From pies to Mai Tais

From pies to Mai Tais

Wild Thyme ends where the party at South Pasadena’s Canoe House begins

By Dan O'Heron 07/26/2012

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T he Canoe House in South Pasadena might be just as at home in the South Pacific.
 
It’s not quite a luau, but if sitting at the Tiki Bar or around the outside patio fire pit, you can have a beach ball sipping drinks like a “Hula Girl Rita” margarita, a “Lime in the Coconut” martini and a “Pomegranate Mojito.”
 
In fact, the restaurant becomes a Polynesian island scene in which many guests will talk up foods like crab cakes (I found these as good as I’ve had at Arnie Morton’s, but not nearly as expensive), or glazed Hawaiian-style barbecue spare ribs. And, there’s a delicious taste in the Portuguese fried rice that no one in a distant paddy could even dream might happen. If rice has been put to any better use, it’s the rice batter used in the “Saigon Pancake” served at Pasadena’s midtown Indochine.
 
Canoe House’s fried rice comes out as a huge mound of modern renown, sticky with soy-sauced cuts of Portuguese sausage (an artful blend of meats with a proper level of dryness), plus bacon, chopped eggs, onions and carrots, sided with chili ($9.75). 
 
The large lumps of crab, not at all pasty, are minced with red and green bell peppers, onions and various secret seasonings. The cakes are burred with just enough panko breadcrumbs to hold them together for baking without intruding on the pure crab flavor. The two rust-colored cakes, drizzled with red bell aioli and sided with cubes of fresh papaya and mixed greens, go for only $8.95 
 
Though next of kin to the Canoe House in Hawaii and Roy’s in Pasadena, it’s no poor relation. A fusion of Hawaiian classic recipes overlaid with acquired California refinements make for a fine “casual Canoe House cuisine” of its own that is not nearly as costly as that offered by the others. 
 
Beside the crab cakes, other pupus — the Hawaiian term for any hot or cold appetizers —include baskets of regular and sweet potato fries ($4.25), a $5.25 bleu cheese haystack (garlic fries tossed with bleu cheese sauce, bacon and scallion) and pork pot stickers ($7.50).
 
A colorful array of tropical salads and soups, including a dandy chilled shrimp gazpacho, go from $3.50 to $10.25. Burgers, sandwiches, tacos, hot dogs and sausages, with all the etceteras, range from $4.25 to $11.25. Large plates of fin, flank and feather range from $12.95 to $14.95. For lunch, there are daily complete specials, with beverage, for only $7.95. 
 
For dessert, I recommend the lava cake. Not quite an eruption from the Mt. Kilauea volcano, but the rich chocolate cake oozes a molten center, snow-covered with vanilla ice cream ($5.95). 
 
Before Canoe House, the restaurant was a Wild Thyme Bakery Restaurant for 21 years, owned by David Yost and Randy Hoffman, partners now in six restaurants: Canoe House, Two Shakers, Diner on Main in Alhambra, Beckham Place and Central Park Restaurant.
 
In its last days, compared to other competitors nearby, Wild Thyme was like the “dullness of dishwater” — a sodden simile repeated by so many independent restaurants the other side of 20. “We were losing old customers and not attracting any new ones,” said Yost. “We were getting beat out by Mike and Anne’s and the renovated Gus’s BBQ. We felt fenced in. The building was 45 years old, a tired property. It forced our hand to upgrade.”
 
Entering the restaurant these days, it would be hard to remember it was once a Wild Thyme.
 
The six-month rebuilding process was not simply a restoration like replacing a divot on a golf course; it was a total ground scraping to supplant everything: bar, grill, ovens, patio fire pit, private dining room and rest rooms. 
 
For ornament, there’s a genuine outrigger canoe dangling from the ceiling, surfboards and paddles embracing the rafters and bamboo-framed photo murals and paintings climbing the walls 
 
For regulars disaffected by Wild Thyme’s demise, the partners have moved some of the baking gear and pie recipes over to the Shaker facilities. The baking stead has been transformed into a shivering room, where some 12 tap beer tanks are kept at a guaranteed temperature of 38 degrees — the ideal chill that American beer drinkers crave but seldom get. 
 
The Tiki bar breaks a different seal on each evening’s Happy Hours. Mai Tais on Monday and Tropical martinis on Tuesday go for $5. On Wednesday, ladies get half-off all drinks. Any pint of draft beer is $4 on Thursday. On Fridays, by donning Hawaiian print clothing, you’ll get 15 percent off your entire food bill. On each evening, all appetizers are $2 off.
 
So after 21 years of slaving over a hot oven at a bakery restaurant, it’s about time for partners Yost and Hoffman to vacation in Hawaii. 
 
Canoe House
805 Fair Oaks Ave., 
South Pasadena
(626) 799-4169
canoehousepasadena
Full bar 

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