And They Called It Macaroni

Jo McGarry
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Friday - November 18, 2005
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Here’s a word of advice about the newly opened Romano’s Macaroni Grill: Don’t go.

Well, not for another week or two, if you can possibly wait. The highly anticipated opening of this family-style Italian restaurant has led to lines of eager customers that wind around the building, and a wait of up to two hours for a table.

“It’s been incredible,” says regional vice president for Hawaii, Paul Ah Cook. “We knew it was going to be busy, but this has been such a great response. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m., and by 10:30 every morning there’s a line forming around the front of the restaurant.”

Ah Cook and executive chef Michael Longworth are no strangers to the pressure that opening a new restaurant brings: They both were highly involved in the opening of Sam Choy’s restaurants in Honolulu, on the Big Island and in Guam, and Longworth opened Jackie Chan’s.

“We live for the pressure,” laughs Longworth.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill, situated on the new Ho’okipa Terrace at Ala Moana Center, opened Nov. 7. Ostensibly it was a quiet opening. Hundreds of people turned up for lunch the first day, and by Friday the lines around the corner had grown - with no signs of a break.

But is it worth the wait? I couldn’t bring myself to wait two hours to eat anywhere, but as soon as the fuss slows down, I can highly recommend this delightful restaurant. I went last week for lunch and watched the talented and smooth-under-pressure Mike Longworth hard at work in the kitchen. Despite growing lines, rookie staff and all the other “details” that accompany a brand new restaurant opening, Longworth was unflappable. Beneath his trademark baseball cap, he smiled and kept things moving in and out of the kitchen. I ordered some things that are easy to mess up when you’re busy - simple grilled chicken with broccoli and pasta - and they were just perfect. The chicken was moist, and the broccoli was crisp, green and perfectly cooked. Pasta dishes I tried were exceptionally good too, and the menu features everything an “American Italian” restaurant should have. Chicken scaloppini, eggplant Parmesan, rib eye, grilled pork chops, spaghetti and meatballs, and a create-your-own pasta option. The prices are incredibly good - pasta entrees start at $8.99, pizzas are $8.99-$9.99, and an excellent portion of calamari fritti is just $8.50.

The atmosphere is crackling with energy and enthusiasm, and I can think of no place your children will enjoy more. Crayons on the table, and a well-thought-out menu that’s around $6 make it a must for any kind of family dining. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes one of the busiest Romano’s Macaroni Grills in its 220 locations worldwide. It is so perfectly suited to Hawaii. Big portions, great prices and a focus on family.

I love it, and I think you all will too. Just give them a bit of breathing space before you descend and join the throng. You’ve plenty of time. Trust me, its going to be around a while.

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