A Passion For Fish Makes Poke Stop A Go
Wednesday - January 05, 2011
I first met Elmer Guzman more than a decade ago. He was back from New Orleans, where he’d spent time working as sous chef at Emeril Lagasse’s eponymous restaurant, and was honing his skills and his own kind of local, Cajun-inspired cuisine at Sam Choy’s restaurant on Kapahulu.
We both authored cookbooks at the same time, each writing about things we were involved in - reef fishing for Elmer, tailgating for me - and so it made perfect sense that our joint book signings would include in-store “tailgates,” where Elmer cooked fish, his wife Samantha handed out autographed books and we both talked about food.
Some days we couldn’t sign the copies fast enough, and I hope that if I ever get around to doing another book, Elmer will come join me for the fun.
He’ll most likely be too busy, though. Since those early days he’s established his niche as the go-to seafood chef.
Opening Poke Stop - first in Waipahu and then in Mililani Mauka - gave Elmer a venue to serve up the kind of food he loves best. It’s been a huge recipe for success, with much of the popularity of the stores coming from the fact that Elmer has managed to infuse his staff with his own passion for fish - and for friendly service.
“We just want to offer fresh seafood, beautiful plate lunches and moderate prices - the kind of food you’ll find in nice restaurants, but at plate lunch-kind of prices,” he says.
Enter Poke Stop and the first things you’ll see are large refrigerators filled with poke, sashimi and Elmer’s daily specials. A menu of high-quality plate lunch-style dishes is offered daily, with selections that change seasonally and depend on availability at the fish auction. A big seller this holiday season has been whole, stuffed fish, and if you’re lucky, Elmer still might have some uhu stuffed local style with onions and lup cheong available.
Most popular among the dozens of daily specials is the Deconstructed Sushi Bowl (blackened ahi sashimi, creamy ahi, sesame tako, tobiko, ginger and Asian shrimp over sushi rice), and the Executive Chef Bento (kalbi short ribs, jumbo garlic shrimp, garlic island fish and poke of choice). There’s a fabulous selection of poke platters and hot fish dishes - a current favorite from the plate lunch menu is Macadamia Nut-Crusted Mahimahi with a Coconut Ginger Cream Sauce and Sweet Chili Drizzle. I bought a couple of fried soft-shell crab sandwiches on a recent trip, and they were as good as any I’ve tasted.
But surprisingly the biggest hit in recent years at Poke Stop doesn’t come from the ocean.
“Believe it or not, the eggplant fries are the biggest seller,” says Elmer. “We do a nice batter, serve it with a remoulade and it flies off the shelf,” he says with a grin. “We’ve always wanted to set trends, not follow them.”
And that’s partly what makes Poke Stop such a joy to visit. There’s fresh local fish served in dozens of ways in a casual, friendly environment - all kicked up with a fistful of Cajun spice.
“It’s not an easy business,” says the shoreline chef, “but I had some great teachers.”
* Waipahu Town Center 676-8100
* 95-1840 Meheula Pky., Mililani 626-3400
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