Day 4 on Maui: Kapalua and South Park, err, Paia

On Day 4 we were up early, yet still very refreshed. First up, a trip here

From our breakfast location at Kapalua Golf Course in West Maui

From our breakfast location at Kapalua Golf Course in West Maui

This place is beautiful. It’s the golf course at Kapalua. The downside, I suppose, is the discomfort I have when visiting anything with the word “plantation” in the title. I wish I could say I was joking. Still we’d come here on our last visit and I remembered the food being good and the view being, well, you saw it. This is a bit long, so you’ll find bolded headings for Paia, Leoda’s and Pineapple Grill below, which aren’t necessarily only about those three places. But at least you have a reference point.

Wife ordered up the sweet bread French toast breakfast with Portuguese sausage, pictured here

Delicious looking traditional breakfast

Delicious looking standard breakfast with little Portuguese sausage

The most amazing thing about this wasn’t here yet. Our server momentarily forgot to bring Wife’s strawberries. When they did arrive, they were unbelievably sweet, with no sugar added. It actually makes me wonder why regular strawberries don’t taste thig good. I feel kind of cheated out of real strawberry flavor. Oh, well, this version was delightful. The menu was pretty simple, so I opted for the crab cake Benedict.

Benedicts are a "control" for me to evaluate different restaurants, these look almost staged

Benedicts are a “control” for me to evaluate different restaurants, these look almost staged

Yes, technically that’s a Bloody Mary in the background. And yes technically this was earlier than a “brunch” but we are on vacation after all, so I’m suspending normal rules. This wasn’t the best nor the worst Benedict I’ve ever had. The egg was slightly under poached (amazing how underrated the ability to properly poach an egg is). The hollandaise was fine, not spectacular, too heavy actually. So even though the taste was there, there was a bit of a disconnect between the beauty of the place and the quality of the meal. Not a bad meal by any stretch, but you should have to do food well if you serve it in a place like this. I should add that the little smoked chili in the middle of the plate was surprisingly good.  It would seem a little out of place for this dish, but ended up being a nice accent flavor that I wish there’d been more of.  The service, by the way, was above average. Pleasant and attentive, thoughtful, but not involved enough to win any awards. That came later.

This is a random aside. We were seated next to what I took to be a 60-something mom and her two teenage daughters. As we ate, Wife and I chatted about the nicest place we went as  kids. Don Jose’s Mexican restaurant for her, Bob’s Big Boy (now a Coco’s in Clairemont) for me.  no offense to Big Boy, but our worlds and reference points have changed alot since we were kids.  I’d have never thought about nor cared where my food came from or how it was made, let along whether the people sweating to provide me a nice meal were compensated adequately – times have changed.  Anyway, this morphed into a conversation about the first time we could remember being in a very nice restaurant. What started this ball rolling was the thought that these two teenage girls seemed relaxed and comfortable, as far as I could tell from quick glances and a sentence or two of overheard discussion. It occurred to me that they’d likely never have a sense that a level of economic or social sophistication was beyond them. There’d be no growing into this world, it is already theirs. And lets be clear, I don’t have any problem with this at all. Either through luck or hard work or some combination of the two, their mom or someone they know or are related to is very successful.  That should be celebrated.

My observation isn’t a misguided search for class conflict. It’s an observation about understanding. It’s the value of economic and social diversity in college and life. How does a kid who can hang out at Kapalua at age 15 and feel totally comfortable develop a sense not just that what she has is better than some, but that having it better than some has very subtle yet profound impacts on how she and others view the world? And how do kids whose parents and whose parents’ parents never knew what this world was about or what the rules are ever learn them? This is why diversity is important, and why diversity can’t be reduced to some oversimplified racial stereotype. Ask yourself whether you made any assumptions about the race of those girls. Or the race of the working class kids. This isn’t an aside about judgment, it’s one about understanding. Ourselves and each other.  With that, we wrapped up our bill and headed off to do some paddle boarding.

Time in Paia

Well, turns out the weather was too windy and rough for paddle boarding, so instead we lit out on the cross island trek to Maui’s own version of South Park in San Diego, a little town called Paia. Just an FYI, Saturday at 12:30 is not the time to be going from Lahaina to, well anywhere. It took us almost 70 minutes to get there, which is frustrating when caused by traffic no matter how beautiful the scenery or how much you love your travel companion. Paia is filled with little independent shops that line Baldwin Ave and the Hana Highway.

The best I could do of a shot of main street Paia, I needed Howard Blackson's eye for important street features, alas.

The best I could do of a shot of main street Paia, I needed Howard Blackson’s eye for important street features, alas.

There really wasn’t any one photo that seemed to capture the town.  Update: I cheated and got this picture (and the blurb after it) from Howard Blackson of Placemakers.  It seems to capture some very lovely aspects of the town, no?

A better photo of Paia that I didn't take, but seems to capture interesting aspects well

A better photo of Paia that I didn’t take, but seems to capture interesting aspects well

More update: This image of Paia town shows the full spectrum of where we live in our world: from the natural beach and mountain to the Main Street, neighborhood homes, and rural agricultural hinterlands. Awesome image capturing the full essence of how we shape our environment (and then it shapes us as the natural environment dominates Paia).

We strolled around, popping in and out of mostly clothing and jewelry stores, and I was struck by how many people were walking around despite the horrendous traffic situation. It was like one big thumbed nose at pro-walkability planners everywhere. The two main streets were clogged almost the entire time we were there, yet somehow it felt very safe to walk around. Maybe it was too small for planning to matter. I thought they could use a big parking garage and to charge for parking, but maybe that’d just mess things up. Still, they’d likely have more money to spruce things up and give each other a safety net. I’d have paid $10 to park without blinking.  And while parking garages aren’t exactly beautiful, neither is hundreds of cars crammed into side streets and darting in and out of the limited available parking.

I struck up a conversation with a 30-something clerk from Utah who’d dropped in to Maui shortly after high school and never looked back. She talked about good energy and crystal healing and better nutrition, and she told me how this was the spiritual center ofMaui. Well, maybe she’s right, though it seems a bit self-important to say so. There was a not so slight hint of judge in her tone that I always found strange in counter culture groups. What sense does it make to scorn “main stream” for it’s judginess only to hold the very same contempt for people who don’t view the world through your lens? No, the irony of my judging her for judging others who she likely believes were judging her is not lost on me. But still, we’d do well to just let each other be.

Way too much thinking for a relaxed vacation. We’d walked around plenty and decided to settle in to one of our favorite little places. Here’s a sign from inside.

I couldn't agree more

I couldn’t agree more

Yes, that should make it clear why we stopped.  And if it doesn’t, maybe this will

Locally sourced salad - we did occasionally eat very healthy options

Locally sourced salad – we did occasionally eat very healthy options

Moving clockwise from 12 o clock, this salad includes goat cheese from surfing goat dairy, lettuce from Coca Farms, tomatoes from Zuhair Tamimi, greens from Aloha Aina Organic Farms, avocado from Ono Organic Farms. And it was all effing delicious. If you want to get a pretty good source on all things food on Maui, I stumbled across Maui Dish, check it out.  The host was off on the wait time by almost double, but since we were no longer in a car and had no place to be, the wait didn’t bother me at all. And once Annie our server got to us she was as delightful and pleasant as could be. We settled on a pizza of house made nitrate free maple fennel sausage, pepperoni, fire roasted red peppers and onions. Here’s a look
It was, as we remembered, quite good. We didn’t finish it all, and later determined that it doesn’t reheat well, but one 16″ pizza is plenty for two people if you don’t have a salad, a beer and this

This thing, especially the banana nut bread and coconut ice cream, was the best dessert I had all week

This thing, especially the banana nut bread and coconut ice cream, was a great post lunch treat

This was what Annie called “the half and half”, a brownie and a piece of banana bread under hot fudge with a scoop each of vanilla and coconut ice cream. Oh deer sweet baby Jesus this was good. Totally inappropriate for a lunch time dessert, and we justified it with our boot camp workout earlier in the day (ahh, delusions are magnificent, aren’t they), but man it was good. It was good because the ice cream was rich and not airy the way most store brand stuff is. And it was good because the banana bread had some sort of sweet caramel or something hiding out unexpectedly inside. And because the brownie was the right mix of chocolate/cake-like consistency that many brownies miss. Honestly, even if you aren’t eating out, this is a treat to stop in for.

The other interesting thing about Flatbread was the Maui Brewing Aloha Bahktun Belgian strong ale I had was WAY better and more flavorful than the one in the tasting room on Day 3 here. I thought maybe this is the issue related to long lines I wrote about before. It wasn’t just me, Wife tried it and confirmed that the version being poured was better. Maybe less distance between the brewed beer and my glass actually does matter. Interesting.

This place was not hurting for business. It has been packed each of the three times we’ve been over the last couple years. But if it were hurting I’d be singing from the rooftops for people to go here. They do food well, and with respect for the people who grow and produce it. They care about their role in the surrounding community and routinely do charity events for local groups. And the basics of any good restaurant–knowledgeable, friendly service and great food–were present here in abundance. Unless I hear that the other restaurants in Paia are similarly constituted, it will be hard for us to eat anywhere else when headed to or through Paia. (Post Script: I did hear from a few servers later in my trip that Cafe Des Amis, a Mediterranean Bistro in Paia, is also worth a stop but I haven’t tried it so can’t confirm).

Afternoon chill session
The problem with writing so far after the event is its easy to forget things.  So while I don’t remember the “how” what I do remember is the “what” and the “where”– Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop.

It's on the side of the road not too far outside of Lahaina as you head towards central Maui

It’s on the side of the road not too far outside of Lahaina as you head towards central Maui

We’d driven by this place on our way into Lahaina, but never stopped. Then, we decided to stop in and check out the place and maybe pick up some dessert on the way back from Paia. It was a fun shop on the side of the highway about 10 miles or so outside Lahaina. The road is a little dicey to get on and off of, so be careful.  It’s not “side of the cliff” dicey like heading to Hana, but definitely cars going very fast with no obvious merge points. When I walked through the door, I was immediately pleased to see this

It's always good to see restaurants acknowledging the hard working farmers with whom they work

It’s always good to see restaurants acknowledging the hard working farmers with whom they work

Always happy to see local small businesses supporting local small farmers. We got there late in the day, maybe 3-ish.  They open at 10:00am, so much of the good stuff is gone by early afternoon, best to go early. Nevertheless, we did pick up these two gems

Somewhat blurry shot of best pie I've had in a very long time

Somewhat blurry shot of best pie I’ve had in a very long time

It’s anyone’s call whether the banana creme pie or the macadamia chocolate creme pie with salted caramel chocolate crust was the better option. Wife was sold on the banana creme, which was one of the best I’ve ever had. But the crust in the chocolate creme pie was so damn good I could have eaten it without the filling.

They were basically out of bread, but we managed to squeeze a couple slices each of white and rye bread out of them.  We didnt eat those until the next day, but they were much better than most homemade bread, which I often find bland and too dense. The rye was good because although it had good traditional rye flavor, it didnt have all those caraway seeds everywhere, which can be a bit much. The white was kind of a sweet white that we normally wouldn’t order, but am glad we did, because it also was very good.

The trip to Leoda’s was so good we went back a couple days later on the way out of West Maui.  That time we picked up only bread, but got the other ones we missed the first time, including the multi-grain and hapa (a blend of half white and half wheat, which we learned from our server Kevin at Monkeypod–post HERE (not yet posted)–is actually an island term that originally meant half Hawaiian and half Caucasian–do people even say Caucasian any more?).  After I got home I googled the term and found this and this, too.

When we got back to the condo in Lahaina it was time for a bit of nothing. So we opened these

Time to chill

Time to chill

And kicked back for awhile.

Dinner at Pineapple Grill
This meal was as much about the food and the drinks and the location as it was about our very good, very knowledgeable server from Little Rock, Arkansas, Samira.  My photos didn’t turn out great, which always happens in places that are lit for ambiance and intimacy rather than my own freakish obsession with cataloging the ‘what’ and ‘where’ of my dining experiences.  So, what I can’t tell in photos I’ll try to capture in words along.

We shared the PG-13 Truffle Mac & Cheese, which was a Kalua pig Mac with white cheddar and truffle oil.  We had dinner a couple months ago with actual food writers (which I am quite obviously not) and I left that experience very impressed with what it takes to capture tastes and smells and textures in print. I link to their work at the end of this post.  If you are coming to San Diego (or living in San Diego), checking out Erin Jackson, Keli Dailey and Marie of Meandering Eats and San Diego City Beat for local recommendations & reviews.  The Mac was creamy enough for my wife without being the soupy mess that I don’t care for.  The first good mac and cheese I had in life came when I was living in the south and so the classic casserole kind is probably closer to my heart.  This was a nice hybrid and the pork added a nice texture and smoky flavor.  As a bonus, it re-heated surprisingly well for mac and cheese and served as a lunch later on the trip.

I had the 12 oz New York Strip Au Poivre, which came with Ho’o Pono Farms tomatoes, Big Island hearts of palm scalloped potatoes, arugula & hearts of palm salad.  Wife had a salmon preparation with local green beans and mushrooms with potato fritters and a mango sauce.  It’s really hard to say much about either of these dishes – especially 15 days later – but both were very good.   Our experience at Pineapple Grill was about a very nice evening with my wife and a real object lesson in quality service.  Our server was super engaged during the order and introduction phase of our meal.  Samira had answers for everything, had taken the time to really learn about the menu and wasn’t afraid to give her opinions.  Then, sensing that we were very into our conversation and enjoying quality time in a nice setting, she pulled back during much of dinner.  She was still in the vicinity just enough so we’d know she was there but far enough so that we could focus on each other and our food.  It was really quite flawless.  On top of that, at the tail end of our meal she did something a very good server at El Take it Easy named Shannen Doherty (obviously not the actress) did for us before a trip to New York – she brought us back a list of her favorite places, many of which aren’t in the guidebooks.  Great job.

Pineapple Grill is in West Maui.  It’s not a place you go to save money, but was a terrific night out with very good food and stellar, quality, friendly service.  This was a nice, somewhat food intensive day of our trip, but it set us up nicely for the outdoor adventures that were coming.  Thanks for stopping by, if you want to read about other parts of Maui, check my 10-day index from March 2013 here.  To go on to Day 5, click here.  Wife and I love this place and want to celebrate the people and places that help make it special for us.  Have a great day.

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