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Review: Coconut Club, Tempe AZ

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Review: Coconut Club, Tempe AZ

JK Grence the Cosmic Jester | Feb 26, 2008 12:40 AM

I just got done with a little shopping after a slow shift at work when I was driving through Tempe on my way home. I was about to stop at a long time favorite of mine, the Cornish Pasty Co, when I realized that I have been craving a nice Hawaiian plate lunch (meats served with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad on the side) for some time now. Since it was nearing 10 PM, the options were certainly limited. L&L in Mesa was too far off, and Ma'i Island Grill closed up shop hours ago. Then I remembered a little place on Mill Avenue that I heard serves plate lunch in addition to more typical bar fare. I took off for Coconut Club Bar & Grill on the north end of the downtown Tempe area, across the street from Rula Bula, on the top floor in a location that I've seen house at least half a dozen restaurants in the years I've lived in the Valley. The first look around the place was not incredibly promising, with a central bamboo-lined bar, high tables scattered about, and what appeared to be wicker patio furniture in arrangements along the perimeter of the room. Aside from a seaside mural on the west wall, decorations were limited to beer advertisements. I decided to belly up to the bar, and started to peruse the menu.

The menu itself is fairly small, with a selection of appetizers, selections of three or four sandwiches, burgers, and salads, and a number of Hawaiian type entrees. I was in the mood for the standard plate lunch, but couldn't decide between the chicken katsu ($7), Korean BBQ chicken ($7), or kalua pork ($7). Then I noticed the Cacho Special mixed plate ($8), which had all three meat choices on a single plate. After looking over the specialty drink section I couldn't resist seeing what they called a Mai Tai ($6) and ordered one. The Mai Tais here are a mix of Malibu coconut and mango rums, sweet & sour, a splash of soda, and a float of Cruzan rum. Given the downtown Tempe setting, it's not at all surprising that a version of the Mai Tai would appeal to the collegiate drinker's sweet tooth. The rest of the drink menu bears this out, featuring strawberry daiquiries and piña coladas. If I'm in the mood for fruit punch I'll turn to drinks here, but other than that I'll likely stick to Arnold Palmers next time.

After a few minutes the chow arrived. The foam plate was filled close to overflowing with meats and starch, just like plate lunch should be. The katsu was standard issue chicken katsu, chicken breast covered in panko and fried. It was cooked a bit past what I'd consider perfect, but was still pretty decent. The kalua pork was as it should be, so meltingly tender that you almost had to eat it with a spoon. The star of the show was definitely the Korean BBQ chicken. Its sweet, garlicky glaze picked up just a little bit of char from the grill, giving a hint of smoke and an irresistibly crisp crust that was a perfect contrast to the succulent chicken. The rice was perfectly sticky, as is always the case in every Hawaiian joint I've been to (seriously, how do they do it?). The macaroni salad was the weak link on the plate. While the taste of it was just about right (i.e. they didn't try to fancy it up), the macaroni was a little overcooked and the dressing runny. Like the katsu, while it wasn't perfect it was still at least OK.

I'm looking forward to trying my way through the rest of the menu, even if there isn't much left. Maybe next time I'll try their loco moco. Something of note to night owls is that the kitchen closes when the whole place closes. Through the week this is usually some time before midnight, but on weekends the kitchen stays open as late as 4 AM. It's always nice to find a new place that's open late, but it's even better to find a place that serves good chow at that hour.

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