Big Isle grinds take center stage


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The lava flows, waterfalls and Hawaiian culture tend to draw all the attention when national media sources focus on East Hawaii.

But at least one Hilo couple has proven it would be a mistake to overlook the ono grinds.

James Rubio, 32, and his wife, Beverly, 31, have been blogging about East Hawaii’s treasures of the palate since food blogs first started to gain in popularity in 2005. Self professed “foodies,” the pair love to dine out at area eateries and document the occasion with plenty of pictures.

“I’m sure I annoy a lot of my friends on (photo-sharing website) Instagram. It’s nothing but pictures of food,” James Rubio said.

A full-time photographer who recently started his own wedding photography business, Rubio says he’s fallen behind on updating his blog, but he’s still got plenty of material to share with his readers.

“I’ve got a big backlog,” he said. “I’ve just been so busy with the business. But I’ve got tons of pictures.”

Originally, he said, the blog began as a tribute to loco mocos, the deceptively simple combination of white rice, gravy, hamburger patty, and a fried egg. A native of Oahu, Rubio said the Big Island has an incredible variety of loco mocos that can’t be equaled.

“They’re my passion,” he said. “When I moved to Hilo, I started eating them more. There’s lots more here than on Oahu.”

From there, the site evolved to a celebration of all the local-style food on the island, known as BigIslandGrinds.com.

Among the fans of the Rubios’ blog is the Public Broadcasting System, which sent a camera crew to the Big Island a few years ago to invite the couple on a food-finding mission. The resulting program, “Breakfast Special 2: Revenge of the Omelets,” will premiere on PBS Hawaii on tonight at 8 p.m.

The special takes the viewer from Connecticut, to North Carolina, Pittsburgh, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, and Detroit before heading to Hawaii Island to sample the local breakfast delicacies.

When the producers of the show contacted Rubio to ask for his help in finding the best places to get breakfast on Hawaii Island, the blogger didn’t have to think long to come up with the first stop.

“Ken’s House of Pancakes,” he said. “That’s the best loco moco.”

From there, the program heads to Baker Tom’s in Papaikou for a sampling of his famous malasadas. Since the recording of the program, Baker Tom has relocated his business to the old Uncle Billy’s restaurant on Banyan Drive.

Last but not least, the Rubios introduced the PBS crew to Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea, where “the portions are huge, but that’s not even the best part,” James Rubio said. “The food is just great, homestyle food. And the atmosphere, with the big, U-shaped table everyone can sit at together.”

Rubio added that he was excited to learn that Hawaiian Style’s new Hilo location opened this week, meaning he’ll get to soak up more of the atmosphere and good food without the long drive.

One of the things the PBS show tries to focus on is the environment and experience at each eatery, said Pittsburgh-based producer Rick Sebak.

“We never claim to have found the best breakfast spots,” he said, “just some really good ones where the early morning camaraderie is as important as the scrambled eggs. As in the first breakfast special, we wanted to find places where you would feel justified if you had to stand in a line to get a seat.”

Rubio says the experience of being part of the show was enjoyable, if a bit uncomfortable.

“I’m really introverted and shy,” he said. “I like hiding behind my blog. I didn’t really want to do it at first, but he (Sebak) is pretty convincing. I probably look really nervous on it.”

When asked to describe what he thinks makes Hawaii Island cuisine so special, Rubio said it’s the combination of comfort-food mixed with a wide variety of foreign influences.

“Everybody here wants really good and simple food … Nothing pretentious. Comfort foods from all over the world.”

The hour-long breakfast special will air on PBS Hawaii:

• Dec. 25, 8 p.m.

• Dec. 31, 9 p.m.

• Jan. 1, 11 a.m.

For more information, visit pbs.org.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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