CHICAGO - Hawaiian food isn't exactly well-known in Chicago. Outside of the growing number of poke stands in town, the typical "plate lunch" is lesser known.
Our Hungry Hound says a new plate lunch spot in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood does something few of its customers even realize. That is, make outstanding banana bread.
There are only a handful of stools inside aloha wagon. And the menu focuses on the hearty protein-laden dishes that can sustain a worker through the afternoon.
But it's their two desserts that caught my eye, and when i asked if they'd show me how one of them is made, they said, sure thing.
The small menu at Aloha Wagon - a sliver of a space at the intersection of Ogden and Western Avenues - is based on the owners' experience running a food truck in Hawaii. That means plate lunches with macaroni salad and rice, and Spam.
"Spam is very important in Hawaii. We do a Spam musubi here. We have a brick of rice, a little bit of teriyaki sauce grilled Spam and nori," said co-owner Rebeca Romo.
But one of the best things I ate here was the banana bread.
"In Hawaii there's a lot of people that love their sweets. So the banana bread was one of their favorites over there and it seems to be a favorite here in Chicago."
Romo begins by peeling bananas and adding them to a mixing bowl, where she blends them up, then adds buttermilk and incorporates that as well. After a little bit of cinnamon is whipped in, the mixture is poured out and the bowl is cleaned.
A few tablespoons of butter get creamed up with sugar - those have to be blended with the stand mixer's paddle - then Romo adds three eggs and finally, the banana-buttermilk mixture, getting everything fully incorporated. Once the wet ingredients have been completely combined, she adds her flour, as well as baking soda and baking powder; at this point, she uses a spatula to gently mix and prevent the flour from going everywhere, then she finishes it off with the stand mixer.
When the batter is even, she pours it into a baking dish, and that's it. The banana bread is removed from the oven when a toothpick can be inserted and comes out clean. She slices it thick and if you're lucky, you'll get it served warm.
Another favorite here are the Aloha Bars - simply pineapple-coconut cheesecake - but either dessert is a worthy ending to a hearty Hawaiian plate lunch. Romo says there are no secret ingredients.
"Having a simple, good recipe is the best way to go. People like simple and they like delicious and that's what it is," she said.
In Steve's Extra Course, he talks about the Aloha Wagon's Chicken Katsu, which is sort of like a chicken schnitzel.
Extra Course: Chicken Katsu at Aloha Wagon
1247 S. Western Ave.