout” being “Who makes Honolulu’s best fried chicken?” (that’s four now).
Just prior to that, they held a “Who makes the best poke?” shootout, with a follow-up segment to that due to many readers protesting the results. Funny enough, I was one of the readers who protested, saying that they left out who I think is the reigning “King of Poke”, Ono Seafood on Kapahulu avenue (not to be confused with Ono Hawaiian Foods down the street). Sure enough, they went to try it, and in that foll0w-up round 2 they voted Ono Seafood the “Best Poke in Honolulu“! All I can say is, “I told you so”. lol
I still have a gripe with them on voting Violet’s Grill as having “The Best Saimin” (with Oxtails in it!), but that’s another story for another day. lol
Anyhow, today we’re talking about the winner of Metromix’s “Honolulu’s Best Fried Chicken” award, which points us to restaurateur, culinary savant and celebrated chef Sean Priester and his latest project, the ‘Soul Patrol’. While I’m not sure if past American Idol winner Taylor Hicks has registered “Soul Patrol” under copyright, there’s no denying Chef Priester’s lunch wagon is the TRUE ‘Soul Patrol’!
As in what may arguably be the BEST darned Soul Food you can find this side of the southern US. Well, at least in the middle of the Pacific.
Like many locals who were born and raised in Hawaii, I have little to ZERO exposure to TRUE good ole’ southern cooking, save for some recipes we use here that are clear adaptations from the region. My late (English-Hawaiian) grandmother for one made this amazing fried chicken with white gravy that surely has roots from the south. But that’s as far as I’ll even try to go in describing the cuisine, lest someone hurl a full pan of cornbread ‘n grits at me. lol
Chef Priester’s soul is in the food, while the “patrol” part is his lunchwagon…
Got Soul? Check. Got Food? Check…
Rounding out the urban “ambiance” where the “Soul Patrol” lunchwagon is located, you’ll be greeted by R&B and other related hits played through the boom box pointing out the lunchwagon’s front door. Very nice.
Personally I think music and food go hand-in-hand, and I really appreciate when eateries use music to enhance and immerse their customers in the style of cuisine they’re serving. When I’m eating Hawaiian food, I wanna’ hear Hawaiian music. Same for Greek, Mexican, Indian and so on. You know what I’m sayin’. Even if it’s from a place as casual (and takeout) as this lunchwagon, having both the music and the food be “served” together makes it that much more an “experience” than just a necessity of the day. Now that’s what you call SOUL.
Speaking of which, without further ado, here’s Chef Sean Priester workin’ it…
Chef mentioned his business was VERY BRISK in the last few days due to the exposure from that Metromix article, especially with fried chicken sales, having selling out well before closing time each day. Diner E and myself learned that lesson the hard way the last time over at Ethel’s Grill, who were also featured on Metromix. At that time, we had taken their advice and gone to Ethel’s, only to discover the hype had caused a virtual ONSLAUGHT of customers. This caused an unanticipated back-up in their very small kitchen and ultimately caused a big delay (as in one hour wait) in us getting our order.
So this time having lesson-learned, I called the ‘Soul Patrol’ ahead of time and RESERVED three Fried Chicken Plates for us, lest we get there and it would all be SOLD OUT.
Of course there’s much more to Soul Food than fried chicken. Here’s The Soul Patrol’s menu for the day…
Shoots! I forgot to get the Southern Sweet Iced Tea. Darned it. I heard that stuff is really, really good. That’s OK, as from our first impression of the grindz here, we’ll be back again and again and again and again and again! I so got dibs on that Fried Catfish with Hushpuppies plate as well!
But we were here today for the first time to sample The Soul Patrol’s Fried Chicken, just to “validate” whether Metromix REALLY knows what they’re (tasting and) talking about. So we all got the same plate, which actually isn’t listed on the menu above. It’s what they call their “Southern Sampler Plate with One Piece Buttermilk Fried Chicken”…
The Soul Patrol Southern Sampler with 1 Piece Chicken (another one) – Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Vegetarian Chili with Black Eyed Peas, Organic Collard Greens, Honey-Cilantro Coleslaw and “Sweet Corn” Cornbread. $8
The Soul Patrol Southern Sampler with 1 Piece Chicken (and yet another one) – Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Vegetarian Chili with Black Eyed Peas, Organic Collard Greens, Honey-Cilantro Coleslaw and “Sweet Corn” Cornbread. $8
Brah, does that look ONO or what?!!! I wish I had one more plate in front of me to eat right now! And what a bargain for all that variety of stuff!
If one piece of Chicken isn’t enough for you, for $9 you can get The Soul Patrol Southern Sampler Plate with two pieces of chicken. This I found out after we already got back with our plates. Shucks, I wish I knew that when we ordered. I think Chef doesn’t want to put that on the menu though, as he’d probably run out of chicken too quickly if everyone ordered that. Still, that extra piece of chicken would have come in handy for snackin’ later!
If you just want the Buttermilk Chicken, Chef sells them at two for $5, which is a bit pricey, but hey, if you want “The Best”, why not?
Notice the food’s served on eco-friendly “green” (actually tan) 100% biodegradable recycled cardboard clamshell containers…
Even the the “Spork” (Spoon-Fork) they provide is 100% biodegradable. Further saving the environment, they don’t offer plastic bags to carry your food away; t’s BYOB here (bring your own bag; but you can bring booze too, just don’ t drink in public lol).
Ok, let’s take a closer look at each item, beginning with the star of the show, the Buttermilk Fried Chicken…
Take a look at the color and texture of that batter. You just KNOW that’s gonna’ be some good eats even before taking one bite!
Now the Vegetarian Chili…
Looks hearty and full-bodied. Thick enough where the chili can be plated in the same area with the cornbread without soaking right through it, but actually just “kissing it”. Love that metaphor.
Certainly the most unusual dish for us Hawaii folks with little exposure to this style of cuisine are Collard Greens…
For added flavor, there’s sparse bits of bacon (or pork of some form) that’s mixed in it.
Now the Honey-Cilantro Coleslaw…
Cilantro in Coleslaw? As you’ll soon read, it’s BRILLIANT.
Last but certainly not least, we have Chef Priester’s AWESOME “Sweet Corn” Cornbread…
Well. It’s time to chow! (or whatever they say in the south for “Time fo’ grind!”)
Let’s start with the Vegetarian Chili…
Dig, dig, DIG the perfectly al dente Black Eyed Peas in it (I like the band as well). “I’m a be” chillin’ with Chef Sean’s Chili. This stuff is “dope”! Seriously, what I like most about it is that it’s the chili flavor is on the mild side; much more so than say Zippy’s, and much more so than Richie’s. It’s more “tomatoey” if you will. While there’s some other complex flavor components that make this chili 100% unique. I’ve never had a chili like this before. Never. But I will again, and that will be from right here at The Soul Patrol, as I’m giving his Vegetarian Chili with Black Eyed Peas 4 SPAM Musubi.
Now let’s sample the “Sweet Corn” Cornbread…
You know what I love about this cornbread besides everything? Everything. It’s very buttery, sweet but not too sweet, yet also having a savory element to it. There’s like this interesting smokey aroma to its flavor profile. Perhaps because he bakes in cast iron? Not sure as I didn’t ask. Really though, my favorite thing about this Cornbread is its TEXTURE. Very mealy, with bits of corn kernels mixed in that you can feel as you bite into it. The thick cornmeal granules provide this pleasant looseness and chewiness at the same time as you bite into it. 5 SPAM Musubi for Chef Priester’s “Sweet Corn” Cornbread.
Now take some of that awesome cornbread and some of that fantastic “B.E.P.” chili and eat it together from the spoon at the same time? Braddah! Broke’ da mout’ winnahz! So ono! The PERFECT combo. With that, it would be safe to say if you order just the Chili and Cornbread for $5 you CANNOT GO WRONG. Marriage made in heaven with plenty of SOUL fo’ sho’!
OK, let’s really get some SOUL in us and sample the Collard Greens…
Delicious! I love it, love it, love it. It’s like spinach but a little more “woodsy” if you will. It tastes like it’s coated with either butter and/or light olive oil, or some kind of “fat”. The bacon or whatever pork chef mixes in while cooking it imparts that flavor, but not heavily. I was expecting it maybe having a smoky hamhock-like flavor, but it didn’t. You mostly taste the Collard Green, which is how it should be. I’ll give Chef Sean’s Collard Greens 4 SPAM Musubi.
Moving along, let’s sample the Honey-Cilantro Coleslaw…
Another winnah! Winner, winner coleslaw…. oh never mind, that phrase is WAY overused already. lol As simple as it sounds, the Cilantro (a.k.a. Chinese Parsley) adds a fantastic “3rd dimension” to what would have otherwise tasted like any other coleslaw, while providing this refreshing “snap” to it. All I can say is next time you make coleslaw, set aside a small batch and add chopped Cilantro to it. I think you’ll agree with me in thinking “Duh?! Why hasn’t coleslaw been made this way from day ONE!”. I suppose my only complaint with this coleslaw is it’s a bit runny, but that’s really the nature of it when it’s been sitting for a while (as in being served out of a lunchwagon). Yet at least it’s not like eating a glob of mayo’. Chef’s slaw is definitely not over-mayo’d at all. I’ll just leave in saying I’ll give Chef’s Honey-Cilantro Coleslaw 4 SPAM Musubi. Less runny and it would be easy 5.
Finally, as Metromix so proclaims, let’s taste for ourselves whether ‘The Soul Patrol’ makes “Honolulu’s Best Fried Chicken” and are deserving of this very prestigious award…
OK, they’re right. This is the BEST. Metromix, this time you FINALLY got it right. FINALLY! lol Just kidding.
Seriously, while I haven’t had the luxury like they did of trying ten (or more) different places to compare this to, I’ve had some KFC and Zippy’s Chicken in the last couple months, and can easily say this beats them. I won’t say it blows ’em out of the water, as FWIW, I won’t knock how much I love the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs ‘n spices. And FWIW (for what it’s worth), Zippy’s makes a mighty fine “Cardiologist’s Bird” themselves. Especially when combined with their Chili.
The great thing here is that the VERY crispy skin on this Fried Chicken has this unusual way of sticking to the chicken meat beneath it. It doesn’t just pull off so easily as you bite through it. So as you’re eating it, you get a piece of the mega-tasty ‘n “GBD” crispy skin along with the meat beneath it in just about every bite. Not da’ kine where da’ skin pulls off and all you get is plain ‘n oily chicken meat aftah’ dat. You know da’ kine, eh?
Of course if you want to, you can pull the skin off, but if you do that, you’re eating the wrong dish.
Actually I take that back, as assuming Chef is soaking these chicken in Buttermilk, I’m also assuming he uses a bunch of herbs and spices (including Cinnamon?) of his own in that marinade, as even the chicken meat under the skin permeates with flavor. Deep flavor. It doesn’t taste like plain chicken, but a flavored chicken. A really ono one at that!
And even though these Buttermilk Fried Chicken are prefried (not cooked to order) before Chef heads out with the wagon, they’ were still super moist ‘n tender when they arrived at the lunch table. You can just see it in those bite-through photos shown above. And the’re cooked properly and all the way through with no bloody spots. At least all our pieces were perfectly cooked like that.
So yes, I’ll admit it this time anyway. Or until I get a chance myself to try all the other places, Metromix, you’re right. So far as I can tell, ‘The Soul Patrol’ makes “Honolulu’s Best Fried Chicken”. Especially, and I emphasize ESPECIALLY when accompanied with the AMAZING sides this chicken is served with. THAT’s where the magic happens.
I’d say eating The Soul Patrol’s “Southern Sampler Plate” is similar in experience to eating a Hawaiian Luau plate. You know how everything magically ties together when you have your Laulau, Kalua Pig, Chicken Long Rice, Squid Luau, Lomi Salmon, Poke, Raw Crab, Dry Aku, Opihi, Pipikaula, Haupia, Kulolo, Sweet Onion and Poi all together on one dish? It’s the same thing with this. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Honey-Cilantro Coleslaw and “Sweetcorn” Cornbread is that very same “marriage made in heaven” dining experience.
Diner “Saimin Kaukau” E enjoyed his plate so much, that he POLISHED IT…
For that I’m giving Chef Priester’s ‘Soul Patrol’ Southern Sampler Plate with 1 Piece Buttermilk Fried Chicken 5 SPAM Musubi. I was going to give it 4, considering the food wasn’t hot enough, but most lunchwagons suffer that problem, as it’s just the nature of trying to keep food warm without overcooking in their warmers. Not to mention the 10 minute drive it took to reach our office and sit down and eat it.
But when I take into account once again how the wonderful marriage of flavors every dish had as they came together, and how much care he put into each and every one of those dishes, it’s a 5. Add to that the rarity of good ‘ole Southern Soul Cookin’ here on Oahu, and it’s an easy 5. Easy.
The Soul Patrol’s “Sampler Plate” just has that “wow” fact. That “it” factor”. That simply said “Damned this is freekin’ DELICIOUS!” factor! I said the same thing about Chef Priester’s dishes when he was the Executive Chef at Top of Waikiki, and while he may not be at the Top of Waikiki anymore, he’s still at the top of his game… now with more SOUL than ever!
First impression? I’d EASILY say ‘The Soul Patrol’ by Chef Sean Priester is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
The Soul Patrol by Chef Sean Priester
Lunch wagon currently operates (as of March 2010) on Kawaiahao Street
between Cooke and South streets,
Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Chef Priester also operates as Pacific Soul Cuisine at Manoa Marketplace
on Sundays from 8 a.m.–1 p.m, Blaisdell Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays,
4–7 p.m. and Kapiolani Community College and Kailua farmers’ markets once a month.
Reach Chef Sean Priester at 808-542-8749 or follow him on Twitter at: PacificSoul
Or visit his website at www.ChefSeanPriester.com
The Tasty Island rating (first impression):
(5) Superb. Worthy of repeat visits or purchases. (Broke Da’ Mout’!)
#10) The Pastele Shop
#9) KJ’s Local Grindz
#8) Tanioka’s Seafood & Catering
#7) St. Louis Drive Inn
#5) Queen’s BBQ
#4) Max’s of Manila
#3) Ray’s Cafe
#1) Pacific Soul (The Soul Patrol)
Metromix says: “Sean Priester’s chicken closely edged out Nolbunae because it had stronger flavor and did exciting, memorable things to our tongue. Looks like the secret ingredient in fabulous fried chicken must be cinnamon, based on the top two.”
Now if they only tried Bac Nam’s Stuffed Chicken Wings. That’s a tough one to beat, although it wouldn’t be fair, as that’s a sort of different “animal” if you will.
Finally, here’s a (stitched) panoramic photo of Maunalua Bay taken last weekend near “China Walls” in Portlock (Hawaii Kai)…