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November 20, 2009

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)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:52 AM | | Comments (24)


Boring, RoCK. It was all about food. I couldn't stay awake until the coffee.

More seriously, I think Kona is a very over-rated bean. Like Jamaican Blue Mountain, it is perfectly balanced. This puts me to sleep. I prefer a more wild bean, with sparkling acidity or body thick enough that Ruben's couldn't paint it.

Always entertaining, RoCK!

RoCK, did you really have a five-course-plus-dessert lunch? It makes me full just reading about it! :-)

Captcha: encase proposals

Me; This coffee tastes like mud.
Waiter: Well it was ground this morning.

That mahi mahi looks delicious! And your description of it made my stomach growl.

Nice, descriptive review.

It's obvious that you love food RoCK, and I love you for that.

Great review RoCK!

I personally love Roy's, but I seem to be the only one in my family; eveyone else thinks it is meh. Try the beef short ribs, they are outstanding and that Sunset sushi appetizer RoCK mentioned is terrific.

My boyfriend and I went there last week; he had never been, and he is pretty picky. He wound up getting the crab cake entree because nothing else appealed (it's not on the menu but they will make it if you ask). It was two good sized cakes (looked like a lot of filler, or perhaps just densely packed as RoCK said) with a single baby carrot, a single stalk of broccolini, a snow pea pod, and a piping of mashed potatoes. The cakes were just ok, kind of mushy and there really wasn't a whole lot to eat. My boyfriend said he can now tell people that he ate in one of those restaurants that they show on TV, where it costs a lot and there is nothing to eat.

Robert, this is an excellent review...because it focuses on the food!!

And I expected more negativity from you since Roy's features a fried roll! Isn't that blasphemous to those that love and expect traditional Filipino/Hawaiian cuisine? And how does the food at Roy's compare to well-regarded Filipino/Hawaiian restaurants that you have not been to?

Joking with you...really like your food-centric musings.

Good post about food, RoCK. Mission accomplished.

Thanks for my name, Kenneth.

When we were in Hawaii in July, and my wife loved the banana lumpia that were available although I prefer the fresh, hot, Lilikoi filled Malasadas at Leonards'.

Lilikoi--just the mention of the name makes me want to hula!

Kenneth, don't hassle the talent. Keep it up and I'll strip your NBC page credentials and send you back to Stone Mountain.

I worked at Roy's Baltimore several years back as a server and bartender (in fact, I met my wife through the company when she worked at Roy's Philly), so I can add a little insight.

The crab cake is more of a tourist thing to offer people who are visiting from out of town. The thing about Roy's, Fleming's and any other chain owned by Outback is that they have a great following of tourists from state-to-state who would rather go to a restaurant they know they like than try something new. The crab cake is more for them than it is for someone from Baltimore, so that is why it's offered.

The Mahi-Mahi and Butterfish (Alaskan Black Cod) are both great preps and universally enjoyed. Since it is a chain, Roy's is able to get a steady supply of great seafood up and down the east coast without any problem. A lot of the stuff gets Fed Ex'd almost daily the same day it is caught. As Ruby mentioned, the short rib prep is also great and the Szechuan pork rib appetizer always makes me happy. Roy's Baltimore also got lucky with a talented chef who busts his ass (Rey Eugenio) and isn't afraid to take chances with his food.

When I worked there service was extremely streamlined and efficient, and it was the first place I've worked that used some of their top people as food runners (a great strategy). Since runners are the bridge between kitchen and front-of-house, they can quickly solve any potential issues before the table even sees their food. Tragically, most places use green high school kids or inexperienced bussers which will often lead to miscommunication (with servers and guests), as well as poor plate presentation.

My feeling is that Roy's isn't necessarily going to blow you out of the water every time, but you will rarely leave there feeling like you didn't get your money's worth because the food is interesting and fresh and the service is always good.

That is the first time I've heard things about Roy's that made it sound like someplace I might enjoy eating, Lee.

RoCK - great review, I enjoy Roys, especially the short ribs. Kona is great, but I prefer Brazillian flavor.
Lissa - "body thick enough that Ruben's couldn't paint it" is classic. A COW. Or is it COTW.
RayRay - Terrible joke that I will be repeating!!!

What no one is angry of offended? I can't possibly be in the right blog!

that's OR offended. sorry!

Joyce W., maybe people are beginning to practice gratitude in honor of the coming holiday. Or maybe people are just getting tired of snark.

Captcha with a sense of humor: Vladimir dollops

Amen to that, Dahlink!

More likely, the offended gave up, and went off to their own sandboxes.

Great post. I tend to follow RoCK around the city. My tastes seem to be the same as his (that's supposed to be a compliment!). Glad to also see that someone else enjoys a trip the the Legion! Also in the same line of thought a trip to the Moose, VFW, or if you are out west a Redman will also make for a great lunch! :) (the Boonesboro Legion used to have nickel drafts on wednesdays!)
RoCK is one of those food celebrities that you wish you knew in real life!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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