The concept began simmering a year ago, over friendship and steaming bowls of homemade saimin, a traditional Hawaiian noodle soup made by Drei Donnelly for her friends, chefs Jessica Taccone and Craig Attwood. It was that night and after tasting what Taccone called “that bowl of awesome” that the former executive chef at The Maidstone in East Hampton began working with Donnelly on the concept of the Hamptons Hawaiian Saimin Shop, which is developing a cult-like following as a pop-up restaurant on Wednesdays, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., at Dopo La Spiaggia in Sag Harbor.
In developing their menu, Donnelly and Taccone — both Sag Harbor residents — said their goal was to showcase, first and foremost, saimin, the soup made traditionally with a shellfish-base broth and thin Hawaiian noodles Donnelly has been making since she was a child, living both in Los Angeles and Hawaii. Tracking down other hallmarks of Hawaiian cuisine to showcase was the priority on a tasting trip made last year to inform their menu.
“After taking a trip early last year to Hawaii, for the non-Hawaiian to experience the foods that Drei grew up on, it became pretty clear what the hot commodities are, what people love and what we could develop with our own spin,” said Taccone. “We wanted the food to be approachable, affordable and delicious. We wanted to offer variety to appeal to a multitude of pallets, mixing healthy options with more gluttonous ones, considering and honoring food sensitivities and allergies, and really just cooking the way we love to eat. It was important to have items, such as the Hawaiian Sun drinks included on our menu because although they are not found here, they are the epitome of Hawaiian casual dining.”
The menu is largely focused on saimin, offering a traditional Hawaiian Saimin with shrimp broth, wheat egg noodles, char sui pork slices, fish cake, spam and scallions, along with curated saimin bowls including spicy pork, vegetarian and chicken. Guests are also invited to craft their own saimin bowl with a “build your own” option with two noodle varieties, five broths to choose from and several toppings.
It is not just noodles on this menu though. Taccone’s own Complete Burger — a mushroom-based vegan burger — is also available. Guests can also enjoy musubi — traditional spam and rice wrapped in nori or Inari-Age style musubi, which is rice stuffed in a sweetened bean curd pocket. Manapua, the Hawaiian version of a char siu bao bun, are served warm. Furikake potato chips, shrimp chips, fried wontons and house-made malasadas, or a Portuguese donut, round out the regular offerings which can be complimented with Hawaiian Sun drinks and Kona coffee at lunch, with a bar menu available after 5 p.m.
For Taccone, if pushed to select favorite menu items, she leans towards the spicy pork saimin and the malasadas. “They remind me of being a kid and making zeppole for my dad with my grandma’s recipe and that joy that brought to my family,” she said. “It has all the feels.”
The Complete Burger, her own creation, also remains beloved. “It is my brainchild that I spent an entire winter researching and developing, and as a carnivore, I can honestly say it ticks all my boxes for taste, texture, protein content and grill-ability, and paired with Drei’s garlic aioli pushes this burger experience over the top,” said Taccone.
“Jessica and I carefully chose each item on our menu from a plethora of our Hawaiian favorites but from this narrowed down list, my personal favorite is, of course, the traditional saimin, which the restaurant was initially based upon,” said Donnelly. “Saimin led the way and remains to be the star of the show. My next favorite is the Complete Burger. As a former vegan, it is the best plant-based burger I’ve ever had, hands down.”
The shop will remain open Wednesdays on Bay Street through Memorial Day weekend, but for Donnelly and Taccone, this is only the beginning as they continue to search for a year-round home for Hamptons Hawaiian Saimin Shop after failing to gain approval from Sag Harbor Village to open on Division Street next to the Sag Harbor Baking Co.
“If you know a place, we are all ears,” they said.
The Hamptons Hawaiian Saimin Shop is open at Dopo La Spiaggia, 6 Bay Street in Sag Harbor, every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. for table service and for take-out orders. For more information, call (631) 808-3605 or visit hamptonshawaiian.com.