Paia is getting dangerously close to good restaurant overload. Though there are solid dining establishments sprinkled across the island, no town can claim a higher concentration of can’t-miss eateries than Maui’s cozy little North Shore hamlet.
Add another one to the list.
Green Banana Cafe, which opened last month and touts itself as an “Organic Eco Internet Cafe”, welcomes passersby with a vibrant interior and spacious outdoor seating. People and their laptops are scattered about in that leisurely coffee shop way, enjoying free Wi-Fi while they sip drinks and nibble on fresh pastries from the amply stocked display case.
Upstairs, sunburned surfers and European tourists check their Facebook pages and print airline tickets on public computers ($3 for a half hour; $1 for every 10 minutes thereafter).
Art lines the wall. Owner Dean Wong tells me he plans to get regular live music up and running in the near future. He also says they’ll keep expanding the menu.
Right now the menu is small, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. They’ve got two smoothies at the moment, one featuring bananas and mixed berries, the other centered around acai (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”) a rich, purple, almost chocolatey berry that’s been steadily gaining popularity in recent years. It’s touted for its nutritional umph and I have no reason to doubt that it’s good for you, but the main thing is it tastes excellent and is capable of carrying a smoothie, something not every berry can claim.
Green Banana also mixes hot drinks, including made-on-site chai. They’ve got bagels and locally baked goodies and…I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the banana pudding.
Now, I’ll preface this by saying I have a mixed relationship with the banana. Oh I like it fine in some things, but I’ve found for my palate, a little goes a long way. Which is to say: normally you wouldn’t find me raving about banana pudding.
But these are not normal circumstances. Created using a recipe passed down from his father that Wong estimates is more than 70 years old, the pudding is sweet but not too sweet, creamy but not overpoweringly rich. Garnished with whipped cream, some banana slices and a deliciously mysterious cookie-like swirl, it’s the kind of dessert where you wish you had a spatula instead of a spoon to scrape those last few dollops off the bottom of the bowl.
Wong says his goal was to create a hip coffee shop—the kind you’d find in Seattle or San Francisco—while staying true to what makes Maui, Maui. To that end, Green Banana uses mostly local, organic ingredients (and they hang cool surfboards from the ceiling). Wong adds that he knows times are tough. “I think people should be able to get a good cup of coffee and something to eat for $10 or less,” he says.
That’s great, but honestly I’d pay whatever he asked for some more of that pudding. Seriously. It’s really good. MTW