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Arbutus Lansdowne

News Maryland Baltimore County Arbutus Lansdowne

New restaurant brings the flavor of Hawaii to Arbutus

Those looking for another option to the pizza and Chinese food offerings in the area can try the eclectic flavors of Hawaiian cuisine at a colorful new restaurant on Sulphur Spring Road in Arbutus.

Robert Alcain opened Taste of Aloha, his first restaurant, on Oct. 15.

Alcain said he chose the location because there weren't many restaurants offering unique types of cuisine in the area.

"It's a gamble that's paid off so far," Alcain said.

According to Alcain, the restaurant has already become profitable and he is now looking at opening a second location in Columbia or Ellicott City.

Before becoming his own boss, the Bowie resident worked as a sous chef for three years at Yellowfin, a sushi restaurant in Edgewater.

Now, he serves up Polynesian culinary delights from his home state.

"Coming here to eat is almost like coming to my house," Alcain said. "It's all homemade stuff."

For Nanikala Coke, one of Alcain's customers who grew up in Hawaii, eating at the restaurant is like returning home.

The Mayo resident said she doesn't mind making the drive from her Anne Arundel County home for a meal. She said it's been hard to find a place that serves Hawaiian food in Maryland, but Taste of Aloha stands out from the offerings of sushi restaurants and Hawaiian grill restaurants.

"The kalua pork and curry mac salad is killer," she said with enthusiasm. "And you have to try it with the sticky rice."

Kalua pig, a traditional Hawaiian dish, is described on the menu as pork shoulder wrapped in cabbage leaves and slow cooked with liquid smoke. Alcain said the traditional way of making kalua pig involves burying a whole pig underground and smoking it, but that would be difficult in his Arbutus restaurant's tiny kitchen.

Another menu item, a "teri burger with Spam," is a teriyaki burger with Spam and grilled pineapple that offers a Hawaiian twist on a classic American favorite.

Alcain said he makes all of the sauces and marinades, which were inspired by his travels around the world. He uses locally sourced ingredients and fish from Hawaii when it's possible, the 42-year-old Hawaii native said.

Framed pictures of oceanic fish line the orange walls of the restaurant, while tropical music plays in the background. Baked goods made by his wife, Amy, such as coconut papaya cupcakes, are displayed by the counter.

Alcain, a father of three, said he has been spending 16-hour days at the new restaurant. Because of limited refrigeration space, for example, he has to shop nearly every day, Alcain said.

Right now, he's running the restaurant with help from friends such as Marc Colton, 34, who handles customer service. Colton has been a friend of Alcain's since 2006.

Colton said the restaurant already had a following on the Internet before it opened because Alcain promoted his business on Facebook.

Since then, they've served customers from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and even Chicago, Colton said.

Alcain said he's been reluctant to trust others with the preparation of his food so far. However, he is currently looking to hire a line cook and a prep cook for the restaurant.

"He's not in this business for the money. He just loves the cooking, and he loves the people," Colton said.

The cuisine served at Taste of Aloha is inspired by the food that Alcain grew up eating. His father did most of the cooking in his house, he said.

For those unfamiliar with Hawaiian cuisine, the food is a fusion of the different cultures that have influenced Hawaii such as Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese.

Alcain moved around often growing up, because his father was in the Army. He moved to Alaska at the age of 4, but continued to travel back to the island of Molokai, where he was born, to visit family.

Alcain said he attended culinary school for a time, but never finished because it was too expensive.

"I don't consider myself a chef because I don't have papers," he said, laughing. "People call me chef sometimes though."

Alcain has worked in the restaurant business for 29 years. He worked his way up from a dishwasher after serving in the Army from 1989 to 1992, he said.

His experience working in many different restaurants has given him the opportunity to cook a variety of cuisines, from that of the Pacific Rim to France.

Alcain is also thinking about renovating the tiny kitchen space so that he can cook additional items and store more food.

He'd like to be able to offer dishes such as lau lau, a piece of protein, such as fish or beef, wrapped in taro leaf and steamed. Due to the small size of the kitchen, he's been unable to bring in the large steamer to make the dish, he said.

Mana pua is another Hawaiian favorite he'd like to offer when he's able to expand. It's a type of Hawaiian comfort food that consists of seasoned pork wrapped in dough and steamed or baked.

He's also thinking about buying a food truck, from which he would sell bento lunches to students at the nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus, as well as area residents.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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