Story by Roland Gilmore
Photo by Elyse Butler
A phrase like “the chicken has blown up” would cause alarm in most kitchens, but when chef Sean Priester says it, he just means his fans love the buttermilk fried chicken. But it isn’t just his chicken that’s exploding: There’s also the pulled pork adobo sandwich, vegetarian black-eyed pea chili, cornbread and collard greens and a host of rotating specials: jambalaya and gumbo, fried catfish and hushpuppies.
There are literally hundreds of lunch trucks on O‘ahu, most of which serve fairly predictable variations on Hawai‘i’s pan-cultural plate lunch: Two scoops rice, macaroni salad, meat and more meat done in any number of styles, kalua to kalbi to katsu. But when Priester’s truck, Soul Patrol, took to the streets in 2009, its turn toward down home Southern cooking definitely stood out from the crowd. Priester, an Atlanta native, has been honing his skills in Honolulu restaurants for twenty years now, most recently as executive chef for the Top of Waikiki. During that time, he’s built a following for his Southern-Pacific fusion cuisine. But he also knows local palates: Witness the pork sandwich, which uses the style of vinegar-based barbeque sauce favored in eastern North Carolina (as opposed to the more common tomato-based sauce). Vinegar is also the foundation of adobo, the Filipino meat preparation widely used in Island cooking.
The result is something at once new and familiar: “Braising collard greens with pork is not a huge stretch for people here,” says Priester with a laugh. (He makes his version, which people have taken to buying à la carte by the tub, with organic, locally farmed greens.) Still want a primer? Try the Southern Sampler Plate: chili and collards, coleslaw and cornbread, served in the mega-portions Hawai‘i’s seasoned lunch-truckers love.
Prices range from $5 to $12; most Tuesdays through Thursdays you’ll find Soul Patrol parked behind the Honolulu Advertiser building on Kawaiahao Street from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The rest of the time, it’s (ahem) a rolling schedule—the best way to track it is via Twitter, where chef Priester tweets updates as @pacificsoul.