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Hula Scoop

Using his noodle, Max Chao opens a new Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue.

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The last time I heard from the gregarious Max Chao, the brother of Red Snapper owner Kua-Ching "Casey" Chao (see review), he and his wife, Kim, were in the process of packing up the pots, pans and chopsticks from their popular downtown restaurant, Max's Noodles & More (1728 Main). After more than two years in business, that low-slung building was being torn down to make room for a parking garage.

After contemplating what his next venture would be, Chao took some time off to help a friend open a franchise restaurant in Fairfield, California. The fast-casual concept, Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue, has enjoyed rapid growth in California serving beef, chicken, pork and Spam(!) that have been marinated for 24 hours in a blend of pineapple juice, soy, garlic, "and other secret ingredients," Chao says, then grilled to order and served with steamed rice and macaroni salad.

Chao was so taken with the concept that he bought the franchise rights for the Kansas City metro area and will open the first local Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue later this month in the former Baja Fresh Mexican Grill location at 91st Street and Metcalf in Overland Park.

Unlike Chao's namesake restaurant, which offered full service — and liquor — the new enterprise will be a counter operation, with an illuminated menu displayed above the cashier and dinner prices ranging from $5.99 for Volcano Chicken to around $7.85 for a seafood barbecue combo. Chao won't reveal the ingredients in the "world-famous katsu sauce" served with the deep-fried chicken tenders, but he says he'll serve both the Spam Loco Moco (topped with brown gravy and a fried egg) and the sushi-inspired Spam Musubi.

"Spam is, like, the most requested dish in Hawaii," Chao says. "Don't you remember that scene in Adam Sandler's Fifty First Dates? He leaves the island with a crate of Spam?"

I've never seen the movie (I'd rather eat Spam than watch Adam Sandler), but I did read on the Hormel Web site that residents of Hawaii consume more Spam — 4 million cans yearly — than any other world population. Will Overland Park residents develop a fetish for the canned meat?

Even if they don't, there's plenty of other stuff at Ohana, including mahi-mahi burgers, pineapple chicken and roast pork with cabbage. "The portions are really big," Chao says.

Eat there enough, and you won't just feel like the Big Kahuna — you'll look like one, too.

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