As disconcerting as it may be to see sleepy Waipahu Town grow up, sometimes change is good. I hesitate to use the word "good," because one can’t say increased population and traffic are better than peace and quiet and room to breathe. While I feel nostalgic for the rumble and squeals of the cane haul trucks at night and black "rain," the soot that fell from the skies on days of burning cane, I don’t think that was good for anyone’s health, and I don’t miss the smells from the old Waipahu Sugar Mill, which blanketed the town with sweet-sour rotting odors on cane processing days.
As much as I hate to see the changing character of the mill area, a YMCA sprouted in the shadow of the mill’s smokestack, and with it, a casual takeout cafe, Champs Bistro.
A big mahalo to Dr. Hamada for telling me about this one. I would not have known about it otherwise, because going to my mom’s house from Waipahu Depot Road involves making a left toward Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, and the Y is to the right at that intersection. I didn’t even know there was a Y, much less a takeout window just outside that formidable structure.
In keeping with the Y’s mission, Champs’ aim is for healthful cuisine. You won’t find burgers or fries for that reason, but the concept is relative to what you’re eating now. I don’t believe anyone on a truly healthful diet would consider a colossal plate lunch special ($10.95) full ofbarbecue short ribs, chicken and poke conventional wellness fare, but that meat does come on a salad of organic greens with your choice of pomegranate, papaya seed or tart lilikoi dressing, with "hapa" rice — half white, half brown — and without the extra carbs orsugar of mac salad. Just by virtue of offering a salad of mesclun greens and some brown rice and ditching the mayo-laden salad, Champs is exercising more forward thinking than many other fast-food purveyors in the area. Protein is necessary after a Y workout, they believe, but no one needs more processed sugars and deep-fried food. Baby steps. I imagine this might represent the first time some will be sampling bitter arugula, radicchio and Swiss chard within the salad.
There’s a bit of a backyard party vibe to this place because the centerpiece of the cafe is an outdoor grill, and the meat has that flame-grilled goodness man has loved since fire’s discovery. Kalbi ($8.50) and New York garlic-pepper steak ($8.75) cooked this way, the latter sliced into neat strips so there’s no knife work to interrupt your noshing, can’t be beat. Standard menu fare includes teriyaki chicken, teriyaki beef, and tuna and turkey sandwiches ($3.75 each) on whole-wheat bread.
The teri chicken and beef can also go onto those plates with tossed green salad and two scoops of hapa rice, at $6.50 and $7.50, respectively.
For those trying to steer away from red meat, there are poke ($7.50) and seared ahi "bowls," which actually come in plate lunch form, with greens and two scoops rice. You can opt to have your furikake ahi ($7.95) cubes spiced up with a sweet chili sauce, but that just buries the furikake flavor, so don’t do it. If spice is what you want, order the Blazin’ Poke ($7.95) instead.
A cart in front of the grill is intended for offering shave ice in summer. To me, it’s summer weather year-round, but I guess the bulk of the audience would be children going through Y programs when school is not in session.
In the meantime, if you’re in need of a chilly treat, there are creamy yogurt-and-fresh-fruit smoothies ($4.50) in flavor combinations of papaya-banana, strawberry-banana and pineapple-mango.
Beyond that, there are any number of specials that roughly tie in with days of the week as follows: Monday (super salads), Tuesday (fish), Wednesday (stir fries and adobo), Thursday (fried rice and pasta), Friday (shrimp and Filipino rice congee) and Saturday (chef’s choice).
So on Tuesday you might find shoyu butterfish or grilled salmon; on Wednesday, stir-fried seafood pasta with buerre blanc sauce; and on Friday, garlic shrimp. For simplicity, at the right value, they are champs in my book.
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.