“You need to go to Sweet E’s in Kaimuki, and get there early as they are always busy!” pitched in this lady at my chiropractor’s office. She had overheard my friend Tracey and I talk about our latest food experiences and was happy to join in on the conversation, sparking a whole new line of “Have you been to this place? What do you think? Did you try the desserts at that other place? Have you heard if such and such restaurant has opened yet?”
Why? Don’t you always talk about good restaurants and good food wherever you go? If not, you are missing out. You never know who might overhear and have a good suggestion for you. Or a bad one.
This one sounded good, though, and it turned out to be that, too.
I had to go hunting for Sweet E’s Café though, as the woman had not given me an address or exact location. There is no website to be found, but luckily there were ratings on Yelp, so I could get the address from there.
As it turns out, I must have passed the place several times without noticing as it is located in the same little square as my favorite pet store. But you know how it is: when you are looking for a specific thing, tunnel vision inevitably happens.
Sweet E’s is located in an old building in Kilohana Square, off of Kapahulu, in the spot that used to be occupied by an Indian restaurant. The café has been open about four years now, and is frequented by locals. I would be surprised to find tourists here, as it really is off the beaten track. I have been told that the owner used to work at my neighborhood Starbucks, and I am very happy that she has reached for her dream and is being successful at it. I know how much hard work goes into any type of restaurant.
As you can see in the images above, Sweet E’s Café is seriously popular, and people will wait outside in the rain for a table. Not that rain bothers anyone in Hawai’i. There were about thirty people all around the small parking lot waiting to get in on that day, including us. Once you find parking – and you may have to do that along the side street as some of the stalls are reserved for other stores – what you do is: go inside, sign yourself in, then go back outside and talk story. When it is your turn, someone will come out and holler your name.
If you were to get there when they open at 7:00 am, you might be able to be seated right away, but any time after that expect to wait from ten to thirty minutes. You will also need to be careful where you stand outside, as the café’s popularity is causing annoyance with some of the other shop owners, and a guard has been hired to stand around and ask people to move and show them where it is ok to stand.
This is so non-Hawaiian I was stunned to hear it. Theoretically, the shop keepers should be happy that the café attracts more traffic to the very tucked away (if you do not know where it is, you would only find it by mistake) little square. While we waited, we actually discovered a couple of cute little shops – besides the pet store, that is – we were happy to browse after breakfast. Oh well… it is what it is.
Once seated the service is pretty fast, attentive and very friendly, even at their busiest times – which is all the time. The place is small and the ambiance is simple but welcoming. The food is unsophisticated home cooking, but it is fresh and good, and the portions are on the abundant side. The menu is rather extensive: you can order breakfast all day, or at least until they are open, which is 3:00 pm, while the lunch menu starts at 11:00 am and offers salads, flatbread pizzas, sandwiches and soups.
I have not eaten off the lunch menu yet, as who can resist breakfast, but looking at the list I must say that four out of four salads and two out of two flatbreads featuring chicken is a bit much, and I hope they will accept variations requests on those. Did I mention my allergy to America’s obsession with chicken? I get the itches when I see chicken everywhere on a menu.
Luckily, the breakfast selections only have chicken here and there, and the offerings cover all the classics: a variety of omelets, several variations on Eggs Benedict, then pancakes, waffles, French toast, and breakfast sandwiches. There is also a breakfast burrito, and something called Extreme Mess, which is described as: three extra large eggs, hash brown, sausage, ham, bacon, onion, scallions, peppers, and topped with cheddar cheese scrambled together to make a breakfast haven!
Back to the food we did eat: the Enchanting French Toast in its traditional version (image at the top of the post) is $7.49 + $2 for a side of bacon. There is also a stuffed version with banana or blueberries and cream cheese ($8.95) that I have heard raves about, but my friend that day fancied the traditional one. Next time.
The Bagel with Lox above is $10.50, and the Breakfast Croissant also above is $6.95, as is the yummy Breakfast Bagel further down. The very abundant (3 large eggs) Kalua Pig Omelet below, which also has scallions, onions, ham, tomato and Monterey Jack cheese tucked inside, is $10.50 and is served with your choice of herb roasted potatoes (pictured), rice, hash brown or fried rice, as well as either white or whole wheat toast. I passed on the toast as I do not eat it, so it is not showing up on this plate. I took half of the omelet to go and enjoyed it again heated for lunch. The omelet was very good, though the Kalua pig was a little dry and could have used a little more jus.
Unless I am at a breakfast or brunch buffet where I enjoy getting a little bit of this and a little bit of that, my preference is for a savory breakfast, ideally a good breakfast sandwich accompanied by a cappuccino or latte. Not that that is what I have every day, just when I happen to have breakfast out. Therefore yes, the bagel was my order, too, and it would have been too much if it weren’t for the fact that this post is actually the result of two separate visits with different friends.
Now, about that cappuccino that was not there… I was seriously bummed to find out that the café only serves drip coffee – which, to my espresso-drinking Italian-ness is the equivalent of dirty water. That is, they also serve hot and cold tea, hot chocolate, juices and soft drinks, but no espresso drinks, so no lattes or cappuccinos. Bwaaaa!
Having breakfast with iced water is not quite the same thing, even if the iced water is good like it is at Sweet E’s, and does not taste of chlorine like it does in so many other places, even some of the better ones. Before you ask, no, I am not a juice or soda drinker, and I prefer my tea or hot chocolate in the afternoon. We all have our little foibles.
Dear Sweet E’s: please, please, please consider a good Italian espresso machine in your near future, and while you are at it, avoid the kind where you press buttons. Pretty please!
What is your favorite breakfast? Do you prefer sweet or savory, American/English or continental? What is your favorite breakfast drink?
SWEET E’S CAFÉ
Kilohana Square – 1016 Kapahulu Ave #185 – Honolulu, Hi 96816 | 808-737-7771 | map
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This review was originally published on October 1, 2013 in my Food Journey blog, which is now being integrated into this one.