Last spring, Bernal Heights took to ‘Aina, Jordan Keao‘s pop-up brunch series at 903 Cortland, with an enthusiasm that surprised even its founders. The Hawaiian-born chef, who had trained at restaurants such as La Folie but was cooking at AirBnB, was putting out dishes like guava-bread French toast and Portuguese sausage hash with Brussels sprouts — two parts Hawaii, one part Bay Area.
The strain of two jobs, plus the runaway success of the pop-up, proved too much for ‘Aina to continue, however, and it shut down in May 2015. A few months back, Tablehopper reported that Keao and business partner Jason Alonzo were looking for a brick-and-mortar space in the Dogpatch.
Keao and Alonzo, last the bar manager at La Folie, have taken over a spot that housed the short-lived Ensoleillé, and Cup of Blues cafe before that, and have been busy painting and redecorating, restoring the facade to align more with the historic character of many of the surrounding buildings. The plan is to open sometime this spring. Keao’s wife, Cheryl Liew, will be joining the two in the business.
Keao says the plan is to open first for brunch — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — and, once they’ve got the food and service down, to extend that into happy hour from 4 to 5:30, which they call “pau hana,” combining the words for “to finish” and “to rejoice in the day.” The two have a beer and wine license, so Alonzo will be designing a drinks list of low-alcohol cocktails.
Dinner will come afterward, the dishes also reflecting Keao’s childhood in Hilo. “It may just be a nuance that triggered the influence, but everything will stem from something I ate or saw growing up,” he says. For the moment, though, he’s testing recipes for the brunch, bringing back many of the dishes that pop-up fans grew fond of.