I was impressed by the speed with which Spring Hill changed concepts and became Ma’Ono Chicken & Whiskey. Seriously, these motherfuckers turned on a dime: Spring Hill was closed for maybe a couple days while they revamped the menu. Then they unveiled the new concept: all fried chicken, all the time.
This, of course, was a brilliant idea: Spring Hill’s weekly fried chicken dinners on Mondays were perennially sold out. If you’ve got a goose that lays golden eggs, you make that motherfucking goose lay eggs ALL WEEK, not just on Mondays. Which is what they did. Was the change worth it? I wanted to find out for myself, so off we went to Ma’Ono.
We started with an order of brussel sprouts. For $10 we got a plate of roasted brussels sprout halves, caramelized until they were a pleasing mahogany on the cut side, and as vibrantly green as a leprechaun’s jizz on the other side. Accompanying these masterful sprouts were big sautéed slices of apple. The whole thing was shingled on top with savory medallions of thick-cut bacon. The only way this dish could possibly be more autumnal would be if it were garnished with a fallen leaf and a sense of foreboding.
Manapua were $7. For this price we got two of these barbeque pork buns: delicate ivory spheres of pastry filled with finely shredded roast pork. Unlike the usual humbow you get on the street, purchased from some shady dude under a bridge, who glances repeatedly over his shoulders before surreptitiously palming a dimebag of pork buns into your hand, the manapua at Ma’Ono are fucking legit. The dough was airy and foamy, like Gwenyth Paltrow’s thoughts, with a filling of what tasted like real barbequed pork. They were the total opposite of the aforementioned street pork buns, whose gloomy maroon filling usually resembles red Kool Aid mixed with sausage. The only downside to the manapua was the dipping sauce, which was too brassy and tasted like a doorknob with lightning bolts shooting out of it.
A side of grits ($6) was so slick it could convince a carney to give up a giant stuffed Spongebob Squarepants. Seriously, these grits are so smooth and creamy and rich, it would make the most comfortable and also most disturbing waterbed filling ever. I didn’t want to eat these grits as much as I wanted to jump into a giant tub of it and luxuriate as though I were an obscene roman aristocrat. But at least then my elbows wouldn’t be ashy.
A whole fried chicken is $38 and this, of course, is Ma’Ono’s signature dish. It came to the table dismembered into 10 pieces, of course, as fried chicken typically does, because nobody deep fries a whole chicken, despite the fact that it would be cool as fuck. The crust was a rich bronze, which shatters when bitten like the stained glass in a bombed out cathedral. Beneath the chicken’s brittle armor was a succulent and yielding flesh, dripping its juices erotically down your throat with every bite. And that was the white meat. The dark meat practically melted, collapsing into your mouth like a fainting Victorian matron, overwhelmed by a challenge to the social order by some dashing vagabond.
This mind-altering chicken is served with a perfectly serviceable bowl of rice and a little jar of kimchee, fresh-tasting and briny, without a trace of the farty smell that plagues shitty dented cans of lesser kimchee. Also included with your fried chicken purchase are two dipping sauces: a pretty lame honey mustard, and a fucking PRISTINE chili sauce which is sultry and sweet, with an ocher heat that approaches slowly from behind. Just like your mom. Ignore the honey mustard the way I ignore your mom. Go for the chili sauce. I insist.
Dessert was milk chocolate crème ($5), which was basically a fancy name for pudding, which came with a dusting of superfine sugar and some macadamia nuts. We also had a huge wedge of banana cream pie ($7) which had such an intense banana flavor, a monkey would stop throwing his shit at you if you only offered him a slice. A coconut milk shake ($7) was okay, but they made the mistake of putting cubes of tofu or something else that’s leathery and bland and cubular, and I wasn’t very pleased by that at all. I realize that tofu takes on the flavor of whatever it’s in, but the texture is always just too gross to me. After all, I imagine that tofu cubes are what Q-Bert’s jizz probably closely resembles.
This is expensive fried chicken. There’s no sugarcoating it. But like all handcrafted works of art, the food at Ma’Ono is of high quality: the ingredients are exquisite, the preparations skillful. The decision to change Spring Hill’s fine dining format to Ma’Ono’s slightly more casual family-style Hawaiian menu was a gamble, but it’s one that has clearly paid off because the place is fucking PACKED every day now. Make a reservation. And you should mention whether you want to order the fried chicken when you call, because they DO run out. Don’t worry: the Spring Hill classics, like the saimin and the cheeseburger and the popcorn ice cream, are all still on the menu. But the permanent addition of this magnificent chicken to Ma’Ono’s menu is just the icing on this perfect solid gold cake which is garnished with a leprechaun.
Rating: 9 perfect cakes out of 10
Ma’Ono is located at 4437 California Ave SW
For reservations call 206-935-1075