Sunday, March 15, 2015

Aloha in a Cup

Can a frozen treat thaw out a cold heart? At Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha, you'll learn that it can and that the Hawaiian "aloha" means so much more than just hello or goodbye.

Shaved--not crushed--for a snow-like consistency, so it can absorb flavored syrups, shave ice originated in Japan but is now the iconic Hawaiian confection. Stands or shops can be found on nearly every corner,  Traditional Hawaiian shave ice is served in a cup with one or more flavors (three is a popular number) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and/or azuki bean paste beneath the ice, possibly topped with sweetened condensed milk. But you can have it served any way you want it. Kids will want to stop at every venue.

I tried the shave ice at several places that locals said were the best for that part of Hawai'i--the Low Store in Pepeekeo near Hilo, Scandinavian Shave Ice in Kailua-Kona (Scandi's), and the Magoo's truck in Diamondhead Crater. All of them were very good, but one place stands far above the rest, Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (HOPA). I can say unequivocally Uncle Clay's makes the best shave ice in Hawai'i, and since Hawai'i is the global ground zero for this treat...

The storefront doesn't hint of the magic and love inside.

Uncle Clay's is not a stop; it's a destination. This is no generic fluffy snow in a cup doused with artificially-flavored, high fructose syrup; it's gourmet shave ice with homemade all-natural syrups and toppings. And that's just the product; then there's the service.

Now I'm an introvert. I hate getting on the phone with someone I don't know. When I'm in a car lot or furniture store, I can sense the phony vultures circling, and I formulate a strategy for avoiding predation. If by chance I'm cornered, I put on my thin, stony smile and suppress a fantasy involving gunfire. Please don't shake my hand Mr. Life-of-the-Party guy, I'm looking for the exit.

Uncle Clay completely disarmed me.

His philosophy is a mission, to spread a little unconditional love--the true meaning of aloha--with every human interaction, because we are all one family (ohana). The HOPA philosophy is emblazoned on the shop's walls, "our entire one world ohana connected, heart to heart, through pure aloha."

Uncle Clay greeting new family at the counter.

Start with a friendly greeting reminiscent of the Hawaiian lei tradition. Uncle Clay will learn your name and personally ensure you meet other guests to encounter the true meaning of aloha. Within five minutes I was happily speaking with complete strangers as if they were close neighbors I'd known for years. After all, at HOPA "there are no strangers – only ohana yet to be met." And, Clay is a great source of ideas for day trips if you have an open schedule and are looking for some local Intel. He pointed us towards the Makapuu Point and lighthouse, which was one scenic highlight of our Hawaiian vacation.

My youngest son exploring near Makapuu point. Thank you Clay for the good suggestion.

But let's not forget what comes in the cup. Considering the all-natural ingredients and homemade sauces, prices are comparable to other vendors that use the commercial, artificial sweeteners (USD$3 for a "keiki," $4 for original and $5 for a large). You choose one or two flavors (with an additional $.50 charge for a third). The selection of flavors and toppings is moderate, as I would expect where ingredients are fresh, but there's enough variety to cover the spectrum of tastes. It's worth a taxi ride from Waikiki just to have this family gourmet experience. I had the lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) and guava, and it was fantastic.

You'll leave with at least one new friend, a hug, and a little bit of Heaven in a cup. Perhaps it is his authenticity, but I left a little less walled-off, and HOPA was a highlight of our family vacation. Mahalo Uncle Clay!

Uncle Clay greets everyone this warmly.

The House is located on the island of O’ahu in Honolulu, Hawai’i in the Aina Haina Shopping Center (820 West Hind Drive), 15 minutes east from Waikiki and 15 minutes west of the popular Hanauma Bay. Heading east, take route #1 or #1L “Hawaii Kai” from Town, or route #24 from Waikiki. Hours are Monday – Thursday, 11am – 6pm and Friday – Sunday, 10:30am – 8pm. So if you are in Hawaii, be sure to stop in at the House of Pure Aloha. After all, you're already part of the family.