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First Byte: Paul’s Poppers

The name alone certainly has a catchy “pop” by the way it sounds, where as you see in a band across the logo, Paul’s Poppers are “Premium Hand Folded Wontons”, with their catch phrase slogan being “They’re won of a kind!”.

To better explain the concept, “Paul’s Poppers are crispy fried wontons that are hand-folded, and filled with unique cool fillings that represent Hawaii’s diverse culinary background”, proudly proclaims part owner Paul Park.

Looking at the various signs and menus in the establishment, they seem to target the market of “fusion” Wontons more as pupus ideal for parties, being that they’re fried finger food.

The concept of a “fusion” wonton can only be limited to one’s imagination and culinary knowledge, as there’s so many possibilities of what to fill them with, way to cook them, coat them, how to serve them and what to dip them in. Really, the list as part of a group discussion could go on and on and on… and we’ll get to that prior to wrapping this review up!

Even Paul says they’ve done plenty of experimenting, yet for consistency and the reality of running a business, as of our recent visit, their daily menu currently includes 7 “Popper” flavors: Cheeseburger, Pork/Jalapeno/Cheddar, Turkey/Jalapeno/Cheddar, Pepperoni Pizza, Spinach & Artichoke, Turkey & Mild Cheddar and Caprese.

Hmm…. it looks like you’re better off getting a half-dozen (6) of your choice of Popper flavors for $5, than the fixed “Mixed Fryers Sampler, where you get one less at 5 for $6.

Along with their signature wonton “Poppers”, they also offer a few plate lunch choices, along with catering service. Here’s the entire menu (<– that link will download the pdf version)…

Following are photos of the plate lunch selections they have posted by the takeout counter…

“The Goodness” is referring to their house brown gravy, which they pour over the fries. Personally, I’d request the gravy be served in a separate container, as the fries will certainly become soggy by the time I sit down to eat. Especially considering this place is for the most part a take-out operation, with just 2 small tables in the service are to sit at.

To which I must note, with their recent grand opening this past June, Paul’s Poppers has taken the spot where Grant’s Grill Mandoo Express formerly occupied in the street level corner of King’s Gate Plaza at the corner of Dillingham and King.

Drink selections (they don’t sell cigarettes; a customer had left that there)…

Meet the folks behind Paul’s Poppers…

Left to right: Edward, Kellsie (Paul’s girlfriend) and Paul

A short trip back to the office and getting to the grindz, on this “first byte” visit, I ordered a half dozen “Poppers”, choosing one of each flavor, sans the Turkey & Mild Cheddar…

Rewind a tad back to how they’re packed for takeout, they’re placed in non-labeled, generic small brown paper sacks…

While certainly thinking “green”, as well is ideal for holding deep-fried food, my only problem with this, are these small unlabeled paper sacks lack identity and substance. Where you walk out thinking “is this all I came here for?”. They’re still new, so hopefully they’ll at least invest in a rubber stamp with their “Paul’s Poppers” logo on it to label the bags.

Here, (with the magic of Photoshop) this looks much better!…

Of course color labels would be costly, with the logo applied in either black or red with a rubber stamp being much more practical.

Another suggestion I feel strongly about is that they also need to identify the poppers themselves so you know what flavor is what.

As it stands, as Forrest Gump’s famous saying goes, “My mama always said ‘life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well that’s pretty much the deal here, as currently it’s a guessing game of fate, where if you order a variety of flavors per ticket like we did, they’re packed to go all mixed in one bag and look identical… like a box of chocolates.

One way to suggest identifying them, is to use the Chinese dim sum colored food dye dot method like Chun Wah Kam does with their wide variety of Manapua flavors…

Chun Wah Kam @ Kapolei – Steamed Char Siu Manapua (no dots) and BBQ Chicken Manapua (2 dots)

If they were to use this ID method, the Poppers would look something like this (don’t mind the crude Photoshop job)

Employing this Dim Sum colored dye suggestion, they’ll also need to provide a flavor ID legend printed on a small slip of paper placed in each bag for customer reference when they reach their destination to eat them. Here’s an example:

Paul’s Poppers Flavors
• Cheeseburger
•• Pork/Jalapeno/Cheddar
••• Turkey/Jalapeno/Cheddar
Pepperoni Pizza
•• Spinach & Artichoke
••• Turkey & Mild Cheddar

How you figgah, would work eh?

Another way would be to color the wonton wrappers with a different tint for each flavor, which speaking of Chun Wah Kam, that’s who they source their wonton wrappers from. Or, perhaps, wrap and fold each different flavor a slightly different way.

Food for thought.

Moving along, let’s have a closer look at the Poppers…

The “okole” (bottomside) of a Popper lol…

OK, let’s play “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe” and choose one to try first…

Ah, the first I bite into is the Cheeseburger flavor, which depending on your opinion of them, Kellsie told us this one tastes “sort of like a McDonald’s Cheeseburger”. And she was right, as that’s pretty much what it tasted like, to the best of my memory of what a McDonald’s Cheeseburger tastes like. The deep fried crispy wonton certanly adds an interesting added dimension of texture and flavor to the ground beef and cheese mixture. My only problem with both this and the other meat and cheese-based Popper flavors, is that the combination of the meat and cheese when mixed together comes out tasting sort of “Hamburger Helper’ish”.

What might turn out better is if they roll the ground beef, pork, turkey or whatever meat it is into its own ball. Don’t mix the cheese into the ground meat, but place the cheese on the bottom, top or side of the ground meat when wrapping it up in the wonton.

Let’s try the next “Mystery Popper” flavor…

Hmmm, I really couldn’t tell whether this was the Pork, Jalapeno and Cheddar or Turkey, Jalapeno and Cheddar Popper I ordered, as like the Cheeseburger flavor, it appears and tastes like they mix the cheese and Jalapeno into the ground meat. So once again it comes across like Hamburger Helper with spicy twist from the Jalapeno, all wrapped up in a fried wonton.

Don’t get me wrong, as Hamburger Helper can be mighty tasty, depending which one you get, and these meat ‘n cheese filled wontons certainly pop with flavor. It just needs to be defined and refined a bit.

Like the Cheeseburger, I would suggest they try rolling the ground pork into its own ball, with the cheese separate, and instead of chopping the Jalapeno so small so they can mix it in, leave it a larger piece, so that when you bite into it, you really get that “kick”. That’s what I mean by “defined”.

As is now, I give Paul’s Pork, Jalapeno and Cheddar Popper 2 SPAM Musubi (good).

Let’s see which “Mystery Popper” we bite into next….

Ahh, Pepperoni Pizza. Now we have a slight consistency issue, as, take notice to the void pocket of space in there, where as a fellow diner who ordered the same thing had one that was packed full with Pepperoni Pizza filling…

Flavor wise, as expected, it tasted pretty much like a deep fried Pizza Pocket. Kids would definitely eat this stuff up. I didn’t really get the pepperoni part though, as mine tasted predominantly like a chunky, nicely seasoned and flavorful marinara sauce. However Diner AA claims she could taste pepperoni in hers. Perhaps they missed a slice in my filling scoop. 3 SPAM Musubi as stands, where if they put more Pepperoni and/or add some melting Mozzarella in there, the Pepperoni Pizza Popper could easily be a 4 or 5 SPAM Musubi’er.

Three down, three more to go…

Yum! This one’s the Spinach & Artichoke flavor. While I didn’t ask, my guess is the filling might be the extremely addicting Stonemill Kitchen Spinach & Artichoke Dip sold at Costo, as it tasted exactly like that brand. Add that to a deep-fried wonton and you KNOW that’s gonna’ rock, and it does. A decadently oozin’ ‘n shmoozin’ 4 SPAM Musubi for the Spinach & Artichoke Popper.

Two more to try…

Like I couldn’t distinguish the first version of this, I still can’t, tell whether this is either the pork or turkey with Jalapeno and Cheddar Cheese flavor. As explained early, the finely chopped, hot ‘n spicy Jalapeno and rich creaminess of t he melted cheese mixed in the ground pork or turkey masks its otherwise distinguishable flavor. Again, 2 SPAM Musubi “good” for this Pork or Turkey “mystery meat”, Jalapeno & Cheddar Popper.

Last one up…

Delicioso! This one’s the Caprese, which in case you don’t know what that is, it’s an Italian salad (insalata) that’s a simple combination of high quality fresh sliced tomatoes, Mozzarella Cheese, Basil, sea salt and Olive Oil. When you bite into this you really taste all those elements, where personally I would put a little more basil leaves in it, as I’m a basil freak. Only problem with it is that the tomato seemed to have lost most of its mass from water loss and deflated during the deep frying process, indicating the tomato was probably overripe. Still excellent and my other top pick of the bunch, where I give Paul’s Caprese Popper 4 SPAM Musubi (excellent). Salute!

As for the Chun Wah Kam-sourced Wonton wrappers, they’re on the dense and firm side, where if given a choice, I’d rather they be a little lighter and airy. These don’t really bubble up and become light and airy like the Crispy Gau Gee served at a good Chinese restaurant. Perhaps its the temperature or type of cooking oil they use. Dunno.

The bottom line is, there’s no denying deep fried wontons will make a lot of things taste that much better than it already is, and that’s what’s the deal with Paul’s Poppers.

Changing tune a little, Diner E ordered the “Philly Phil” plate, which includes 4 mandoo, 4 popper and “all fried rice”…

I tried Diner E’s Kim Chee Fried Rice and thought it was pretty good, with a slight hint of that smokey flaming wok flavor going on, although I couldn’t really taste Kim Chee. Overall, considering the mandoo, poppers and fried rice, Diner E gave his combination plate 2 SPAM Musubi.

Finally, Diner A decided to try their Katsu Moco Plate along with a couple Poppers added on….

Why does the gravy look so dark like dark chocolate? It didn’t look like that in the pictures.

I tried a spoonful of the gravy and agree with Diner A that it tastes like they put Worcestershire sauce in it and/or the gravy was burnt. At least it sort of had that “bottom of the pot” taste going on. Just bad gravy. Bad, bad gravy, that hopefully came from an isolated bad batch, and this isn’t how their “house gravy” is supposed to taste, let alone look like.

Thankfully the Mac Salad was up to plate lunch par, as was the chicken katsu and rice; the latter of which can sometimes be overlooked and messed up as well! Can’t have a good plate lunch without properly cooked rice!

Before we wrap this review up, let’s go back to the Popper concept and brainstorm some ideas and suggestions for Paul to add or experiment with on his Popper flavor menu!

He already mentioned that he’s working on a breakfast line of Poppers, which is a no-brainer. Definitely gotta’ do the SPAM and/or Portuguese Sausage n’ Eggs Popper (make sure to take your meds!). Eggs Benedict Popper? Sure. How about a Waffle Popper, where after it’s fried, you top the crispy wonton wrapper with Coconut Syrup and Mac Nuts? Sounds pretty good!

Here’s a few more Popper suggestions thrown out by all of us as we were eating them:

Pupu and Entree Poppers
• Ahi Poke Popper (oooooooh, I’m so going to try making this one!)
• Kalua Pig and 3-Cheese Popper with Mango Salsa topping (this one too!)
• Balut Popper (just kidding!)
• Saimin Popper (chopped Charsiu pork, Kamaboko and green onion, mixed with fried saimin noodles)
• Banh Mi Vietnamese Popper (ground meat of choice seasoned with Maggi sauce, Do Chua (pickled daikon and carrots), chopped cucumber, mint, basil and cilantro)
• Fish ‘n Chips Poppers (fried wontons filled with whole cut piece of white meat fish fillet, served over bed of fries and Cocktail Sauce or Tartar Sauce)
• 7-Layer TexMex Popper
• Pot Roast Popper
• Chicken Pot Pie Popper

Steamed Poppers
• Cold Ginger Chicken Steamed Popper  (ground chicken filled steamed wontons that are steamed, then chilled, served covered with Chinese Ginger-Cilantro “Pesto” sauce)
• Mahimahi Steamed Popper (Mahimahi fillet piece with ginger, garlic and shoyu, cooked and steamed in a wonton, then served with a drizzle of sizzling sesame oil , Hawaiian salt, fresh cracked pepper, green onion and Chinese Parseley garnish)

Dessert Poppers
• Apple Pie Ala Mode Dessert Popper (apple pie filling & American cheese!)
• Banana Cream Dessert Popper with Cinnamon sprinkles on the Wonton
• Custard Dessert Popper
• Flan Popper

Another variation for fried Wontons would be to put stuff on TOP of it instead of wrapped up in it, like Alan Wong does with these here Kalua Pig & Guacamole Wonton Chip Wedges….

Really, it’s all a simple formula where you take your favorite dish, “86” the starch, and stuff it in or on a fried or steamed wonton and POW!… or er… POP! lol

…and the list of  Popper possibilities can go on and on and on! Where by all means, if you have some creative wonton Popper ideas you’d like to suggest, let’s hear it!

I also would like to see them offer dipping sauces, as they currently don’t offer any. I’m a “dipping sauce” kinda’ kinda’ guy, especially with fried finger foods such as this, where at the very least, they should have the Thai Mae Ploy Sweet Thai Chili Sauce as one of their default dipping sauce choices. Of course we’re talking added expense, so if they have to add say 25 cents extra for dipping sauce as option on the menu, do it! I’d pay extra for sauce!

As for Ed, Kellsie and Paul, super-duper nice folks, very accommodating and open to personal requests.

The man, the myth, the legend, Paul “Poppers” Park

Summing it up, there’s a few recipes and ingredient resources (the Wontons) that I think need to be tweaked a little to get right, and that brown gravy… sheesh, please let that be just a bad batch. Other than that, Paul’s Poppers is a great concept with a catchy name and plenty of potential, and we wish them great success into the future!

Paul’s Poppers
555 North King Street
Suite 110
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. 351-7583

The Tasty Island rating:

(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)

The Tasty Island related links:
SPAM Spread Wonton Min
SPAM Spread Crispy Wontons
Los Chaparros Jalapeno Stuffed Wontons

P.S. The big move is finally complete and the technical issues have pretty much been resolved in getting The Tasty Island blog functioning properly at its new virtual “beach house” in the cool ‘n hip oceanside town of “HostGatorville“. Here, having moved over the course of the past week from the still cool, yet room-for-upgrades (of their servers) town of “Yahooville“.

I tested the site in its current state on the latest versions of IE and Firefox on PC, Firefox, Safari and Chrome on Mac as well as the default browsers on Android and iPhone, where the site loads quick (much quicker than before!) and displays everything properly on all said platforms.

Personally, I’m quite delighted with the much improved load speed, functionality, simplicity, and overall streamlined look ‘n feel of the site’s updated design at its new home.

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13 thoughts on “First Byte: Paul’s Poppers

  • July 24, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Well this is an area that I am unlikely to visit. But the overall concept is cool. Gravy is really hard to get right. I never have. But a chef should.

    • July 25, 2011 at 6:22 am

      Gravies and sauces are actually a subspecialty in a successful chef’s repertoire… almost like a baker! ‘Sauciers’ specialize in creating sauces, especially in French cuisine, but it could be adapted to almost any cuisine. Hmmm… a saucier making hamburger steak/loco moco gravy? :)

      And the fries with gravy and cheese curds are correctly spelled ‘poutine’ (and pronounced ‘pootine’), President Putin of Russia probably wouldn’t take too kindly to it… ;)

      As they say… anything worthwhile eatin’ in Honolulu is either, illegal, immoral or fattening! And such a guilty pleasure too!

  • July 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Pomai, I like it but he should learn to wrap each filling a different way to show each is different. Is he going to put salsa and avocado in it also?

  • July 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Pomai, is it 1.00 just for one popper(one wonton)? That pretty steep if that the case.which will make people try to create their own at home. Main thing is price should be reasonable for comsumers to try and enjoy and able to make a profit.

    I see him created many different kind sauces to go with poppers later which could be use for other things too. Wonder if he going to make a Samurai popper or a hip hop popper? It just names I don’t know what kind to go with it.

  • July 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Pat, my sister makes a pretty darned good brown gravy using just shoyu, flour and water. Now to get the recipe from her to share here is another story. lol

    Kelike, check out the Kalua Pig and Guacamole Wonton Wedges created by Alan Wong that I just added to the post. You might wanna’ try that one, as it’s so simple, yet really, really ONO!

    Amy, affirmative @ $1/Popper. I say up the ante by adding more exotic ingredients in the Popper fillings and charge each accordingly, ala Hank’s Haute Dogs.Perhaps a “Lobster Popper”, “Foie Gras Popper” and a “Portobello Mushroom & Truffle Oil Popper”! How about an “Opihi Popper”?

    I’m still definitely gonna’ try making an “Ahi Poke Popper”, “Kalua Pig and 3-Cheese Popper topped with Mango Salsa” and “Banh Mi Popper”, which of course will blog about it here when the time comes.

    • July 31, 2011 at 11:25 am

      I call my poke won ton “pokemans”, derived from poke and man(doo). Great way to use leftover poke.

      • July 31, 2011 at 11:37 am

        Meggie, love it! Great play on the name. After all fried Mandoo and Wontons are pretty much the same, just filled and folded differently, right?

        You should try making steamed “Pokemans”. I bet that’d be ono too!

        You also gotta’ try the panko-fried poke at Monarch Seafoods on Kalihi Street, just a door mauka of Chun Wah Kam. BROKE DA’ MOUT’, especially when dipped in their equally onolicious house salad dressing. Now I want some poke!

  • July 25, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Another place to try out next time I’m in Honolulu… they’re gonna hafta roll me onto the ‘Island Hopper’ back to Kwajalein!

  • July 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    The food looks really good, but I agree with one of the statements made above. I know poutine is not something celebrated here in the U.S, but I tried it for the first time last year at a food cart in Portland and it was quite good. But it is spelled “poutine”, and I believe Hawai’i is diverse enough to handle another “obscure” word. Just write a pronunciation right below: “poo-teen”. Spam poutine musubi? Boom, someone start that up.

  • July 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Pomai, Paul got to research on where to get price on ingredients for price is indeed a bit high just for small size wonton. People see it he try to profit more than the cost to make it . Make more profit than he should for it. Dim sum shops charge so much for they do not want to be greedy and lose customers. They still make money and get ingredients at good cost to make it.

    Paul must realize customers know the cost look like he try to take more than he surpose to.

  • July 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Paul should lower price for fried wonton is not new at all. So many people able to make it at home with all kind of fillings. The other blogger said is indeed right he must brought ingredients retail price at supermarket to charge that high.

  • July 28, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Richard & Arron, as “Da Kine” has illustrated in his/her comments about Palace, you can indeed get locally-made noodles SUPER CHEAP by going direct to the manufacturer, as he/she has done at Eagle Noodle Factory. It really is amazing how cheap the stuff sells for even at full retail price! I mean, you can get a tray of fresh Wonton Pi for about $2 at any local grocery store, which has about 50 wonton wrappers, making that 4 cents a wrapper retail price, so imagine wholesale. Add a teaspoon of filling, which probably costs no more than 15 cents (depending what’s in it), along with misc. overhead expense, and total house cost of each wonton can’t run no more than 25 cents each on average. That’s my “guesstimate”.

    Nate, why so? Price? Location? Concept? Menu? Just as I’ve done in this post, surely many of his other customers, family and friends continue to offer feedback and suggestions for improvement. I really think he should do some steamed and baked wonton variations to draw in the health-conscious crowd, which you certainly don’t want to alienate by being known exclusively as a deep-fried joint.

    John Book, how’s this for a play on that word: I’m glad I didn’t try the “Putin” Fries, Cheese ‘n Gravy on this particular visit, as I felt really sorry about that bad, bad gravy… “poutine”. (poor thing). lol In all seriousness though, hopefully if Paul read this review, he’s now paying special attention to the all-important gravy coming outta’ the kitchen.


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