Jason Sum specializes in fried Twinkies. And fried Oreos. And fried pizza. And fried macaroni and cheese.
Sum, the owner of Sumo Grub, a tiny restaurant squeezed into a squat blue building right across from Berkeley High, has become so well known for his tempura-battered novelties that the Food Network came to film them on February 15. Sum and his creations will be featured on a show called “Outrageous Food,” hosted by Tom Pizzica.
The show is billed as “a quest to unearth the most jaw-dropping, eye-popping, occasionally heart-stopping foods in the country — dishes that give “outrageous” a whole new meaning.”
And Sum’s concoctions certainly fit that description. Take the “Six Feet Under,” (a sly reference to the artery-clogging properties of the dish.) It includes six tempura-fried hamburger patties, all covered with different sauces. (Think mango salsa, homemade Kim chi, peanut sauce, wasabi mayo, and more), two fried slices of macaroni and cheese, five fried Twinkies, and a bunch of fried Oreos. It sells for $45.
And the food is good. The reviews on Yelp are almost all complimentary, although patrons seem to feel somewhat guilty for enjoying it.
“I really don’t know what to say about Sumo Grub,” Mel B. from Hercules wrote. “Part of me wants to say, “this joint is so bad for your health”, and a part of me want, to say “WOW this place rocks”. If you think about a pizza, pour some cheese whiz, then sprinkle some jelly beans on top, then fry it with tempura (no they do not have this on their menu, I don’t think), then you pretty much captured the concept of Sumo Grub. Their motto is they “will tempura anything.”
Sum is actually an experienced cook and restaurant owner. He grew up in a family of restaurateurs and was put to work by his mother washing dishes when he was 8. His family now owns The Berkeley Thai House on Channing near Telegraph, as well as other restaurants.
Sum and his wife Nalinee took over the space vacated by Doggie High in the fall of 2010. They wanted to create a unique eatery, one using fresh ingredients with an Asian twist. While many of the items on the menu are fried, Sumo Grub makes its own tempura batter and panko crumbs, which gives a crispy, not greasy finish to the food. There are other non-fried products on the menu, such as Angus beef burgers and an organic Romaine lettuce salad, said Sum.
“You can call it fusion,” said Sum. “My palate, I don’t like fusion at all. I don’t see the point of putting pad thai in a tortilla. I make American fast food, but using the best products I can find. I like to take things to the next level.”
The Outrageous Food episode featuring Sumo Grub should run sometime in April, said Sum.