When was the last time you wanted to hop on a plane and head to San Francisco for a seafood cocktail, or grab a po’ boy from a New Orleans shrimp shack, or dig into some Dungeness crab at Seattle’s Waterfront Park? We don’t really have the luxury of doing that, but we can head to Mark Ellman’s newest oceanside restaurant Honu Seafood and Pizza where he’s captured those seafood traditions and brought them to Maui. It’s a family business where you will find Mark, his wife Judy and their daughters Ariana and Michelle running the show.
“I enjoy eating seafood more than any other item and it was missing in our marketplace,” Mark told me. His menu creations are not only better than those found elsewhere, but he’s also accommodated gluten free diets, vegetarians and localvores.
When the old Local Motion clothing store decided to give up their Front Street location next to Mala Ocean Tavern, the Ellman’s other restaurant, Mark and Judy decided to open Honu. They jumped into their new project with vigor: they gutted the clothing store, then built a kitchen, bar and dining room. The outside of the building remains much the same, save for a new sign that says “Honu Seafood and Pizza.” Blonde wood accentuates the dining room interior, which is open to the sea. The late Captain Kenny Neizman’s art adorns the walls and some are available for purchase, paying homage to his love of drawing the Honu and other undersea creatures.
The bar features an unique and extensive beer selection. “It’s a big commitment,” says Ellman. “It’s not easy keeping 55 beers in stock. We have 12 on draft and we focused heavily on U.S. microbrews. Our Flying Dog Imperial Stout is a well-sought-out beer.” Their handcrafted cocktail list contains lots of locally sourced fruits and liquors. I have to admit it was love at first sip with their smoked julep, which features Devils Cut Bourbon and Lagavulin Scotch.
The menu at Honu is extensive in the seafood department, but they also offer rich lamb riblets, crispy fried pig ear, braised meats and burgers. The Naples style pizzas pair perfectly with their beers, and the Hamakua mushroom pizza with micro greens is phenomenal.
My own seafood festival began with Dungeness crab cocktail. These beautiful hard shell crabs caught in the Pacific Northwest are known for their delicate, sweet meat. Honu takes the hard work out of eating one and serves it over ice and garnished with a bit of avocado salsa
Next up was the octopus. This is one of my favorite sea creatures. Intelligent, beautiful like an alien and uniquely adorned with suction cups. This dish does the creature justice: the simple grilling makes the thick, sinewy chunks come out firm but juicy. A pile of edamame hummus, drizzling of buerre blanc and sliced garlic and mojo verde finish the flavors. Served with flax seed toast, it’s quite a treat.
The steamed mussels are irresistible in their white wine and tomato broth and served with batter-fried lemon. The black shells are perfect scoops for simultaneous bites of broth and mussel. Another tasty starter was the rock shrimp with asparagus. Bite-sized shrimp and tender, chopped asparagus topped with a salsa and served with bread make it a hearty appetizer.
With new found vegetarians and vegans in the family, eating at Honu turned out to be easy. The Gado Gado Salad and the Kale Salad are both filled with plenty of plant-strong ingredients to keep veg heads happy: dates, pomegranate, nuts, grape tomatoes, edamame, tofu and cucumber all make for interesting and complex vegetarian fare.
I finished the evening with the Fresh Fish Dore preparation. It was Kampachi egg-battered and flour-dredged. Turkish quinoa rounded out the grain; the haricot verts and white corn made an amazing succotash. The butter lemon and dill pollen sauce with capers was topped with edible petals. It was gorgeous to look at, but this work of art still disappeared quickly.
Honu just started their gourmet holiday cookie sale housemade by pastry chef Liz McDonald. Order a box of their assortment of chocolate chip, almond raspberry thumbprints, ricotta biscuits and chocolate hazelnut lava cookies, or the vegan gluten-free chocolate brownies with macadamia nuts and fudge topping for $19 each. The Honu bake shop needs 48 hours notice and you can pick up your goodies at the restaurant.
Honu will also host a beer festival on Dec. 19 and starts at 6pm. “The beer festival is meant to introduce the eclectic beers that we carry,” says Ellman. “We are focusing on Italy, Belgium and Germany. We will even have a gluten-free beer from Belgium. We are going to serve ahi bruschetta, pizza, shrimp cocktail, fried oysters. Even fried pig’s ear, too.”
It’s Honu’s version of bar food, with 13 beers from around the world. The cost is $49. Call 667-9390 to reserve a seat. Honu Seafood and Pizza also offers a 10 percent discount to kama‘aina all the time, and 25 percent off for kama‘aina eating at the bar.
Honu Seafood and Pizza
1295 Front St., Lahaina
Got a hot food scoop? Contact Jen Russo at 808-280-3286 or fax to 808-244-0446.
For more foodie news, visit MauiTime’s food blog at: mauidish.com