James McDonald, the managing chef of the relatively new Cafe James in Kihei, is not what we’d call a modest man. “This small but intimate cafe across from the famous whale statue is a different approach by Chef to food and setting,” states the Cafe James menu. “Chef James is also the brilliance behind three popular and award winning restaurants in Lahaina, on the west side of our beautiful island.”
When those restaurants are Pacific’O, i’o and Feast at Lele, we can forgive a bit of immodesty. Since 1993, McDonald has won honors and rave reviews for these luxurious establishments from Taste of Lahaina, Wine Spectator, the Honolulu Advertiser, Hawaiian Airlines, Honolulu Magazine, Travel & Leisure and The Maui News.
I first found the place on a recent Saturday morning. Walking towards the immensely popular Kihei Caffe, and its standing-room only crowd, I decided to keep walking. I only had to go a few yards before I came across Cafe James, which at that point was only about half full.
Open only for breakfast (dinner service is scheduled to start next month), Cafe James is something new for McDonald. It’s a small cafe of modest menu and service—one or two servers, a single cook, plastic forks and cups. Against the inside wall, the big painting of the Kaheawa Wind Farm above Ma‘alaea is by the artist Sevan, who worked off a photograph by Lee Guthrie, the cafe’s owner/manager. It’s a rare day when Guthrie isn’t working tables as a server.
The diminutive cafe next to Life’s a Beach is nonetheless a jewel in the Kihei Kalama Village. In fact, it’s better than Kihei Caffe.
My favorite meal is clearly the Breakfast Panini ($8.50). It’s not your usual morning grilled egg sandwich: two scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, ham and sliced tomatoes between two pieces of sourdough bread and then grilled in one of those cute little panini grills. The panini comes with either rice or potatoes, which are cut up into bite-sized morsels and mixed in with diced onions.
The ever so delicate—but still stuffed—crepes are also a unique offering. The Kula includes a couple scrambled eggs, mushrooms, spinach and goat cheese ($9.50). For something sweeter, the cafe offers one with strawberries, a light honey sauce, homemade whipped cream and powdered sugar ($8.50) and the Banana Cream, which is exactly what it sounds like ($8).
The cafe also offers delicious omelets with an eclectic array of fillings: pork sausage, pineapple, jalapeno peppers, green onions, pepperjack cheese (Hawaiian—$9.50); vegetarian turkey, spinach, garlic, goat cheese (Upcountry—$9.50); and Portuguese sausage, bacon, ham, onion, cheddar cheese (Paniolo—$10.50). Or if you just want something simple, they offer two eggs, ham or bacon, rice or fried potatoes and toast for a mere $7.50. MTW