South Shore Tiki Lounge

They deliver it in a cauldron-like receptacle, a glass that looks like the bastard son of the Kool-Aid man and a hand-carved goddess of destruction. In presentation alone these mai-tais are ready to bust down the wall. But the sweet day-glo liquid could do the same damage served in a Christmas coffee mug.

The mai-tai may be emblematic of South Shore Tiki Lounge (and other drinkeries of the tropic-themed ilk), but the Lounge is by no means a one-trick pony, and sets itself apart from other, generic establishments whose décor is heavy on the bamboo.

 Modified earlier this year, the menu gives diners a surprisingly diverse array of options, including the addition of daily specials. Co-owner Mikhail Tassi (who, along with his wife Alma, took over the place in December 2008) says it’s bar food, but not quite.

While Tiki maintains an arsenal of colorful beverages—mai-tais and margaritas are only the beginning—the Tassis strive to make conscious choices when it comes to the environment and the local economy. If laminated paper could think and act, Tiki’s would do so globally and locally (respectively). “I try to get everything I can locally,” Tassi says. “It’s just the smart thing to do.”

Tiki gets much of its produce from a Kula farm. Local fishermen provide the eatery with fresh seafood. The meat comes from Maui Cattle Co. Even the baked goods—hamburger buns and such—come from a local source. The Maui Local Company, which, Alma tells me, features a Maui Cattle Company Burger, Kula greens salad and a Maui Brewing Company beer, is the epitome of this.

An added bonus, Mikhail says, is that local growers are often easier to work with—the actual growers know you, and they’re stoked that you’re using their stuff, he says.

The menu is convincing evidence that a restaurant can use local ingredients and still have dynamite, relatively inexpensive food. Carnivores have it made, with a wide array of cleverly named meat-centric dishes, including the vaguely irreverent Keha-meat-ha pizza and the Motherclucker chicken sandwich. Past dining companions have found the BBQ Kalua sandwich and the recently added fried calamari rings most delightful.

Yet Tiki is one of those rare liquor-selling establishments where even those who don’t engage in flesh consumption can find sustenance beyond olives and maraschino cherries.

Mikhail says that the vegan options listed on the menu are not big sellers, but that it’s good to provide iceberg lettuce-weary vegetarians and vegans (like myself) with options. And we appreciate it. Plus we don’t have to be concerned over whether or not our harvest burger patties will bathe in bacon grease prior to their arrival at our table. Vegan items are cooked on a separate surface, and the French fries are even cooked in separate oil. The vegan chili dog is fine and filling. Finishing it requires a Herculean effort; half will usually do. It entails a veggie dog (seriously, these are tasty on their own) topped with hearty veggie chili, which contains three types of beans, corn and chunks of Tiki’s harvest burger patty. Barbecue sauce from their extensive condiment bar works quite well as a topping.

Including vegan options and going local aren’t the only ways this establishment’s proprietors demonstrate that they’ve got brains. As a venue they’ve helped foster a network of local music purveyors. The likes of Kanoa of Gomega, Karen B and Erin Smith have served as happy hour or late-night entertainment (most late-night entertainment acts are DJs). Tiki chef Danny Paquett, who plays in the Latin band Neto, will occasionally hit the stage.

While many of us would be happy just to sit in the shade huddled over our small vats of jungle juice, it’s good to know there is at least one place that recognizes the importance of community—and more importantly makes some tasty grub. MTW