Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hawai'i Day Eighteen: NorthWest Cuisine

After exploring the Lower Road and Saddle Road on this, and previous visits to the Big Island, today we took a road trip up along the other passage to the West side of the Island - the Upper Road.

After our now requisite stop at Sirius Coffee in Pahoa, dropping something in the mail at the post office, and gassing up, we headed out of town, and up through Hilo and beyond.

Our first food stop was Mr. Ed's Bakery, in the little town of Honomu. We stopped in town on our way back to the highway after visiting Akaka Falls, and intended to stop in at a woodworking gallery and restaurant... but it didn't open until 11am, so instead we walked up the road to Mr. Ed's, where we were confronted by an embarrassment of choices for a breakfast treat. Doughnuts and buns and pastries galore, alongside jar after jar of homemade jams in so many flavors and colors that, had I squinted, the sunshine beaming through the window would've made them appear like a wall of stained glass. I was tempted by a jar of lilikoi and hot pepper jam, but decided packing it would be a hassle, and stuck with a little pack of Azuki Bean Manju - little cookies filled with red bean paste. Dan went for a Cream Bun, filled with Bavarian cream, and a Strawberry Crush to satisfy his craving for something bubbly.

Back on the road, we made our way to Laupahoehoe - the Northernmost point of the island, and a city nearly wiped off the map in 1946 when the first of two huge 20th century tsunamis hit the Big Island.

Then we were on our way to Wai'pio - or at least the lookout point where you can look down at Wai'pio. The city is perhaps the most isolated on the island - down in a valley that can only be reached via 4WD vehicle along a 25% grade road. The valley looked beautiful from above - lush and green. It's lowland position has made the valley perfect for growing the long-time staple food crop of Hawai`i: Taro. Best known for it's pastey incarnation, poi, taro (or kalo, in Hawaiian) is a root that grows in wetlands, similar to how rice is grown. For poi, it's boiled and then pounded and strained, but taro can prepared other ways: like sliced and fried into chips, for example.

Afer Wai'pio, we stopped at Tex Drive In for a classic Hawaiian treat, by way of Portugal. Along with amazing sausage, and delicious sweet bread, the Portuguese workers how came to Hawai`i to work the sugar fields brought with them an amazing little doughnut-like creation called a Malasada.

Dan went for a plain one, and I got one filled with pineapple.

Though the day-glo color and flavor to match of the pineapple filling was a little disappointing, the malasadas were tasty. Not as good as the one's back home at Kaua'i Family Restaurant, in my opinion, but maybe just because those had a distinct coconut flavor imparted by the oil used to cook them, which I now associate with malasadas. These these lacked it, making them seem less distinct from their doughnut cousins that I'd hoped. But still tasty, mind you - as evidenced by how quickly I gobbled mine down.

A few dozen miles or so down the road later, we passed through Waimea - essentially a ranching town dominated by the huge Parker Ranch - and then on through to the West coast of the island. When we reached the coast, we drove South towards Kailua-Kona again, though not quite that far. We were headed to our planned lunch spot, which Dan had been looking forward to all day, after reading about it in his food guide and online: Tommy Bahama's Tropical Cafe.

We made it down to 'The Shops' at Mauna Lani (a little resort area where the cafe is located), parked, and walked up the steps to the restaurant. The door was ajar, so we walked in... only to be told they aren't open for lunch and won't be open until 4pm. This was at about 1pm, so we were outta luck. To it's credit, it looked very nice. Maybe next time we're here we'll get a chance to visit - assuming it's still open. The shopping center was a ghost town.

We hopped back in the car and flipped through our food guide, and Dan found a little Mexican place in the nearby town of Kawaihae that was said to have margaritas.

Tres Hombres Beach Grill is in a little shopping center, facing the water, and had a great view and open air seating. Somehow, we stopped in on the last day they were serving liquor, and the implication was they didn't have margaritas. Dan was told what you could see behind the bar was what you could get. So, we had Coronas instead.

For lunch, Dan ordered the Crab Enchiladas, while I went for an avocado shrimp boat - fresh avocado, peppers, and tomatoes chopped and piled into the shell of the avocado (and piled all around it), then topped with seasoned, butterflied shrimp.

It was all very good, though a margarita would've really hit the spot.

Of course, as we were leaving, I noticed a woman at another table drinking a margarita, so maybe we just needed to ask a different way. The place seemed to be staffed by only one woman, despite the large restaurant, so perhaps it's feeling the hit of slow economic times, too.

After lunch, we backtracked a bit to visit a couple heiaus - ancient Hawaiian rock temples - then headed up the coast for some snorkeling at Kapa'a beach, swung by the Westernmost point of the island (Upolu), snapped some photos of the third of three Kamehameha statues in the state (we visited the others in Honolulu and Hilo), stopped at the Pololu Valley lookout, and then turned back towards home.

With the sun setting behind us, we made our way back to Waimea, then back along the Upper Road to Pahoa, where we stopped to grab some dinner.

We'd heard good things about the Pahoa Village Cafe (formerly Shaka's), and couldn't help but notice the energy every time we walked by. The place is big, open, and usually has music playing that spills out into the street. We sidled up the bar and ordered some beer and some food.

I went for the Beer Battered Ono, and Dan had Chicken Katsu - which I think he'd been craving since this morning, when we were parked at Sirius, next to L&L Barbecue, and I mentioned they have chicken katsu there.

We both really enjoyed the food, including a mac salad that included peas (!) and finished up just in time for closing before making the short drive home and collapsing into bed.

Today, we took a ton of photos, so if you're interested in seeing more, visit our other blog to read about the non-culinary parts of the trip (link below), and check out the entire flickr photo set from today (over 180 pictures and video).

(Dan's writing all about our trip over at our other blog, The Dans In Hawai`i, so I'll just stick to writing what I know: food.)

Tex Drive in on Urbanspoon

Tres Hombres Beach Grill on Urbanspoon

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