Amid the restaurants of Sag Harbor sits a new kind of cuisine, taking temporary hold in Dopo La Spiaggia — Hamptons Hawaiian. It’s a culinary experience for the diner seeking an all-day and late-night menu in the village. Formed roughly three years ago by friends, housemates, and now business partners Andrea Donnelly and Jessica Taccone, Hamptons Hawaiian is a savory sensation pop-up open every Wednesday.
Say the words “Hawaiian food” and surely the mind wanders to visions of Spam, a common misconception, or pineapples. That’s where this duo comes in, committed to opening the minds and broadening the palates of locals. Donnelly, going by the nickname, Drei (given to her by the rock star Meat Loaf) was born in Los Angeles with familial roots in Lana’i, Hawaii. Her job working as a personal assistant to A-Listers on the West Coast eventually brought her to the East End where she hired Taccone in the kitchen for an event.
Taccone was no stranger to cooking. She’s a former executive chef at The Maidstone, sous chef at Hamptons Farms, and pastry chef at East Hampton Point.
Entering through the doors of Dopo on a crisp Wednesday afternoon, it seems an inconspicuous location, only a small sign on the door mentions what cuisine awaits inside. Dopo would otherwise be closed until Memorial Day weekend. A couple of women sitting in the corner were about to dig into their plate of fried wontons as Donnelly and Taccone greeted me. There’s an immediate sense of camaraderie in the air.
A sample plate was placed in front of me in a snap. Inari age style musubi, rice stuffed in a sweetened bean corn pocket, reminded me of sushi without the fish but with the thickness of a burrito. As strange as that may sound, and as simple as it looked, I devoured the entire thing without putting it down.
Colorful puffs of shrimp chips awaited me next that were aesthetically pleasing. The furikake potato chips — house-made with Japanese seasoning — became more addictive with each bite. Next, a sample of the fried wontons, each handmade by Donnelly herself. Shrimp won the spot on my fork.
Uniquely created by Taccone, a broth sampler of shrimp, chicken, mushroom, and vegetable was served in espresso cups, a prelude to my next dish.
“Traditional saimin is basically Hawaiian ramen,” Donnelly explained. “It was developed in the plantation fields in Hawaii in the early 1900s. Saimin became the islands’ ‘chicken soup’ as we know it today. The Chinese offered noodles, Japanese offered broth, Hawaiians offered shrimp.” Each individual broth allowed the true flavors of predominant ingredients to blossom.
The shrimp broth is traditional and has a powerful flavor, wherein the vegetable broth was mild enough to drink on its own from a cup.
Finally, a spicy pork “bowl of awesomeness,” as Taccone refers to the saimin, arrived. Wheat egg noodles imported from Hawaii, bok choy, mushrooms, ginger, scallions, carrot, radish, and thinly sliced pork. Perfect for a cold day.
Taccone noted, “Food, in my family, was always a way to connect and to tell people you love them, and that passion was passed down generation to generation for as long as I can remember.” As the saimin warmed me up, I certainly felt the love.
Portuguese donuts concluded the meal, another influence on Hawaiian culture. It had the consistency of a biscuit, crispy outside and warm center, the cinnamon sugar covered every inch, and perfectly paired with a cup of Kona coffee.
“My father and maternal grandmother taught me how to cook without recipes. I simply watched and listened beginning at four years old. Grandma, Trinidad Dalde, used to always say to me, ‘Taste it until there’s taste, Inday.’ And my father taught me the Hawaiian ways. Today, I cook for Hamptons Hawaiian with integrity and tradition,” she added.
The pop-up is located at Dopo La Spiaggia at 6 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. It’s open every Wednesday from 11 AM to 11 PM; the bar opens at 5 PM. A Hawaiian Luau on May 22 will celebrate the closing of the restaurant until the fall, including live music, raffles, and dancing. Visit www.hamptonshawaiian.com to learn more.