Lunch at Capt. Cook’s: Set a Course for…Nachos!

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Five years ago when I first set foot on Disney’s Polynesian Resort, I was pretty unimpressed by the decor of Capt. Cook’s, the quick-service restaurant in the Great Ceremonial House. Dated pastels and bland hibiscus flowers weren’t doing it for me. When the major renovations started at the resort last year, this interior was one of the first things to be refreshed. (Oddly enough, the entranceway remains the same.)

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Capt. Cook’s reopened in August 2014 and we got to see its new look last month when we stopped by for a meal before drinks at the Tambu Lounge upstairs. (Alas, the bar opens at 1 p.m. but doesn’t serve food until 5 p.m.) Rustic, natural-looking materials (like wood in various tones) play off warm oranges and bright, colorful images. The light fixtures, flooring, tables and chairs were all changed for the better, too.

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I especially love the 12 vintage-style travel posters highlighting the Polynesian islands after which the resort’s longhouses have been named: Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, etc.

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The dining area on the other side of the cash registers isn’t as detailed in decoration, but the floor-to-ceiling windows should reveal some nice views once the construction walls are removed. (That’s likely to be very soon after I post this.)

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The touch-screen kiosks are no more, so guests place an order with a cast member near the menu boards then take a receipt to pay at the central register. (Also gone are the self-serve Dole Whip machine — there’s the Pineapple Lanai for that now — and the Grown Up Grilled Cheese, a cult food favorite made with cheddar, Swiss and Boursin. That actually sounds really good so I’d be on board with bringing it back.)

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On the lunch and dinner menu (served 11 a.m.-11 p.m.) you’ll still find mainstays like the grilled chicken sandwich on a pineapple coconut bun ($9.49, pictured), pulled pork sandwich, bacon cheeseburger and flatbreads. (With the sandwiches you get a choice of fries, chips, steamed vegetables or Asian slaw.) A slew of new dishes were also added recently, including fish tacos, a noodle bowl, coconut curry meatballs, a hot dog with garlic ketchup and mango relish, and buffalo fried chicken and waffles.

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I went for the famous pulled pork nachos ($8.29) and they totally exceeded my expectations. House-made potato chips and seasoned fried wontons are heaped with super-flavorful coffee-rubbed pork plus cheese, tomatoes, onions, spicy mayo and pineapple salsa. I polished off that entire plate! (FYI, these nachos are also on the abbreviated dinner menu at Tambu Lounge.)

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In the mornings from 6:30 a.m.- 11 a.m. you can drop in for Tonga Toast, The Poly’s notorious “banana-stuffed sourdough bread, battered and deep-fried, and dusted with cinnamon sugar.” It’s a staple from the breakfast menu at Kona Café upstairs, but I appreciate that it’s also served here so one doesn’t have to worry about making reservations in advance to try it.

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With the imminent opening of its neighbor, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, I imagine Capt. Cook’s will get a boost in business from the overflow of people who won’t be able to get in next door. Naturally, the new tiki bar would be at the top of my list if I were there, but Capt. Cook’s should get credit for being a pretty delightful option for a quick, casual meal at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Related Posts:
The New Look of the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Where to Find Dole Whip with Rum All Year Round at Disney World
Tiki Bars in Orlando

Captain Cook's Snack Company on Urbanspoon

Torpedo Room at Eat Street Social – Minneapolis

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With its vintage vibe and old-fashioned soda fountain drinks, Eat Street Social in Minneapolis seemed like a place I would have liked even if they hadn’t installed a pop-up tiki bar last September. Our annual Minnesota visit coincided with one of the last June weekends before the Torpedo Room went on “summer vacation” (aka hiatus).

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The Torpedo Room was hidden behind a curtain off to the right of the main bar and was only open Friday and Saturday nights. The set-up reminded us of Tiki Tolteca in New Orleans, as they’re both tiki annexes operating on certain nights in the private party areas of restaurants. Each also presented its own unique take on tiki drinks (but more on that soon.)

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The narrow room had a small bar on one side with a thatched roof and a “tiki bar” sign — just in case you weren’t sure what kind of bar you’re in. ;) Up on the top shelves above the liquor were a few tiki mugs, including Cthulhu (a smashing kickstarter success) and vessels from Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago.

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The rest of the space had clusters of wicker chairs and nautical-esque barrel tables, chairs and sofas, plus fake palm trees strung with colorful lights and wall decorations of netting, cork floats and a large marlin.

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We arrived right around 7 p.m. when they opened the Torpedo Room and had the place to ourselves for the most part. The impression I got was that most of the Minnesotan patrons wanted to savor the summer weather on the patio, which was where the tiki bar was originally intended to go.

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Twin Cities cocktail guru Nick Kosevich and fellow Bittercube Bitters founder Ira Koplowitz, along with Marco Zappia and the Eat Street Social team, designed the Torpedo Room’s cocktail menu with a “Minnesota exotic” theme. This meant there were a few nods to the Midwest (like Wisconsin’s Modest Vodka and Gamle Ode aquavit) brought to the table in addition to housemade syrups (orgeat, falernum) and interesting ingredients (Red Boat fish sauce and Thai basil). To top it all off, there were even several sno cones — available with alcohol (“makua” i.e. for adults) or without (“keiki” i.e. for kids). These featured sophisticated flavors like “Nectar” (Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, almond-vanilla syrup, cream and orange blossom water).

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One of their most talked-about tipples was the Corn Tiki ($13), which was inspired by the Painkiller but substituted sweet corn cream for coconut cream and mulled apple cider instead of pineapple and orange juice. (So, it’s really nothing like a Painkiller at all.) I appreciated the unique concept though it was a touch viscous for my taste. I preferred the Royal Hawaiian #Pine ($13), which was accidentally created when Marco misinterpreted the recipe notes and mixed the drink with pine liqueur instead of pineapple juice. The team liked it so much that they kept it, and I can see why. (I told him he missed the opportunity to call it Marco’s Mistake.)

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Served in Atomic Tony Tiki’s Mana Mana mug from Tiki Farm, Zappia’s Zombie ($15) gave a good wallop with Plantation 3 Stars & 5 Yr. Rum, Lemon Hart 151, lime, orange, housemade falernum, cinnamon syrup, passionfruit cordial, pineapple, hibiscus grenadine and Bittercube Bolivar bitters. A few of the other drinks dabbled with more unusual spirits. Case in point was the Sri Lankan Sling ($11), a spin on the Singapore Sling made with White Lion Arrack (a Sri Lankan alcohol made from coconut flower nectar), housemade tart orange and cherry liqueurs, Benedictine, hibiscus grenadine, pineapple, lemon and Mahalo Bitters.

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Meanwhile, the kitchen offered several “Island Bar Food” dishes, including island jerk spice chicken wings ($7), “butcher’s cut” steak ($18) and, my favorite, the house-made Spam and cream cheese wontons ($5).

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I love that they went the extra mile to make their own version of Spam, which was also featured in the steamed bun sandwiches with kimchee and pineapple-cilantro-jalapeno jelly. (They’d ran out of Chinese bao so ours were served on mini brioche buns.)

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Eat Street Social’s web site promises that the Torpedo Room will return in the fall. Perhaps a little tropical escapism will be more appreciated then. As much as I adore the veritable tiki theme park that is Psycho Suzi’s, the artisanal tiki cocktails at Eat Street Social were on another level, so I’m definitely rooting for a comeback.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Eat Street Social’s tiki bar has returned for the Fall 2014 season!

Torpedo Room Tiki Bar at Eat Street Social
18 W 26th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55404
612-767-6850

Eat Street Social on Urbanspoon

A Tricky Trio – Players Sports Grill, Tiki Bar & Arcade, San Francisco

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On our last visit to San Francisco, Mr. Hockey found an ad in our little tourist map for Players Sports Grill & Arcade that billed it as “San Francisco’s only waterfront tiki bar.” He asked me if I knew about it and I snobbishly insisted that it couldn’t be a real tiki bar.

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Our wanderings along the Embarcadero did eventually take us to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, and Mr. Hockey wanted to see if Players was legit. I remained skeptical about a sports bar, arcade and tiki bar coexisting under one roof.

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The front area looked like your typical sports bar, but then we spotted this little kiosk with a Lono (Hawaiian tiki) and a sign pointing towards the Luau Lounge tiki bar that was 50 steps away.

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But first you have to navigate through a little labyrinth of video games and skee ball to the back of the establishment. (I suppose if you have kids you could let them loose here while you go enjoy a drink?)

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Coincidentally they even have an arcade game that features Moai among the graphics. Cruis’n Exotica — no relation to the musical genre, as far as I can tell — is the 1999 sequel to the racing games Cruis’n USA and Cruis’n World. Alas, it doesn’t look like Easter Island is one of the available tracks.

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Maybe it’s the obscure location but the Luau Lounge was a surprisingly serene oasis in the middle of this tourist trap area. Not too many folks had ventured back there that afternoon and there was vintage and modern jazz on the soundspeakers.

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Once you pass the tikis standing sentinel at the bar’s entrance, you’ll find a thatched hut bar in the center of the room manned by a bartender in a Hawaiian shirt.

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My expectations had been quite low so I was a bit surprised to see that the decor was actually pretty decent, with tapa print and bamboo on the walls, fish float and pufferfish lanterns, and prints of Eugene Savage’s Hawaii-inspired art. These were featured on the menus for the Matson Lines steamships traveling from the West Coast to Hawaii in the late 1940s. (You might also recognize them from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel — or that “Mad Men” episode filmed there.

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To top it all off, there are fantastic views of Alcatraz and the bay from pretty much every seat in the house.

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But then things took a turn for the worse when I opened the cocktail menu. Granted, most places that serve Mai Tais don’t make them the way Trader Vic intended, but to call these “Tiki Classics” is too much.

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At least they delivered the Mai Tai ($11) in a tiki glass, though. We also had to order the appropriately named Cruzan Confusion ($11) because it sounded like such an abomination of a beverage. Made with pineapple juice and four flavored Cruzan rums, it reminded me of those “suicide” fountain drinks we’d make as kids by mixing all the different sodas together.

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Normally I wouldn’t advocate drinking beer at a tiki bar, but here that may be your best bet. There are about a dozen options on draft, including local brews like Anchor Steam ($6) and a few rotating seasonal taps.

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With so many great tiki bars in the San Francisco/Bay Area (Smuggler’s Cove, Tonga Room, Trader Vic’s, Forbidden Island), I can’t honestly recommend going out of your way for the Luau Lounge at Players Sports Grill. However, if you’re already at Fisherman’s Wharf anyway, you could do worse!

Players Sports Grill, Tiki Bar & Arcade
Pier 39
San Francisco, CA 94133
451-981-6300

Related Posts:
Reviews of Tiki Bars in San Francisco

Players Sports Grill & Arcade on Urbanspoon