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REVIEW: Pineapples – At Least They Got the Name Right

June 6, 2014, 1:29 PM HST
* Updated September 8, 12:37 PM
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Nate Gaddis is a former food industry veteran from Hilo.

After a years-long struggle with the county planning department, and a near-total regime change (ditching their former name, menu and management), “Pineapples Fresh Island Cuisine” now packs in the tourists at its open-air dining room on the corners of Mamo Street and Kilauea Avenue.

But despite a well-chosen title and killer location, Pineapples’ attempts at culinary adventure is a rickety roller coaster.

One culprit? A confusing flurry (and slurry) of cream-based sauces and fruity garnish, sprayed Gallagher-style across a large section of the restaurant’s menu.

Not that it’s all bad.

Ali`i mushrooms sautéed in garlic butter: pure bliss. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Ali`i mushrooms sautéed in garlic butter: pure bliss. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

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Our first trip here started on a high note: a generous mound of sliced ali`i mushrooms, sautéed in copious amounts of garlic butter, garnished with ripe tomatoes and Maui onion ($8). Our advice? Order two, with extra bread. Drink wine. Repeat.

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This was followed by Manchego Cheese Puffs with Cilantro Cream ($8). Crispy, but suffering from dairy redundancy. These screamed instead for a tomato or pepper-based pairing to help cut the cheese (forgive us).

Next up was the teriyaki flank steak ($11), which was overcooked, doused in an overly-sweet soy-sugar reduction before being drowned in beurre-blanc, then topped with soggy fried onions and a pineapple salsa. Yikes.

Seared scallops with mango chili butter ($13) were flawless on our first trip (the sweet/spicy sauce treatment actually works here), but not-so-fresh on the next.

Pineapple's seared scallops with mango chili butter ($11). Photo by Nate Gaddis

Pineapple’s seared scallops with mango chili butter ($11). Photo by Nate Gaddis

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As for ambiance, the open-air design of Pineapples’ dining room is entirely appealing.

This assumes of course you’re a fan of people watching (and people watching you right back). The sidewalks are close enough to hand off your sweet potato fries to passers-by (which we don’t recommend, because they’re quite fantastic).

You’ll find those light and airy beauties appearing in Pineapples’ honorable take on “fish and chips.” The batter we had was light and crisp, though it suffered from the choice of an especially oily fish: salmon. The type of fish varies each day, so ask your server what’s in the batter first.

The fries also appear alongside the signature “Pineapple Burger” ($13). A hand-made patty is cooked to order, glazed in teriyaki, then topped with pineapple, ham, and veggie garnishes. Great in theory, but overcooked in our case.

Fish and sweet potato "chips" ($13). Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Fish and sweet potato “chips” ($13). Photo by Nate Gaddis.

A pasta puttanesca special (market price) we had on one trip was stellar: perfectly cooked noodles, with a light and tangy sauce ideal for the clams and fish tucked within.

Our second pasta outing, the “seafood pasta” ($22) had generous helpings of clams, fish and scallops, but came with a pile of overcooked spaghetti noodles, all swimming in enough flavorless cream sauce to disappoint several Italian grandmothers.

Meat cookery doesn’t seem to be a forte here, with our “Ribeye Diablo” ($24) joining the petrified fate of the two beef dishes before it. Although allegedly spice-rubbed, the 8 oz. steak was curiously bland, served alongside lukewarm mashed potatoes, drenched in blue cheese butter sauce.

Kalua pork tacos: a $2 bargain at happy hour. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

Kalua pork tacos: a $2 bargain at happy hour. Photo by Nate Gaddis.

The dessert we tried (haupia over shortbread – a special not on the menu) was forgettable: soggy crust, with an overly-thick coconut pudding that tasted of cornstarch.

But despite the hit-or-miss food quality, our servers, Amy and Kalani, were great.

Eating here can also be a relative bargain: very few dishes exceed $24, while happy hour tacos are a mere two bucks.

Pineapples Island Fresh Cuisine is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Happy hour is at the bar only, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Address: 332 Keawe Street, Hilo, Hawaii 96720  Click here for directions.
Phone: (808) 238-5324   Website: www.pineappleshilo.com

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