With homemade sauces and tasty plates, this Hawaiian Boardwalk eatery is a favorite in town
HAWAII is a tropical paradise.
When I stepped into the Hula Restaurant and Sauce Company, 940 Boardwalk, in early April the weather was anything but tropical. Amy Rihl, Hula’s owner, was sitting with a mug of hot water trying to stay warm.
She lived in Hawaii for two years with her then-boyfriend, Dave Rihl.
“We both met and grew up working at the Clam Bar in Somers Point. Dave went to culinary school,” Amy said.
They moved to the North Shore of Oahu in 1998 for fun.
“He just liked to surf and I thought that Hawaii would be fun,” said Amy. “We surfed, we went to the beach, we ate out a lot. It was a good time.”
After a few months, a food truck became available at Shark’s Cove beach, part of the Pupukea Beach Park in Oahu – Dave and Amy took it over and the rest is Hula history.
“We’d open around 11am and we’d usually run out of food by 2-3pm,” said Amy. “I worked with him as well. We grew this big following. When our lease ran out it was a matter of finding another place out there or coming home. Somebody came to us out there and said, ‘Hey there’s a spot on the Boardwalk in Ocean City’ so we took it and moved back home. This is where we’re from.”
Hula opened on the OCNJ Boardwalk in 2000 serving lunch and dinner plates in season. About four years ago, Amy stepped out of the restaurant business, focusing on her work as a dental hygienist. Sadly, in early 2021, Dave passed away, leaving no one to run the family business. Amy stepped up, left her job in hygiene, and continued the legacy she and Dave built – running Hula with their daughters Mya and Madyn and Pete Frisko, her fiance.
She explains the menu as “Hawaiian-style plate lunch with a Boardwalk flare.” Amy’s favorite menu item is the shrimp scampi- large shrimp sautéed in a white wine, garlic, lemon, and butter sauce paired with two scoops of sticky rice and a garden salad topped with their famous House Dressing, a sweet dressing with tangy notes.
The menu features fresh seafood plates like the Ahi plate – grilled ahi topped with a lemon basil butter sauce and the coconut shrimp – six colossal shrimp dusted in coconut and breadcrumbs and fried to a golden brown.
For land lovers, there’s the Hula Burger – a quarter pound of angus beef served with lettuce and tomato, or the pulled pork – marinated, slow roasted pork with their signature Hawaiian barbecue sauce. The menu is small, but mighty, and has something for everyone… including tenders, hot dogs, fries, garden burgers, and tater tots.
“When I arrive, I start prepping food. At night time last year, I worked on the line. Hopefully this year I’ll be in the front [of the house].”
Creating new dishes is a passion for Amy.
“I like creating anything different, like specials. Anything that requires thought,” said Amy. “I try to see what’s fresh and what would fit into our kitchen. I’ll be in the market and see what food looks like as far as vegetables or fruits and start from there. If my fish purveyor says ‘I’ve got this great swordfish,’ I’ll take that and try to come up with something.”
Hula is known for their sauces – their teriyaki, salad dressing, and barbecue sauces are all available to take home.
“All of our sauces are made in house and available to purchase bottled,” Amy said. “Back in the day, people would say, ‘Oh can I get a jar of that?’ We would go out and find Ball jars and fill them and say, ‘Keep it in your refrigerator’. “The huli (teriyaki) sauce and salad dressing are the most popular sauces.”
Speaking of popular – the most loved menu items according to Amy are the Salmon Teriyaki and Hawaiian Chicken. Both dishes are doused with huli sauce and served with two scoops of rice and a garden salad. Dipping Hula rice into the pool of huli sauce for the first time is akin to having your first Johnson’s Popcorn of the season. It’s that good.
When you first enter Hula, by making your way to the end of Colony Walk, the alley of sorts between 9th and 10th Street, the art alone transports you to a tropical paradise.
“The artwork is mostly from Hawaii but there are a few local pieces. We commissioned (local artist) Bogy to do [a painting of Hula]. The middle Bogy painting was given to us last year and that was in honor of Dave,” said Amy.
I asked Amy about a framed photo of a tropical setting that sits on the wall toward the back of the restaurant.
“This one is the view from the food truck at Shark’s Cove when we lived in Hawaii,” she explained.
Last year was a success for Hula.
“It was a great summer. I’m so grateful. I had like 80 percent of the staff in the kitchen returning. That’s really helpful. I didn’t take a day off at all, which was fine. I just knew that I wanted to get in and work every angle and know everything,” said Amy. “I’ve always worked front of the house. I have worked at every station on the line, but just for small amounts of time. You can do anything for an hour.”
She also goes surfing with her daughters.
“They’re like where I am. They’re not willing to call themselves surfers but they’re willing to get out and do it,” Amy said. “We enjoy it. We have fun.”
Featured image by Kerri Janto
Find this story and more in the May issue of Ocean City Magazine