Created by a fisherman as a tribute to his mentors and heroes, Uncle’s Fish Market & Grill is located on Pier 38 in Honolulu. The Uncles, says founder Bruce Johnson, “were hard to get to know, tenacious, humble, a bit of kolohe—they can be rascals, but very honorable. They’re my heroes, and they’re of all nationalities.”
Uncle’s Fish Market & Grill uses the freshest fish from Hawaiian waters, supplied by parent company Fresh Island Fish, to produce an unpretentious seafood experience based in classic European and Asian cuisines. Honest, made-to-order food that locals crave and visitors seeking an authentic Hawaii meal desire.
A diverse seafood restaurant, Uncle’s also has air flown ‘best in class’ seafood products like live Maine Lobster, jumbo shrimp from the U.S. Gulf, and delicacies from Japan. Fresh, Local and Authentic—that’s Uncle’s.
The following is a Q&A with Uncle’s General Manager Robert Bates:
Q: How long have you been in the restaurant business?
A: My first restaurant job was at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream specialty shop when I was 13. I found myself in restaurant management in the past year, prior to that I did not work in restaurants. I am a filmaker, I did 169 half hours of culinary television on The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter, which won Best National Television Cooking Show by the James Beard Foundation.
I am considered by many people in the food world to change the look of cooking shows. I had a background in commercial production, so I used the techniques learned through commercials and placed them onto the set of The Kitchen Sessions. I worked for three years at Charlie Trotter’s restaurant, when it was considered by Wine Spectator as the best restaurant in America. At that time, I had never cooked a day in my life.
Q: What is your favorite item on the menu?
A: Hand down, the Poke Tower. The owner of Uncle’s Fish Market (Bruce Johnson) is a fisherman. He is not only particular about quality, he is insistent on having the best quality. Bruce has been a friend of our families for a long time. The first time I met Bruce, he came over to my in-laws home with a giant piece of ahi. I gave him a sashimi knife, and a hot towel to clean the knife. He swiftly cut the fish, and layed out a block for sashimi, fillets for ahi steaks, and the rest of the fish was reserved for poke.
He asked if I could make poke, and I said of course. I created a poke tower with guacamole, ahi tartare, and fish eggs. I served it to Bruce and he loved it, he was raving about it. Bruce said, “don’t be surprised if I steal this and put it on the menu at Uncle’s”. Here we are today, the Poke Tower is our best selling pupu and my personal favorite.
Q: What is your favorite part about being located at Pier 38?
A: I think it is worth stating the obvious, we’re 150 yards from the fish auction. Six days a week we have a delivery of fresh fish straight from the auction to our backdoor, that makes a huge difference. We have a great relationship with the fishing fleet. We also have the advantage of having our neighbors across the street, Nico’s. We feel like our relationship with Nico’s is very complimentary.
We concentrate cuisine-wise on a full menu of fresh fish. Uncle’s is a hub for all the best seafood throughout the islands. We receive fish directly from the fisherman from all the islands, not just at the fish auction. We also have our own boat! We source fish and specialty products from around the world. Having the fish market on our pier allows guests to stumble upon us while visiting the auction, which is great. It is close to downtown and we provide ample free parking for locals and tourist.
Q: Uncle’s is known for its fresh seafood – What’s the most popular plate?
A: The Garlic Ahi. It’s rich, tangy, and spicy. I have never had anyone say “it’s okay”. People love and rave about the Garlic Ahi!
Q: What is the most popular cocktail?
A: Kona Brewing Company’s Longboard Lager is our best selling beverage at Uncle’s. Guests love a cold local beer with our Fish & Chips or pupus during happy hour. Our Spa Elixir hand-made cocktail is a guest favorite, made with Ciroq Coconut Vodka, Ginger Liqueur, house-made lime sour, thai basil, and ginger ale.
My personal favorite is the Guava Aloe cocktail. A shaken margarita with Centenario Plata Tequila, Guava Liqueur, Fresh Lime Juice, and Aloe Juice. Centenario Plata is a premium 100% blue agave tequila that spends a little bit of time in oak, which gives a nice richness to it. Our mission is to always pursue quality, sourcing far more local products than before as well as providing premium liquors for our drinks.
Q: Would you be able to share a cocktail recipe with us for our Happy Hour Pal fans to make at home?
A: Of course! Here is my personal favorite, the Guava Aloe Cocktail:
1.5 oz Centenario Plata Tequilla
.5 oz Orchid Guava Liqueur
.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
2 oz. Aloe Juice
Method: Add liquors and juices to ice and shake. Strain in to martini glass. Garnish: Thin lime wheel. Tip: Enjoy with a poke tower!