June 13, 2012

Magnolia Travels, Part III: Maui

Two eating establishments captured our attention on the island of Maui: Honu Seafood and Pizza in Lahaina and Flatbread Company in Paia, on East Maui.
The seaside town of Lahaina buzzes happily with tourists and is almost too full of food choices. Lahaina was a far cry from the tiny town of Hanalei in Kauai: there are the obligatory chain restaurants and a smattering of touristy seafood and burger joints that entices streetwalkers with advertisements of drinks and party music. Front Street in Lahaina has everything the heart could possibly want - shopping, eating, and good-time beach patios. The place we settled on for lunch was far from the main drag of Front Street and closer to the famous Old Lahaina Luau, on the north side of Lahiana. Honu Seafood has a plank patio that runs into a rocky beach. From our seaside table, we watched seagulls and the occasional sea turtle bobbing in the harbor. Honu's menu was a mix of flatbread pizzas and seafood dishes, sandwiches, and Asian-style fish dishes. Here at Honu's we got our first taste of fried pig's ear.

Pig's ear is so different than I ever imagined. I expected it to have the toughness of calamari or the grittiness of a chicken wing, but the meat was tender and almost gelatinous. Fried in large chunks and garnished with lavender, these golden ears were served with a side of spicy Korean barbecue sauce. Frosty drinks of cucumber and candied ginger topped off these hot salty pork bits. If you are ever on the north side of Lahaina's Front Street at lunchtime and want an Asian fusion appetizer next to beach and sea turtles, check out the pig's ear at Honu's.
Two days later, between a stunning trip up to the Haleakala Crater and our flight back to the mainland, we were exploring the hot, sunny village of Paia on East Maui. Paia is one of the hippiest communities I have ever seen: hemp shops, dirt parking lots, tattoo parlors every block, a bar called Charlie's that Willie Nelson allegedly frequents. Happily, there is a place in Paia that is worth a visit or two: Flatbread  Company is a mini-chain that can be found in various places on the west coast as well as tourist locales like Martha's Vineyard. In Paia though, Flatbread Company uses local ingredients and fresh produce from East Maui farmers. Flatbread in Paia supports local artists, musicians, and businesses; it raises money for local non-profit organizations and intends to serve not only the tourists that swarm Maui in all seasons but also East Maui's local population. Not since Hanalei Pizza did we feel as if we were in a local dive rather than an overrun tourist trap.

A Kalua pork flatbread pizza did the trick for our last meal on Hawaii. All ingredients were fresh, homemade, and local: Kiawe smoked free-range pork shoulder, homemade organic mango barbecue sauce, Maui onion and Maui pineapple, local goat cheeses, whole milk mozzarella, and Parmesan. A Maui Brewing Company coconut porter topped off this exquisite hot pizza and our travels in Hawaii.
If you are traveling to Hawaii and need restaurant recommendations, I would highly recommend both of these places, as well as the places in Kauai that were so impressionable. Although urbanspoon and yelp can be very helpful to steer you away from the tourist traps and into the local dives, I would recommend that you look for restaurants that feature organic and local products, or that at least have eclectic culinary perspectives, like Honu. For now, I will just wish I was back there, trying new things next to the ocean and having more pig's ear for lunch.
An honorable mention on Maui must be made for Kimo's, a comfortable patio on the beach in Lahaina with fantastic drinks and mile-high Hula Pie. Kimos also serves some of the best mai tais we tasted all week. Just be sure to share the Hula Pie and be prepared not to eat again for several hours afterwards. Hula Pie is a ridiculous concoction of cookie crust, macadamia nut ice cream, and two types of fudge topping, with more toasted mac nuts and whipped cream on the side. Order with caution and at least two spoons.

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