So it’s officially 2013. The Apocalypse was narrowly averted, the elections are over, Christmas has come and gone, and the media is already starting to wax nostalgic about 2012.
But the past is the past, and it’s time now for us to look to the future. And apart from our individual futures, there’s the future of our City to consider.
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth over the past few years about the future of Downtown Cocoa Beach, and while most of the visions and plans put forth have yet to make it to the drawing board, downtown is changing anyway, bit by bit, in spite of them.
I for one have seen — and tasted — the future of Downtown Cocoa Beach, and it is Fat Kahuna’s.
Tucked in the northeast corner of the plaza between the Beach Shack and Coconuts, this unassuming little restaurant is the newest addition to the downtown dining scene. Owned by Dewey and Kat Siljestrom, Fat Kahuna’s celebrated its grand opening this past Thanksgiving to much fanfare — and it was well deserved.
Fat Kahuna’s is a casually elegant, tastefully modern eatery that wouldn’t look out of place in San Diego or Miami, but its ethos is more Minutmen Causeway than Ocean Drive. The Siljestroms are part of a large clan of Cocoa Beach natives who have long been the backbone of the City, and Dewey’s brother Mark still runs the popular Pompano Grill they opened together 13 years ago.
But an even stronger facet of Fat Kahuna’s spirit comes from Hawaii, where Dewey earned the Kahuna sobriquet from some native Hawaiians impressed by his outrigger paddling prowess. They called him “Big Kahuna” after one contest which saw him dive out of his canoe to save it tipping over before leading it to victory. Dewey decided to call his restaurant Fat Kahuna’s after receiving those friends’ blessings.
Dewey and Kat met in Maui and lived there for 15 years with their children, so it’s only natural that Hawaii and the tropics inspire many of the items on the menu here. Dewey, who worked in several Maui hotels as a banquet manager, boasts over 30 years in the restaurant business. He’s certainly got the skills and the business chops to make Fat Kahuna’s work, but it’s the spirit of Aloha he and Kat spread that makes all the ingredients come together so effortlessly.
Inside, Fat Kahuna’s fairly buzzes with positive energy, and we were drawn into conversations with several other patrons who could barely contain their enthusiasm for the place. “We’ve needed something like this downtown for a long time,” said one. “Dewey’s is the place.” Another couple comes here several times a week in search of the relaxed atmosphere, warm camaraderie, and beautifully presented dishes.
As for those dishes, everything we had was simply outstanding, and each was a refreshing alternative to standard beachside fare. It’s what you get when you couple comfort with health.
We began with tempura-battered green beans and zucchini, both of which earn their reputations as some of the more popular items with a growing group of regulars. (It should be mentioned as well that Dewey prepared some non-menu chicken nuggets on the spot for our fussy four-year-old, but she later devoured the beans with equal verve.) The sauces that came with them, moreover, were phenomenal. With fresh hints of ginger, mango, chile, and agave, Dewey’s sauces would fly off the shelves if they were bottled.
Next came a fresh wedge salad, another popular dish, sprinkled generously with crisp bacon, creamy Gorgonzola cheese crumbles, diced onion, and spicy Thousand Island dressing. It was a meal in itself, but we had to save room for the olive oil-seared rare ahi tuna, prepared with delicious coconut rice and a pineapple-mango slaw. Each bite offered new dimensions of bright flavor and we savored every one.
Fat Kahuna’s is also getting attention for their soft tacos, kabobs, sandwiches, and gourmet-style burgers, the most famous of which, the Royal Hawaiian burger, has to be seen — and tasted — to be believed. All burgers and sandwiches can come “Hawaiian Style” with the addition of bacon, mushrooms, and a fried egg. There are a lot of contenders for best fish sandwich around these parts, but we think Dewey’s are some of the best in the county.
Other entrees include mahi-mahi and plump white shrimp (served either blackened, char-grilled, or tempura fried), cream and spice-soaked blackened shark, and a char-grilled or blackened pineapple chicken breast. Vegetarians will be pleased with the inclusion of a char-grilled or tempura vegetable plate. All entrees come with coconut rice, pineapple-mango slaw, a fresh salad, excellent homemade black bean hummus and chips, and a dessert. And those desserts have gained unanimous approval: fried chocolate banana cake and Dewey’s famous fried pineapple upside-down cake.
We can’t say enough good things about Fat Kahuna’s. From the service and atmosphere to the high quality of the food itself, Fat Kahuna’s has set a new, high standard by which all future downtown eateries should be judged. And that future certainly looks bright from here.
Fat Kahuna’s is located at 8 Minutemen Cswy. in the heart of Downtown Cocoa Beach. Call 783-6858.