By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
ushi snobs, take note. Sweet Thunder Local Fusion Sushi is not your classic sushi shop. But foodies who crave an interesting, fresh, local take on the venerable Japanese cuisine, may have found their latest delish discovery.
You may have seen the signs — “Sweet Thunder Sushi” — flashed at passing cars on Hilo’s streets and highways. That’s the advertising campaign, as different in style as the sushi.
Local Fusion Sushi is locally owned and operated by the Cabral family — Dawn, husband Lawrence and 18-year-old daughter, Kristolyn.
“Sweet Thunder” is the name of Lawrence’s race car, but “Local Fusion Sushi” better describes the fare. The decor is mostly purple and penguins, Kristolyn’s design, which brings the family together in the business.
Dawn is the driving force, chef and chief innovator. She owned Sushi To Go near Kawamoto Store on Kilauea Avenue for eight years before burning out and exiting the business.
But jobs were hard to find and her friends urged her to reopen.
“After a year of looking, and being ‘overqualified,’ I invested my money and we opened up the shop,” she said.
This time at Waiakea Villas, where repeated power outages were costing her money, so she moved again to 811 Laukapu St.
“We wanted to have a sushi shop that thinks out of the box, where a non-sushi eater will be able to find something,” Cabral said.
The common ingredient in sushi, after all, is cooked, vinegar rice, or shari. Who said you can’t put katsu on it and find it just as mouth-watering?
Her specialty is spicy ahi poke, though her dishes can include kalua pig, shoyu pork, Portuguese sausage, chorizo and other local favorites. Sushi rules are made to be broken here.
“Local comfort food,” is how Cabral describes it.
Even that trendy fave bacon fits in this menu and customers can concoct their own creations.
“We’re not stationary, not in the box,” Cabral said. “One of our friends — he loves bacon — asked us to put a bacon strip in a California hand roll.” Now it’s named the “Hulko” after their friend.
Come up with something really good and creative and you, too, could have some sushi named for you.
Perhaps Cabral’s most appropriate nod to local style is “larger portions.” Her poke bowl, or chirashi, rice with toppings, for example, weighs in at an average 1.5 pounds.
Cabral buys from local fisherman and local farmers, sticking with the theme.
“When the water is nice, we have opihi,” she said.
She uses Gen-Ji-Mai brown rice, lightly polished to be more appealing than regular brown rice, yet retaining the whole grain nutrients.
“It’s not so fibery,” she said. “People don’t even know it’s brown rice.”
There’s also a “secret menu” of experimental maki sushi that she puts out occasionally to get a reaction. Out of that came “Crossing the Border,” which is nori, sushi rice, taco hamburger, lettuce, tomato cheese and salsa.
“It’s going good, but nobody knows where I moved.” It’s located in a strip of shops facing Lanikaula Street, but the post office insists that its address is 811 Laukapu St. For a really local-style reference, it’s between Sputnik’s and Apria Healthcare, where Dino’s Fishing Tackle used to be.
Local chef Allan Okuda, who is the food service program coordinator and professor at Hawaii Community College, also recently reopened a restaurant of his, Kays LC restaurant in Hilo, where he said Cabral is a regular customer. Okuda hasn’t sampled Cabral’s fare yet, but said, “My kids, the students, they like the sushi there.”
On the Local Sushi Fusion’s walls are fine art photographs by local artists and menus. There’s also the names of everyone who’s successfully completed the “Fusion Challenge.”
Every month, Cabral supports a different local charity by inviting big eaters to test her “Challenge Bowl” — 2 pounds of sushi rice, 1 pound of “very spicy” ahi poke, and four sauces, no beverages, to be downed in 30 minutes. Half the $30 entry fee goes to the nonprofit of the month. Right now, the prize is just “the bragging rights of it all,” and knowing it’s good thing for the community if not your digestion. But she’s working on getting T-shirts designed for the gourmands with the stomach to complete the singular feat.
She’s lining up challengers for the Feb. 23 event to benefit the American Heart Association. She’s looking for local firefighters to sign up in March to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Currently, the names of the only three who finished — out of 18 contestants so far this year — have their names posted on the wall.
“I make them sign a waiver saying they’re crazy, insane,” Cabral said. “One drank the water right out the vase of anthuriums, it was so hot.”
The roadside sign-wavers are “quick response advertising” and have been getting popular with other businesses, too, she said. She has two sign-wavers that vary their locations.
“We saw it on a video, then we saw it in Kona. I thought, we can do this. It was a novelty. Then it caught on. People would come in and say, you’re the ones with the signs!” she said.
Local Fusion Sushi is open Monday through Saturday 10:30 a.m. to “7-ish.” “We do ‘-ish’ very well,” Cabral said. “It’s just a little mom and daughter shop.”
Email Hunter Bishop at hawaiitribune-herald.com.