The plate was set down in front of me. My eyes were wide. I was looking at the sandwich to end all sandwiches. It was more pork than any one pig should ever have, and there it was, piled beautifully high on focaccia bread, all for me and my greedy claws.
We called it The Wilbur, the best pork sandwich ever made. Piled high on a roll with a heaping base of ham was pulled pork, bacon, and sausage. It was glorious, a thing to behold, something the angels sing about on high up in heaven. The brain child of my friend Terry Payne, my friend who I talk about in The Drive North, and myself one weekend afternoon. The Wilbur was designed to satiate our endless appetites.
Several years ago when I was working weekends, Terry and I would take turns cooking for each other during the football season. We always talked about how we needed to cut back and lose some weight, but then game day would come around and all that talk forgotten; we had monster feasts, so much food even our coworkers were full and there were still leftovers. But we never quite reached our pinnacle.
It is now a rare occasion I fill in on the weekends at work. So when I did one Sunday this past football season, it was like the making of the perfect storm. Terry and I, joking around at first, came up with the idea of The Wilbur in a brief exchange. I truly didn’t believe we’d go through with it. But the weekend came and there it was: perfection on a bun.
“Wow, oh wow,” I recall groaning in ecstasy. “This is like sunshine in my mouth.”
It was that good. Each bit of pork shined through while enhancing its friends, all without sauce. It just wasn’t necessary. And at this point, if it’s possible to believe, it felt like it would be over the top. The Wilbur was perfect just as it was, nothing more was required.
I glowed for months as a result of that day’s feast. It wasn’t until I sat down with Hotel Molokai’s Head Chef of the Hula Shores, Gene Pike, that I really believed it to be possible to have again. Our conversation went something like this:
“Yeah, this guy brought in a fish and asked if we’d cook it up. He was leaving later that day and couldn’t take it on the plane with him. So I said sure, ‘I’ll cook it up for you. I just can’t serve it to any of the other restaurants guests.’”
“Really? It seems like you guys always say anything is possible, that you’ll do anything that is requested, within reason of course.”
“Yeah, we really do,” Gene agreed.
“So, my friend and I back in Denver made up this sandwich one day back in Denver. It’s the ultimate pork sandwich. Would you cook one up for me one afternoon?”
I had returned from hiking up the world’s tallest sea cliffs to and from Kalaupapa National Historic Site on my Molokai Visitors Association trip and was absolutely famished. Combine the exercise with a very small breakfast and lunch, I was ready for anything they put in front of me. I did not remember the last time I was so hungry.
Gene laughed his deep, hearty laugh as I told him about how I could eat two Wilbur sandwiches, gasping only a few words here and there while devouring a huge tableful of appetizers. I trusted Gene put the words together, knowing exactly what I meant. He did, without a doubt, since he brought an extra large basket of fries to go with the already heaping portion next to our Wilbur sandwiches.
“Are you sure this doesn’t need any sauce?” he asked.
“Just try like this. It’s perfect as it is. Trust me.”
It was a highlight of my trip to see Gene’s face light up with the first bite, just as mine did back in Denver so many months before. It was euphoric, the same exact sensation I had. And he agreed, it really didn’t need any sauce. It was perfect, as advertised.
“I have to put this on the menu. This is amazing. What do we call it, though?”
“Call it the Aloha Wilbur, that’s a great Hawaiian twist to the name Terry and I gave it.”
Saying something to our waitress, she ran off. A short while later she returned with a piece of paper that said Iakona.
“That’s what we’ll call it. We’ll call it The Iakona. That’s Hawaiian for Jason.”
I protested since my friend Terry had a large hand in creating the sandwich, but Gene would have none of it. The Iakona it would be, and so it is now on the menu.
I was honored by the naming, but was truthfully concerned it would be a hit with the Hotel Molokai’s guests. I didn’t want the sandwich to be a flop, not just to placate my ego but because Gene was so excited about it. But just a couple of days after putting it on the menu, I received an excited note from Gene saying the first person to order it was a 65-year-old lady who said, “its kinda messy, but really good.”
I’ll assume the messy part she was talking about was the side salad she ordered in place of the fries, not The Iakona. Although, to make it available to those who wanted it, Gene did throw some sauce on the side of the sandwich. I will go to my grave – maybe sooner rather than later, if I eat too many of these – saying it’s perfect without sauce, just the way Terry and I first made it, because it’s like a little sunshine in my mouth.