Merriman’s in Waimea on the Big Island

Anyone who places a large sign in his restaurant with the following quote is a hero of mine:

“My heroes have always been farmers.” – Peter Merman

IMG_7472That’s exactly what you’ll find at the Merriman’s in Waimea on the Big Island. Restaurateur and Hawaii regional cuisine expert Peter Merriman’s establishments are well known and loved and for good reason. Merriman is known as the original locavore and for more than 25 years he has been a champion for local farmers, fisherman and ranchers on the Hawaiian Islands.

My respect for farmers is immense. In the Midwest, we suffered from severe droughts in 2012 and 2013. This spring, we are dealing with the wettest year since 1871 with three to five inches of rain predicted for today alone and the threat of severe flooding. Today, we may break a 60-year record for rainfall in a 24-hour period. Farmers are always dealing with conditions completely beyond their control. And yet, they go on.

Which brings me back to Peter Merriman and the concept of Hawaii regional cuisine. Interestingly, I recently learned that Merriman got his start at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, a place of which I am extremely fond of and have raved about in earlier posts. The story goes that Merriman arrived from the mainland with one suitcase, plans to stay for a short time and so he took a job at the Mauna Lani as a cook. Two years later, he was named executive chef and the rest is history.

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In 1988, Merriman’s opened up as his signature restaurant in Waimea. Waimea is a charming, upcountry town on the Big Island. The overwhelmingly positive and well deserved reviews came flowing in soon after Merriman’s opened from the New York Times, San Francisco magazine and on and on and on. He was one of the chefs who put Hawaii on the map as a foodie destination. Over the years, he expanded to other islands, including two additional locations for Merriman’s Kapalua on Maui and Merriman’s Fishhouse in Poipu on Kauai. In 2014, he opened a new venture called Monkeypod Kitchen, with locations on Maui and Oahu, which I previously wrote about here.

A hula dancing waitress and live Hawaiian music for lunch on a Friday? Yes, please!

A hula dancing waitress and live Hawaiian music for lunch on a Friday? Yes, please!

This past March we visited the original Merriman’s in Waimea for lunch on a Friday and it was as wonderful as ever. The minute we were seated our waitress told us that we were in luck as they have live music on Fridays. It got even better from there: One of the waitresses graced the dining room with a hula to accompany the music—a true Hawaiian dining experience.

 

IMG_7478Looking out the window from our table, you could see the kitchen garden. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. We were amused by a father and his elementary school-aged daughter seated at the table next to us. She asked to be excused for a minute and stepped outside for a quick walk through the garden. We saw her sneak a leaf of lettuce for an appetizer. If that isn’t a sign that the produce is fresh and tastes like all produce should, then I don’t know what is. She also ordered a salad for her lunch—exactly how a child’s taste buds should be.

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The website description of the menu explains it all: “The menu at the original Merriman’s in Waimea starts on the farm, reflecting Hawaii’s rich flavors that are alive with freshness. Drawing inspiration from the surrounding green pastures, cattle ranches and fields, Merriman’s Waimea is the true Home of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Featuring a menu of grass fed cattle, fish caught off the Kohala Coast and farm fresh produce from neighboring Nakano and Hirabara Farms, each quality ingredient used at Merriman’s celebrates Hawaii’s rich bounty of flavors, harvested at the peak of perfection. A truly Hawaii Regional menu, experience signature dishes that originated right here such as Merriman’s Classic Wok Charred Ahi and Kahua Ranch Naturally Raised Lamb.”

IMG_2689If in doubt, order the wok charred ahi. But, be sure to start with one of his signature salads. It doesn’t get fresher. To add to the appeal, he also offers a wonderful wine list. Merriman’s is consistently, as the Hawaiians would say, “ono.”

 

 

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Torch lighting ceremony at Black Rock on Maui

Each evening in Ka’anapali, as the sun begins to set in the ocean, a torch lighting ceremony followed by a cliff diver’s plunge into the sea is held at Black Rock on Maui.

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The beach near Black Rock is directly facing the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, which conveniently offers the Cliff Dive Grill and Mai Tai Bar–a great place to watch the traditional ceremony and enjoy a tropical beverage or appetizer (pupus as they are called on the Hawaiian Islands). The beach is spectacular and the sunsets here do not disappoint. This area is also known for excellent snorkeling.

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The sunsets from this viewpoint paint the sky with brilliant shades of pinks and blues. Black Rock, formed by a volcanic eruption in ancient times, was considered by ancient Hawaiians as the sacred place where souls would leave the earth and join with ancestors.

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Yes, the daily cliff dive ceremony is a tourist gimmick and yes, you should go. Watching the cliff diver reach the summit as he casts his lei into the sea and takes a magnificent dive into the sea is well worth a stop.

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Market Fresh Bistro in Makawao, Upcountry Maui

IMG_0964Makawao in Upcountry Maui feels laid-back and trendy at the same time. This is the town of cowboys, galleries, interesting shops. It’s a great place to wander for a morning or an afternoon. The people seemed genuine and friendly and when it was time to look for a lunch spot, we picked a place with a generic-sounding name—Market Fresh Bistro.
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Located at 3620 Baldwin Avenue, tucked in an area behind the Viewpoints Gallery and a charming walkway and courtyard, this bistro was one of our favorite finds during a week in Maui.
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The food here is organic, unbelievably fresh and prepared simply, ensuing that the ingredients shine. When we ordered a salad for our lunch, we sat in awe as we watched the kitchen staff carrying in the fresh greens and other produce for our meal. The freshness of the local produce and fish we enjoyed that day were unbelievable.
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The soup was interesting and flavorful. With fresh fish as an option to top a salad, the lunch felt healthy, fresh and light.  The presentation was beautiful. I only wish I could prepare a salad so beautiful at home.
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Our service was friendly and casual. We enjoyed a glass of wine and a leisurely pace as we admired the creations being made before our eyes in the open kitchen.
Market Fresh Bistro’s garden-fresh ingredients left us longing for something similar in our neighborhood at home.  If only we could get produce this fresh year-round.
This bistro is locavore heaven. Highly recommend. Next time we’ll try the dessert.

Sunday brunch, Hawaiian style

In March 2012, we biked for 10 miles plus so that we could enjoy the delicious breakfast and brunch at the Bay Terrace at the Mauna Lani Hotel on the Big Island. With its outdoor tables overlooking the gorgeous grounds, pool and ocean, you can’t go wrong. We get the sense that many of the waiters and waitresses have worked at the Mauna Lani for years. Since this is the type of place that people seem to return to year after year, it wouldn’t surprise me if they eventually learned your name and waited for your return.

IMG_4714 2IMG_4715We enjoyed the Hawaiian-inspired eggs benedict and coconut French toast with bananas. So tropical and so delicious. Paired with a freshly brewed cup of Kona coffee, it’s perfect for a Sunday brunch. Or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Good morning, paradise.

Malasada Monday

IMG_6069For nearly a decade, we drove by TEX Drive In during our visits to the Big Island without stopping. We had no idea what we were missing until a friend told us that we must stop. We were missing malasadas.

Malasadas are Portuguese sweet bread and fried donuts. You may order them up with or without a filling. With a filling, they are about $1.50. When we arrived mid-morning, they had a sign on the counter with the flavors available that day. They were served warm and fresh, sprinkled with sugar.

IMG_6070Located in Honoka’a, TEX Drive In opened in 1969 and specializes in “ono Kine grindz,” or local Hawaiian food. Along with the world-famous malasadas, they have a menu of breakfast items, burgers, wraps, stews, soups, sandwiches and salads.

No, the malasadas are not health food. Yes, you should have one and then plan an extra long hike later that day in paradise. Order one up with your filling of choice and grab one of the outside tables for a view of the Pacific in the distance.IMG_6073

TEX Drive In is located at 45-690 Pakalana Street, Hwy. 19 in Honoka’a. It’s a great place to stop on a drive between Waimea and Hilo. They are open every day, except for Christmas, from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Holuakoa Gardens and Café

IMG_0261This restaurant is well worth the drive off the beaten path to Holualoa on the Big Island. We have only been there twice, but we will be back, most likely for dinner. We had the same waitress two years in a row and the service, even though it extremely busy, was terrific.

The restaurant is part of the Slow Food movement, an organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community, sustainability and the environment. A section of the restaurant’s website describes the local farmers they work with to provide organic fruits, vegetables and other ingredients.

There is a coffee shop indoors and nearby you will find the gardens with outdoor tables, nicely shaded and with a fishpond and a somewhat eclectic vibe.

The food here is the star. We each had a fresh local fish sandwich off the brunch menu and it was delicious. The wine list is respectable and I had a glass of red with my lunch.IMG_0258 2

There was a group of four women at the table next to us and they all ordered the baked thick cut french toast with fresh island fruit, whipped cream and pure maple syrup. They giggled when the waitress brought their brunch; it was so ridiculously generous of a portion and looked so yummy. The waitress smiled and replied, “I don’t know why, but people always laugh when we serve the french toast.”

Holuakoa Gardens & Café is located at 76-5900 Old Government Road in Holualoa, across from the bright pink-colored Inaba’s Kona Hotel.

What’s Shakin’?

IMG_6077Craving the best smoothie of your life? Made with organic ingredients grown locally, right on the grounds of the most adorable little stand ever? Then it’s time to head over to What’s Shakin’ on the Hilo side of the Big Island.

What’s Shakin’ is located at 27-999 Old Mamalahoa Highway, the 4-mile scenic route, in Pepeekeo. It’s a great place to stop on your way to the Hilo side of the island, or to make a stop if you are staying near Hilo. Earlier this year, we stopped on our way to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden for lunch. We had a smoothie for lunch and split the most delicious ahi tuna wrap with fresh avocado. This is one of the freshest, most delicious lunches or snacks you will ever find.

IMG_6087They also sell the organic fruit they grow right on the grounds. Yum.

The smoothies? I highly recommend the Bananarama or the Peanut Braddah (banana, peanut butter and chocolate and milk, but I ordered it up with mac nuts). I might need to go back to eventually try all of them.

As if the 4-mile scenic drive wasn’t enough after the drive over from Kona with its twists and turns through gorgeous gulches and views, you make the turn to the scenic drive and suddenly, there you are—at the What’s Shakin’ stand just in time for lunch or the perfect afternoon snack.

IMG_6076The service at What’s Shakin’ has always been friendly. They have picnic tables for you to leisurely enjoy your smoothie or lunch. The view? Well, how about the lush green of the Hilo side along with flowers and the ocean off in the horizon? Doesn’t get better than that.