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Robert goes Hawaiian

Robert of Cross Keys eats better than I do, and I'm the restaurant critic. Here's RoCK with a Free Market Friday guest post that's making me hungry. EL

This week the wife had a business lunch in Harbor East.  She decided to bring me along. I was already off for Veteran’s Day, and a downtown lunch beat my original plans for the day of watching reruns of The Golden Girls on Lifetime.

My normal weekday lunch routine is going to the American Legion in the burbs. (I should say that American Legions are great places to go for lunch.  Where else can you get soup, sandwich and a beer for $4?)  On this day, however, I went to Roy’s, where I got some Hawaiian with a touch of the Philippines and even a little bit of Baltimore.

One of the things I like about Roy’s is that there is some discretion over the menu that allows for the chef to add some unique items to be mixed in with the standard menu items.  At Roy’s Baltimore, the chef is from the Philippines; and you can see some of the culture in the menu....

Philippine food is something you don’t see a lot of in Baltimore, and I don’t think you really see a lot of it in the rest of the country either.  It often seems that presence of different types of Asian cuisine is either feast or famine.  Obviously Chinese food is everywhere, but it is also very common to see Japanese, Thai and to some extent Korean and Vietnamese.   Meanwhile, Indonesian, Malaysian, Cambodian and Philippine foods are seldom if ever seen.

I don’t know enough about it, but it seems to me that Philippine food could be very interesting. As a general rule, countries that have been invaded and occupied often have great food. With so many foreign boots standing on Philippine soil, that country is a prime candidate for tasty fusion fare.   

One of the Philippine items on Roy’s lunch menu is lumpia, which is similar to a spring roll.  The lumpia here is not entirely traditional. It is filled with Kobe beef, which produces a very succulent and meaty flavor.  The richness from the Kobe works well with the crispy roll and the salty black bean sauce, but I think the meaty flavor may be a little much (who said that?).   Yes, I think that some vegetables, maybe sweet onion or hearts of palm, could have balanced out the flavors in the lumpia.  

Not all the dishes unique to Roy’s Baltimore location are from the Philippines. All restaurants in Baltimore are seemingly required by law to offer a crab cake, and that means that the only Roy’s to offer a crab cake is the one in Baltimore.

The ubiquitousness of crab cakes in Baltimore is not a good thing, and it is not that I don’t like them.  I just don’t see the need to have them on the menu at a Hawaiian restaurant.  I’m not sure if their inclusion on the menu is due to the demands of locals or tourists, but either way it is pretty lame.  If I lived in the Carolinas, I wouldn't want BBQ served everywhere.  If I lived in Maine, I wouldn’t need to see lobster offered all the time.

The crab cake at Roy’s is labeled as classic Baltimore, but I’m not sure how.  It's not the standard mixture of mayo, mustard and Old Bay; rather there is a heavy dose of fresh herbs and an accompanying sesame beurre blanc sauce.  Not all crab cakes have to be traditional, but the herbs and sesame flavors overwhelmed the crab in this recipe.  Another problem was that the mixture was overhandled and packed tightly, which diminished the sweet flavor and moist texture of the crab meat.       

A bridge between the unique items at the Baltimore location and the standard Roy’s menu is the bento box.   A lot of the Roy’s have bento boxes, but their contents change from each location. The box I had was a nice sampling of shrimp and vegetable tempura, Ahi tuna poke, Dynamite Snow Crab Roll and salad.  Outside of the poke, which is wonderful mixture of raw tuna, avocado, wasabi sour cream and soy sauce, I’m not sure how many of these items I would order a la carte, but they worked well together.     

From the standard Roy’s menu, I tried the Sunrise at Haleakala, which is a tempura roll filled with tuna, hamachi, salmon, avocado and asparagus with togarashi butter.  This roll is well constructed.  What I liked best was that it was a tempura roll that managed a crispy outside but a raw inside.  Normally the fish ends up getting cooked or kind of cooked along with everything else.

Another standard I had was the macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi, which along with the butterfish is probably the best thing on the menu.  A tender filet of mahi mahi cooked to medium with a buttery, salty, crunchy coating of macadamia nuts. I don’t know if it gets any better.

I stick with macadamia nuts for dessert with the macadamia nut tart with vanilla ice cream.  I know the favorite dessert at Roy’s is a chocolate lava cake, but I can’t understand why people would opt for that overly sweet, goopy concoction when they could have a tart loaded with macadamia nuts instead.      

On the beverage side I go with Kona coffee in two different ways.   I finished the meal with a few cups of Kona coffee, which were smooth and rich. I started, however, with a few bottles of Kona coffee in the form of Pipeline Porter, which is made with it.  I don’t normally drink a lot of porters, as I find them heavy and bitter, but I enjoyed the coffee flavor and aroma of this brew.  

I’m going to have to make a suggestion to the Legion to have a Hawaiian lunch special.   Unfortunately, I’m not sure they’d be able to offer macadamia nuts and Kona coffee for $4.  Spam and Hawaiian Punch, however, would probably work at that price point.

(Photo courtesy of Roy's)

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