This was the year the word “gastropub” was finally added to the Merriam Websters dictionary. Defined as upscale pub grub, this genre of food had more of a stronghold on the mainland where it has dominated for the last decade, but its popularity has not gone unnoticed on Maui. Menus have swelled with gourmet burgers, fancy fries, fish and chips, artisan bread, herb dressings and sauces and all kinds of flatbreads. European-influenced menus like the new 100 Wines offer shameless, cheese-heavy dishes, grilled salads with frozen dressing and charcuterie boards, laden with more cheeses and meats, to an audience that embraces the richness and pairs it with wine and cocktails flawlessly.
Celebrities and celebrity chefs took notice of our passionate appetites. Mick Fleetwood opened his three-level, English-influenced entertainment and edibles emporium and hired Hell’s Kitchen Sous Chef Scott Leibfried as corporate chef, with local chef Maro Gjurasic (formerly from The Plantation House) rounding out the star-studded talented staff that brings us Beef Wellington and bangers and fingerling flatbread on Front Street. Star Noodle Chef Sheldon Simeon sustains his rising star this year with more recognition from Food and Wine Magazine, to say nothing of his battling it out on Food Network’s current season of Top Chef.
Celebrity Chef Alan Wong opened Amasia in the Grand Wailea, resurrecting the stunning Japanese Kincha location that hadn’t been used in years. Wong created a hybrid menu of what could be Maui’s own version of gastro: Asian-guided share plates inspired by local style backyard holo holo around the hibachi. Amasia’s menu covers several categories–sushi, raw bar, robata (grilled) and family style in large portion.
In 2013, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is planning a 136-seat restaurant at the new Wailea Andaz on Mokapu Beach. Acclaimed Los Angeles Chef Josiah Citrin, owner of top rated Melisse, opened his fast casual burger concept on Maui at Sure Thing Burger on Front Street. The menu offers four gourmet burgers featuring different proteins, including Maui Cattle beef, all hand-patted and processed in house.
That wasn’t the only new burger concept on Maui, with LA’s well known slow food burger joint called FatBurger making its entry into the Maui market in Pukalani where KFC use to sit next to Foodland. In Paia, Johnny B’s opened, featuring buns from the famed Komoda Bakery, local beef from the Big Island and Roselani shakes. But Maui’s ultimate slow food burger joint hails from family run Bully’s Burger in Kanaio.
While you eat the pure beef patties at their picnic tables along the backside to Hana, you can gaze on the Triple L Ranch grazing cattle that provided that amazing flavor. The beef, the terroir, the views of the island of Hawaii are all epic, making this stand a must for burger aficionados.
Maui’s foodies got a whole lot more festive this year with new festivals like Broke da Mouth and Ka’anapali Fresh on the Westside joining the ranks of Plantation Days and the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival. Broke da Mouth continues in the space Taste of Lahaina left after petering out. It offers live, local acts, food competitions, tastings and family entertainment.
Ka’anapali Resort Association decided it was high time to dream big and put on their ultimate wine and food event that put local farms and food purveyors at the forefront through a partnership with Maui County Farm Bureau. Each Ka’anapali chef teamed up with a farmer for every event. It was a spectacular weekend from tours of the Ka’anapali Coffee Farm, hosted by Kimo Falconer, to other land and sea activities, a progressive dinner prowl around Ka’anapali, a wine and food festival and the finale–a Third Eye Blind Concert at the Royal Lahaina.
Not to be outdone, the Wailea Resort Association branded their own Wailea Wine and Food Festival this December, with an amazing spread of events throughout their resorts, highlighting the cluster of culinary talent in Wailea. May’s Maui Brewer’s Festival grew as well, seeing its most successful year of craft beers and gastro pub pairings while fundraising for the Maui Arts and Cultural Center.
Farm to plate and glass continues as the mantra for restaurants on Maui. Food transparency is trickling down to specifics at farmers markets, and a more educated consumer, diner and drinker. Most bars have made a fresh herb and juice conversion, most recently the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villa with their fantastic Dewar’s smash with raspberries developed by Bay Area mixologist Manny Hinojosa.
Resorts have gardens to source their own herbs, chefs have local farmers growing specific items for them and bartenders are bar chefs. Restaurants like Pacific’o, I’o and Aina Gourmet Market have their own upcountry farm: O’o, which hosts visitors, outdoor lunches and eco-tourism events for visitors ready to get their hands dirty. Chef James Simpliciano started his own farm Simpli Fresh, which takes fallow farm land and transforms it into food revolutionary crops that help at risk kids.
A number of pop-up concepts hit the ground running this year. Chef Jim Devevan brought Outstanding in the Field to Maui for its inaugural Hawaii farm pop-up dinners. Chef Justin Pardo of Market Fresh Bistro and Kupa’a Farms star in the show. Maui’s own version of Kupu Maui shares more than a meal in their pop-ups that pair a themed food with an amazing location every month on Maui.
The closing of restaurants is always a sad moment on the island, but none brought more despair than Maui Bake Shop’s, which happened following the tragic death of baker/co-owner Jose Krall when his plane crashed on the way to Molokai. We also bid a sad farewell to David Paul’s Island Grill, Famous Dave’s, Saffron, Alexander’s Fish and Chips, Big Wave Cafe, Timba, Aroma D ‘Italia, Four Sister’s Restaurant and Tacos Del Mar, to name a few. The only caveat we have is that this may make room for something new and delicious to blossom from the location.
What’s on the horizon for Maui? More micro-locally sourced menus, but with a new twist: catering to those looking for specialty diets like gluten-free and vegan. Bartenders not wanting to squeeze fresh juices will have to get creative with the infused and flavored distilled bottles inundating the beverage market, and there will be more biodynamic and organic and energy efficient wines and craft beers.
Maui Brewing Company cans of limited release beers and its upcoming expansion will quench our insatiable craft beer thirst. Pies made a good run at taking over from the cupcake, with amazing additions from Leoda’s and Monkeypod Kitchen, but the next big thing in the dessert market is still anyone’s game.