Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leonard's Bakery

How anyone can say that a malasada—or three or four of them—is a legitimate breakfast food is beyond me, but the morning lines at Leonard’s Bakery in Kapahulu make me question this notion. Today, in a mood for something different, I thought I’d get a couple of them as part of a really unhealthy way to start my week. Let the record show that I also ordered a large coffee, which, according to the logic I operate with, makes this delicious deathtrap less bad for me…

I don’t bother to tell my wife I’m going to Leonard’s because she’d steal my car keys if I did. She feels that malasadas are artery-clogging balls of fried instant diabetes, and while she may not be far off in her assessment she also misses the point: they’ve been part of Hawaii’s rich cultural mosaic for more than 130 years; places like Leonard’s are now Island institutions; and people here are fiercely devoted to not letting important food traditions die. Plus the malasadas taste really, really good, and everyone but my wife seems to think so.

For the uninitiated, malasadas are baseball-size lumps of sweet, deep-fried goodness. They originated in Portugal and arrived in Hawaii in the late 1870s by way of plantation workers from the Azores islands (over 7000 miles away). Leonard’s Bakery has been perfecting its own malasada recipe since 1952, and is generally recognized as having the best malasadas on the Islands.

When my turn at the counter finally comes, I order two malasadas dipped in sugar, one with guava cream filling (see pink goo in photo). A minute later, with my order in hand, I feel like I’m carrying something much heavier than pastries. I peer inside my bag thinking I’ve been given actual guavas as a gag, but what I see instead is this beautiful sight.

There’s no question but that malasada’s are better eaten hot, so I immediately rush home, disregarding all driving safety rules. Back in my living room, I’m not sure which malasada to try first, and since two of them together are too big to cram into my mouth, I decide not to be picky and waste any more time.

It goes well. With my initial bite I think I might have left my body for a moment, and looking back on things I realize that I probably made too much noise as I ate. But it was out of my hands from the moment I ripped my malasadas bag open. Leonard’s advertises their malasadas as being crispy on the outside and fluffy and moist on the inside, and this simple description holds true. What I’m surprised by is the sweet custardy flavor of the dough, and, in the case of the guava-filled treat, how much like guava it actually tastes. When I’m done, my clothes have a fine dust of granulated sugar all over them, and I can feel clumps of guava filling in weird spots around my mouth. I lick myself clean like a fastidious cat and am happy.

Leonard’s is more than a malasadas shop. It’s a bakery, with a full assortment of breads, doughnuts, sandwiches, and cakes, but of the ten or so customers I watched order, every single one of them bought malasadas. One petite woman even got $35 worth–which is a lot considering that they range in price from 70¢ to 90¢.

If given the choice between a malasada and a doughnut, I’m not sure which I’d opt for. It might just depend on my mood. But whenever I drive by Leonard’s, somehow my eyes take in the old lighted sign above the road, and I feel a familiar twinge in my stomach that’s like the voice of an old Azorean field laborer telling me to cut across the double lane and pull into Leonard’s lot. They may not be healthy, it’s true, but then life’s too short to worry about an occasional malasada, especially when guava cream filling is thrown into the deal.

Leonard’s Bakery (www.leonardshawaii.com) is located in Kaimuki at 933 Kapahulu Avenue. There is also a Leonard Jr.’s at the Waimalu Shopping Center.


Monday-Thursday: 6 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Friday-Saturday: 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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