Enjoying a leisurely lunch is one of my coveted pastimes. When A Fianco opened in Lahaina, I grabbed my husband and took a tour of their menu.
A Fianco is right next to Sale Pepe in the Lahaina Center. That’s because the owners of Sale Pepe, Michele and Qiana Di Bari, are behind the new lunch spot. A Fianco is bright inside, with white marble on the walls and tables which adds a lovely, cooling effect to the room–especially important in Lahaina. Wood and cast iron accents on chairs and walls soften the look. It’s a friendly place where you can relax with kids or friends and enjoy a daytime bite.
When Sale Pepe first opened, they served lunch, but then they stopped. I asked Michele and Qiana why, and what makes A Fianco different.
“When we started lunch at Sale Pepe, we had just opened,” says Michele. “It was a lot. We had the same menu as dinner for lunch. We just wanted to wait to put our focus on dinner. We actually were pretty busy at lunch, too.”
“We were so busy in the beginning at Sale Pepe,” adds Qiana. “We were getting run down. We thought me might not be putting our best foot forward. We decided to stop for peace of mind.”
A year and some later, they procured the lease for the adjoining space, with plans to make it a stand-alone lunch menu.
“A Fianco, it means ‘next door’ in Italian, so it will be Sale Pepe’s next door,” says Qiana. “We will have daytime small plates, about eight items. Two pastas, very simple and straightforward. The menu will be in English and very simple to understand. We’re going to use that marble wall to write the items for everyday.”
They will have sandwiches on the menu, and Michele developed his own bread for the panini.
“We basically are gonna use the pizza dough,” says Michele. “When you bake the dough, and you don’t stretch it, it has a unique texture. We’re gonna leave it smaller. It gets fluffy. It’s very light. It’s something different.”
Michele then runs out of A Fianco to grab me a cooked bread from the kitchen in Sale Pepe. Michele’s panini bread looks almost like a pita, or a pocket bread of sorts.
“We bake it at a high temperature,” he says. “Then what it does is it puffs up. Crisp on the outside, not doughy. Every week we will change the filling. For the first week it will be mozzarella, grilled eggplant, basil mayo for the veggie sandwich and the other one will be a meat. Every week we will change it. Same for all the items. The pizzas are going to be great and just $8. It will be really fresh, instead of offering a slice, pre-made, that we put in the oven. This way it’s nice, hearty, fresh-made pizza. I think it makes a difference. It makes it more healthy. We are using fresh mozzarella. It’s a nice little pizza that doesn’t get you stuffed.”
I try the eggplant panini and it rocks. The sandwich bread is light, slightly crisp outside, and the filling of fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato and roasted eggplant is just what I’m looking for. It’s like my favorite heavy eggplant parmesan gutbomb has been redesigned into an elegant and billowy panini.
“It gets like a pita almost,” says Qiana. “You can eat this sandwich and you don’t need a nap. You can keep going. We’re really trying to stay within the $5 to $15 for anything on the menu. We really want to reach locals who haven’t experienced Sale Pepe. We’re going to have spaghetti and marinara and meatballs. We want the menu at A Fianco to be really accessible.”
The pizza is also delicious. I tried the fresh mozzarella and basil version. I’m already a fan of the pizza coming out at night at Sale Pepe, so it’s no surprise there. It’s nice to be able to get one during the day, and have it as an individual serving.
Even the salads are stellar. I’m always on the lookout for standout veggies for midday meals. I try them both–the Fregola and Kula greens. The Fregola is a garbanzo bean chopped salad, full of herbs, onion, a tiny pasta called fregola and a light dusting of cheese. I can really appreciate eating these mixes of chilled pasta, beans and veggies with a light vinaigrette. The Kula greens and veggies are so fresh and crisp, just at the height of maturity, full of flavor, topped with gorgeous radish slivers and sliced cherry tomato.
In the evening, the space will turn into a lounge for people awaiting their table in Sale Pepe.
“At night time this is our wine bar,” says Qiana. “People can wait here, and have pupus here. We will have four to six items and the wine menu. We’re excited to reach the locals. It was a great experience to tweak our Sale Pepe concept and challenge ourselves. Now we can do private parties here. Pasta-making classes, different options. I foresee making this a space to do cultural events. I’m envisioning an art night, a lounge night.”
For now they serve lunch from 11am to 2pm Monday to Friday, with a seasonally changing menu.
“We also have a nice Italian organic frozen coffee,” says Michele. “It’s like a granita, sweet with cream. You see them everywhere in Italy. We want to create this place for the locals and we want to have that European energy. Like you’re eating at home.”
Old Lahaina Center, 878 Front St #7,8, Lahaina, HI 96761