An Appetizing Ambiance At Windward Mall

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 22, 2010
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Valerie Garcia and Joey Castaneda

The last time I went to Windward Mall I remember thinking how sad the food court looked. A narrow, fluorescent-lit corridor was home to about eight food vendors, and there was nothing about the food or ambiance that made me want to return.

Fast-forward several years, and I’m amazed at the transformation. Gone is the shabby food corridor with its outdated signage and bright lights. In its place is the 21st century Pa’ina Ko’olau Food Court and more than 25 restaurants and food outlets.

“People are shocked - and pleasantly surprised - when they see the renovations,” says Windward Mall marketing manager Alex Kirley. “We are thrilled with the response from shoppers who love the food court and restaurants.”

Up on the second floor, Ben and Jerry’s store offers gourmet ice cream and, according to co-owner Robert Yackley, the best milk shakes on the planet. “We use great, fresh ingredients, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream,” he enthuses. “What could be better than that? “

Other national names include Ruby Tuesday, Arby’s and Papa John’s, and there’s even a reason to tempt sports-mad family members to visit the mall. “We have eight digital television screens with select news, sports and entertainment programs,” says Kirley, “and, in partnership with Oceanic Time Warner Cable, the mall is a free Road Runner Speed Zone where we are showing all University of Hawaii Warrior Football pay-per-view games.” Rainbow Wahine Volleyball and Men’s Basketball PPV games will be screened, too.

I had lunch at the newly opened Ono Cheese Steak, keen to see if the hype about the marginally addictive, authentic Philly sandwiches was true.

Joey Castaneda is the owner, along with wife Lori and niece Valerie Garcia. They opened their first Ono Cheese Steak in 2005 on Kuhio Avenue and that one continues to bustles 24 hours a day.

I asked Castaneda what it is that makes a Philly cheese-steak stand out among impostors.

“We only use Amoroso’s rolls and fly them in from Philadelphia,” he says.

Amoroso is a Philadelphia bakery that’s been making Philly sandwich rolls for more than 100 years.

I took a traditional route and opted for sirloin steak, American cheese and caramelized onions on my Amoroso roll, but you can pile on any number of sides. A small sandwich is about 6 inches long, and the bread - soft, floury and with enough texture not to disintegrate under the weight of its meaty ingredients - really is very good. I ate the entire roll, mopping up the steak sauce and mushrooms - there’s something about the bread that makes you want to savor every last bite.

For those with larger appetites, order the gargantuan 16-ounce sandwich with steak, chicken, mushrooms, roasted garlic, bacon, onions and spinach. There are vegetarian options, too, and you can pretty much make your own combination to order.

Don’t bother asking to change the bread, though. Castaneda is a stickler for authenticity. “I’ll change the meat, I’ll even change the cheese,” he says, “but if I change the bread, then it’s not an original Philly cheese-steak.”

Happy eating!

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