The Place For Big, Juicy Burgers

Bellybomb Steakburger is laced with fresh diced jalapenos

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a burger – and not just any burger. What I have in mind is a big, juicy patty loaded with tomatoes, onions, pickles, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup with bubbly cheese oozing down the side.

When I get this kind of craving, I head for TNT Steakburgers in Kapa’a.

On the north end of Kojima’s parking lot, this family-run business serves substantial portions and extra toppings of aloha – from a food truck.

TNT stands for Tom and Tetchie Vanderwende, a lively couple whose freshly made meals impact some people’s lives almost as much as Tom’s day job.

“I see people whose lives I’ve saved and they’re like, ‘Oh, hey … thanks for saving my life. I really appreciate it, I wouldn’t be here today,'” says Tom, a veteran para-medic on the North Shore. “But now we have really bitchin’ food, and people will yell from across the street ‘Hey! It’s the TNT guy! You guys are the best!’

Tetchie and Tom Vanderwende with son Kyler

“That’s been a neat surprise. People respond differently when you feed ’em really good.”

Apparently the old adage is true: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I suspect the secret to TNT’s success is their approach.

“We’re in it for the love of food – good food,” says Tom.

TNT Steakburgers makes everything from scratch, including the burgers.

“We hand-grind what we need every day,” says Tom of the high-quality steak he uses.

“I come in at 7:30, grind the meat, cut the potatoes, make the onion rings, slice the onions and tomatoes,” says Tetchie, who encouraged her husband to open the restaurant three years ago.

Frings: handmade french fries and onion rings

“You cook so good, open a restaurant and I will help you run it,” she recalls telling Tom, a natural cook who’s known for his one-pound burgers at the firehouse.

“She’s not helping me with the business; she runs it now!” he says with a laugh.

It’s another beautiful day on Kaua’i. The clouds break and the sun beats down on us in the parking lot. Tom, Tetchie, my husband Dan and I bring our food to the covered picnic tables in front of Number One Barbecue. Their son Kyler immediately attacks the fries.

“Beer-battered, hand-sliced, hand-dipped every day,” Tom tells me as I take a bite of thick and crispy onion rings. “We sell out by 3 o’clock.” The crunchy coating is not greasy; inside, the onion is perfectly soft. I easily bite right through them.

Zesty Porkchop Sandwich

If you’re in the mood for something different, the Porkchop Sandwich ($7.70) is an excellent choice. Two seasoned, deep-fried pork chops are smothered in barbecue sauce, spicy brown mustard and topped with grilled onions. I appreciate Tetchie’s cooking skills as the juice from the pork chops run down my chin.

“It’s a hot one, brah,” Tom says of The Volcano ($7.50 for a quarter-pounder). The spicy burger is loaded with grilled onions, blue cheese, roasted serrano chili peppers and a house-made Lava sauce. “You’ll need a fire extinguisher!”

The Chicken Sandwich ($7.50) is so ample Tetchie and I split one. Two grilled boneless, skinless breasts are topped with bacon, barbecue sauce and cheese, and served on sourdough bread. It’s juicy, gooey and completely delicious.

Kyler, 2, loves the grilled cheese sandwich

Tom dives into his Steakplate ($11.95). “My buddy has a fishing charter boat. He came by to eat and dropped off some fresh mahi,” he says, referring to TNT’s Fishplate ($9.95). “So today we’re lucky to have fresh mahi.

We serve it with a tartar sauce that we make fresh every day.”

As a self-proclaimed adventurer, Tom is drawn to extremes.

“I do the one-pound big boy burger for the hefty appetite down to the Puppy Patties,” he says of the burgers made for four-legged friends. “We’re the only restaurant in the state, I believe, that serves Puppy Patties.”

Chicken Sandwich: juicy, gooey and delicious

His voice softens as he adds, “All animals are welcome at TNT.”

I ate half of the chicken sandwich and some frings ($4.50), a bite of Dan’s

Porkchop sandwich and I was completely full.

“That’s our biggest complaint,” says Tom, “too much food. What can I say? I just love food.”

TNT Steakburgers, Kapa‘a
Open every day except Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.