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.


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.


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.”




Twilight at Kalahuipua’a

When the full moon rises each month, the Mauna Lani on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island hosts an evening of storytelling, Hawaiian music and entertainment at the historic Eva Parker Woods Cottage. The event is held on the Saturday closest to when the full moon rises. For the month of September, tonight is the night.

The event is for hotel guests, hotel employees and residents of Hawaii. For visitors, this is one more reason to consider a stay at this property. If I start to sound like a broken record when I describe my love for the Mauna Lani, well, I really cannot help myself. In summary, it’s a gem.
The Eva Parker Woods Cottage is next to the ancient fish ponds at the Manua Lani. It houses historical information about the area. Twilight is one way the Mauna Lani shares and preserves Hawaiian arts, customs and culture such as the traditional folk art of storytelling through music, tales and more. Danny Akaka, who serves as the Mauna Lani’s cultural historian, hosts the special event and shares his knowledge of the island’s heritage and history with guests.

There are many properties on all of the islands offering cultural and environmental activities. Stargazing, for example, with experts to share their knowledge. If you get the chance, they are well worth the time.

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.

Yoga by the sea

yogamaunalauniWhere we live, the weather forecast calls for snow, sleet and ice, so I am desperately trying to hold on to the memories of yoga by the sea.

It would be difficult to think of a better location for yoga than Hawaii. This photo is from a morning beach yoga session at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island. You do not need to be staying in the hotel property to participate. You may purchase one class or a package at the Manua Lani Fitness Club. One session is currently $16, a package of 5 is $70 or a package of 10 for $120. To purchase a session or package, just stop by the Mauna Lani Fitness Club.

Considering that a yoga class at my favorite local studio is $15, I would call this a bargain.

The instructors were terrific. My favorite line was when one instructor said, “This is not New York City yoga. This is Hawaii yoga. Breathe. Relax. Look at the whales jumping out of the water.” And just like that, there they were. Whales frolicking and playing in the sea close enough for us to relax and deepen into our pose. Unforgettable. This is my kind of yoga practice.

North Kona-20130306-00570There are many other places on the Big Island offering yoga. Here’s a shot of another outdoor studio in Keahou at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keahou Bay.

During the 60-minute beachfront practice at the Mauna Lani, the morning sun shifted in the sky. The milo tree provided a shady outdoor studio. This is a memory that keeps me going as we wonder when spring will arrive in the Upper Midwest.


Happy honu

honuHonu is the Hawaiian term for these magical, ancient creatures—the green sea turtle. You will find the honu on the beaches or relaxing and resting on the lava rocks while they sun themselves. They are also active in the water as you snorkel near the shore. They are indigenous to Hawaii and are viewed as a symbol of peace and good luck. They are fortunate to live in some of the most beautiful waters in the world.

These creatures need our help to survive and thrive. The green sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Many people and nonprofit organizations have worked diligently over the years to protect the turtles. It is critically important that you do not disturb, touch or bother them. They almost seem to sense that they have this protection as they do not seem afraid of humans and will swim nearby when you are snorkeling. It’s okay to admire, but under no circumstances should you disturb or touch them.

Apparently the honu lifespan is similar to that of humans and they often live to be 80 years or older.

In March of this year, we were walking on a fairly quiet part of the beach on the Kohala Coast. We weren’t expecting to run into a turtle, but there it was half asleep, resting and oblivious to us humans. We quietly admired for a few moments and then moved on. They are amazing.

For the past 24 years, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast has held a Turtle Independence Day on July 4.  For two to three years, the baby honu are raised in the ancient fish ponds of the Mauna Lani.  They are lovingly cared for until they reach an age and size suitable for entering life in the ocean. More than 200 honu have been released in the past quarter century at the Mauna Lani on the Fourth of July—a fitting way to celebrate our nation’s independence.