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First Byte: Apple Tree Cafe

Apple Tree Cafe is a sort of Loulen’s Restaurant, reinvented.

Owner and Chef Luis Butay, Jr. remains at the helm, bringing decades of industry experience to the kitchen. His early years began in Waikiki hotels, working his way up to Sous Chef at the Hawaiian Regent (now Waikiki Marriot), Banquet Chef at Sheraton Hotel Waikiki, and Executive Chef of the Oceania Floating Restaurant (remember that?!).

He then went on to become Executive Chef for Liberty House, including opening their popular in-store restaurants at Ala Moana known as Hackfelds on the first floor, Garden Courte on the 3rd floor and Gazebo on the 4th floor (I think I got that right). After about 8 years at Liberty House, in 1990 he then went on to run his gourmet buffet restaurant called Crown Court on the top floor of Duty Free Waikiki, where he’d spend almost 20 years of his career. Then in 2005 Chef Butay moved his energy to his own property in the heart of Kapalama, Kalihi at Loulen’s Courte to open Loulen’s Restaurant, specializing in Filipino and Continental cuisine. Fast-forward to December 2013, we have Apple Tree Cafe, with the main menu focused on American comfort food classics.

Without further ado, let’s have a look around Apple Tree Cafe.

A note with the raised area above, according to John Butay, Chef Butay’s son, on Friday and Saturday night they convert there to a stage for their live bands, which he claims the place is PACKED on those weekend nights. With that, there’s a full bar, where John is the house bartender…

You can kind of see Chef Butay tending to business in the kitchen…

Let’s have a look at the menu…

Interestingly, this isn’t a full service restaurant, but semi-self-serve. You order at the front, then the food is brought to your table. Working the front is Chef Butay’s son, John, a super friendly guy!…

Following is a collection of Apple Tree Cafe’s menu photos from their website.

Now let’s check out our order on this “first byte” visit, starting with Diner E’s Cheese Steak Sandwich…

Cheese Steak Sandwich: Grilled Thinly Sliced of Roast Beef, Bell Pepper, Onion,
Swiss Cheese and American Cheese. Served with Sweet Potato Fries – $10.95

Diner A’s Monte Cristo…

Monte Cristo: Sandwich En Croute with Ham, Turkey, and Cheese.
Variation of the French Croque Monsieur. Served with Sweet Potato Fries – $9.95

And Diner P’s Mushroom Burger…

Mushroom Burger: 1/2 lb. Patty, Mushrooms, Swiss Cheese, Lettuce, and Tomatoes. Served with Sweet Potato Fries – $10.95

First off, the portions are huge. So much so, both Diner E and myself could only eat half our plate, taking the rest back to the office for a “second wind session”.

Let’s have a closer, personal look at Diner E’s Cheese Steak Sandwich…

And? Diner E shared some to sample, and I must say, the thinly-siced roast beef was very juicy, tender, and tasty, being well-seasoned with just the right amount of salt ‘n pepper. The generous helping of sauteed onions and melted American and Swiss Cheese added plenty of “oomph”, while the hearty, crusty roll held up well to its juicy, meaty ‘n cheesy filling.

I’m by no means a Philly Cheese expert, however if you asked me where this ranks in that genre, I’d give it 4 out 5 stars.

Next let’s sample Diner E’s Monte Cristo…

As the description states, the Monte Cristo is a variation of the French Croque Monsieur. You can also think of it as a hybrid Cordon Bleu meets French Toast. This comes accompanied with Cranberry and Strawberry Jelly…

And? Yum! It’s just a total explosion of all said flavors you see going on, added to the fact the whole thing is DEEP-FRIED. Which turned out being the only problem for Diner A, as he said after several bites, he noticed the oil it was deep-fried in tasted spent and old. Incredibly, he still finished the entire thing, however it did leave a funky after-taste. Easy enough fix by changing the oil, which otherwise this Monte Cristo is MO-NEY!

Finally let’s check out my Mushroom Burger….

According to Chef Butay, he sautes the White button mushrooms in Marsala Wine and clarified butter….

I should have asked for “extra” mushrooms. He he.

Let’s sample…

And? Just like the Cheese Steak Sandwich, super-duper tasty beef, seasoned well with salt ‘n pepper, an important step frequently overlooked in many restaurant kitchens! The massive 1/2-pound hand-pattied all-beef patty is cooked on a flattop, which you know I usually prefer an open flame broiler, however you know what? It didn’t skip char-grilled beat, having great “crustification” on the outside, while being cooked to just square medium in the very center. About a minute longer on the griddle and it would’ve been overcooked, yet in this case, I think it was just about perfect for most people’s doneness preferences.

I would have liked more swiss cheese and mushrooms, yet as it arrived, was just fine. The large, fresh, soft ‘n supple sesame bun was lightly buttered and toasted, which earns huge bonus burger points in my book!

Reason why I ordered the Mushroom Burger is that Hackfelds in Liberty House was known for that, and I remember it. And Apple Tree Cafe continues the great burger tradition from Hackfelds with Chef Butay at the helm.

Let’s try the Sweet Potato Fries, served with their house Spicy BBQ Aioli Sauce…

Pretty much your standard restaurant Sweet Potato Fries, being they come local distributors who sell the same product all over. With that, excellent battered sweet potato flavor, however they were just a tad soggy, likely from the overused oil. Still, redemption was found in that most excellent spicy BBQ Aioli Sauce, which added a nice “gourmet” touch vs. if it has been served with ketchup.

You can certainly see Chef Butay’s decades of experience in the food & beverage industry just with his presentation, not to mention the the fantastic flavors he imparts in each dish.

Along with the live bands that perform every Friday and Saturday evening. Apple Tree Cafe also specializes in a weekend themed buffet for just $13 for adults and $7 for children. Those themes can range from Tex-Mex, to Filipino, to Asian Pacific Rim.

Loulen’s Courte Banquet Hall with 150 guests capacity (shown set-up for church services).

They also do catering, as well as accommodations for private parties and functions, with up to 150 guests capacity in their banquet hall, located downstairs of their massive Loulen’s Courte property.

As for the name, I’m not really too hot about “Apple Tree Cafe”, as it sounds kinda’ generic, like some unknown mainland chain. I really think they should have named it something more local or tropical sounding, like say Mango Tree Cafe or Plumeria Tree Cafe.

Summing it up, Apple Tree Cafe’s dishes were very impressive on our first byte visit, with the overspent oil used to deep fry being the only issue. The service was incredible, being John Butay, the chef’s son is a very personable guy and went out of his way to accommodate us. Of course this was easy, being we were pretty much the only party in the restaurant for most of our visit there. Part of the problem being their location is kind of off the beaten path of King Street, and they don’t really have a recognizable name yet, as does say, Liliha Bakery II who just opened on Nimitz.

Even with the oil “issue”, I’m good on giving Apple Tree Cafe a solid 3 SPAM Musubi, confident return visits would be just as delicious if not better. The restaurant is spacious and clean, with lots of parking, prices are very reasonable, portions generous, food is incredible tasty and service comes with a friendly Filipino smile.

Apple Tree Cafe
1125 N. King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 853-2212

Related links:
Apple Tree Cafe – Yelp user reviews


11 thoughts on “First Byte: Apple Tree Cafe

  • July 29, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    Mmm…Monte Cristo! I had my first Monte Cristo sandwich at the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland many years ago. It was also a part of our “All Fried” meal at Cafe Orleans, also in Disneyland. That meal included Pommes Frites for the app, Monte Cristo for entree, and beignets for dinner. We also found Monte Cristo’s at the Bennigan’s restaurant chain. I’ve seen them on the menu at other restaurants and sometimes the whole sandwich isn’t deep fried (which I prefer) but grilled on a flatop, one side at a time, but that’s more like a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

  • July 30, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Why did they change the spelling of tobiko to tobico? Same thing? Different?

  • July 30, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    I’ve been to the original Pat’s King of Steaks and Gino’s Steak restaurants in Philadelphia, PA. for their outstanding Philly cheesesteak which set the national standard. Both use thinly cut Delmonico or ribeye steak not roast beef. Pat’s chops his steak on the grill and normally puts Cheez Whiz on the cheesesteak but you can opt out for another kind of cheese and Gino’s leaves his steaks whole and puts whatever cheese you want on the cheesesteak. Pat’s uses partially sliced soft Italian roll for bread and Gino’s uses partially sliced soft Italian roll bread. The amounts of optional toppings at both restaurants are extensive.

    Both Gino’s and Pat’s are super excellent cheesesteaks and it was hard to pick a winner but from where I lived (French-Canadian city) all the non-Italian restaurants served whole thin steaks not chopped and soft Italian rolls giving a nod to the cheesesteak heritage so I would have to give an edge to Gino’s Steaks.

    So not actually trying Apple Tree Café but looking at the excellent photos I understand each chef and restaurant creates their own style but a thick crusty roll cut all the way across so everything can drip out as you are trying to consume it because the steak and cheese is supposed to be juicy not dry and roast beef is not a cheesesteak.

    • July 31, 2014 at 4:20 am

      I’ve only been to Pat’s and had a funny experience (but I’m afraid it’s too off-topic). Boy are those cheesesteak kings GRUMPY. It’s widely accepted in Philly and environs that it’s not a cheesesteak if it’s not on an Amoroso roll. There would be an uprising if they saw one on the sort of roll pictured here.

      • July 31, 2014 at 5:57 am


        By all means, please share that funny off-topic experience about Pat’s, or ANY off-topic tangent, as it taps off the subject at hand. I for one (and Ken would agree) thoroughly enjoy the worldly knowledge you share here! :-)

        I can totally understand Philly Cheesesteak “purists” going into fits about not using the Amoroso roll. I get that way when I see folks butcher Hawaiian food recipes by using wrong ingredients, or leaving out critical ones. Then there’s how you order it: “Cheese Wit”, “Cheese Wit out”. lol

        • August 1, 2014 at 2:58 pm

          The one time we visited South Philly, we decided on Pat’s. I think it’s because we wanted the Cheese Whiz. They have a “hot-to-order” board and we made sure we read it well. We didn’t want to be kicked out of the line! We ordered a Cheesesteak Wit Whiz. Some people think the Wit means you want cheese or not, but it actually means you want or don’t want onions.

  • July 30, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    @ Ken – It’s incredible that Pat’s and Gino’s can afford to use ribeye vs. cross rib roast cuts for their fast food priced cheese steak sandwiches. Still, as I said, if you weren’t gauging Apple Tree Cafe’s Cheese Steak Sandwich against them, you’d likely be just as satisfied with Apple Tree’s take on it.

    I actually was looking for the Au Jus, hoping to convert this into an awesome French Dip. Yet, gosh, don’t even get me started on French Dip! And I KNOW Ken, you’re going to have a word or two on the classic French Dip Sandwich! ;-)

    @ Momona – Regarding spelling it Tobico vs. Tobiko? Well, in all fairness, I’m still perplexed why the Loco Moco is spelled as such. “Technically”, it should be spelled “Local Moke-O”. lol

    @ David – Imagine the culinary possibilities with the basic concept of the Monte Cristo. Oh, like say a “Hawaiian Surf n Turf Monte Cristo”, featuring a thick cut of big island grass-fed filet mignon, filet of Opakapaka, with a ‘Nalo herb-infused Aioli, all deep-fried together in Ani’s Portuguese Sweet Bread, breaded with Tempura Batter, dusted with Furikake, served with a Hawaiian Chili Pepper Ponzu Jelly Sauce… you know… that kinda’ stuff. Whooh!

    • August 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Or a Spam Monte Cristo! Portuguese Sweet Bread, Spam, Turkey, and Cheese! Maybe you don’t even need the Turkey! But battered with Panko definitely!

  • July 31, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Croque Monsieur yum. I prefer Croque Madam with spinach and top with caviar.

  • July 31, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    @ Pomai,

    Actually on the East Coast and in New England when you order a steak sandwich served on a torpedo roll you’ll normally get a reasonable sandwich sized ribeye steak and they serve ribeye as shaved steak. I used to go to my favorite Hilltop Steakhouse in Saugus, MA, a huge restaurant that served 1,800 people an hour (over 7 dining rooms) with a very large commercial meat processing store in the rear, have dinner and then purchase in the meat market a whole beef rib section for around $42 and they would cut and trim it into 17 1½ inch thick ribeye steaks (about $2.50 per steak) and freezer wrap for my trip back to RI in a cooler.

    If I want a knockoff copycat Philly cheesesteak in Honolulu or Waikiki I go to Ono Cheese Steak on Kuhio Ave. They are not Pat’s or Gino’s high quality but they make a good copy that makes the belly happy! I have not had a bad one there yet.

    In Honolulu I understand Rockett’s Philly Cheesesteaks roaming food truck makes a mean Italian style Philly cheese steak but I haven’t caught up with the truck yet! Maybe if I attend the next “Eat the Street” I’ll find them.

    As for roast beef sandwiches ½ mi from my house in RI was Kay’s restaurant. My house property actually abutted the owner’s, Roger Caron, mini-mansion property. His restaurant’s name to area fame was the steak sandwiches and roast beef sandwiches including French dip. You always had to ask for a doggie bag on anything you ordered as everything was above huge and prices were very low!

    @Pomai and h,

    A little off subject but I found all my recipes we were talking about in the 3X5 card recipe box. 3 regular latkes and 1 cheese latke plus 18 other recipes including the original recipe for cheesecake made and served at the Carnegie Deli in midtown New York City. I’ll scan into text and email to Pomai so he can email to h or you can ask to be my friend at makahaken on Facebook and I’ll send them that way.

    • August 1, 2014 at 7:58 am


      Ah, Ono Cheese Steak in Waikiki. I blogged them a few times before…

      Ono Cheese Steak Waikiki
      Ono Cheese Steak Ono Mushroom Cheese Steak

      Ono Cheese Steak Loco Moco

      Yesterday in the Ala Moana Center Food Court I spotted Charley’s Grilled Subs…

      I tried a sample of their Chicken Teriyaki Philly, and it was totally rockin’.


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