Beach Bites

By Nancy Clark

A beach pretty much anywhere has always been my ideal of a vacation, particularly coming from a land-locked state like Colorado. The sun calls; I answer.

Photo by Eldon Christenson

The lure of the beach doesn’t diminish over a lifetime apparently when you consider the Harris Poll (August 2007) indicating that Hawaii is the one state that boomers prefer if not their home state for retirement. One of the pluses is the monotonously perfect weather: 82 – 86ᵒ F as reported by the daily Maui Time newspaper all throughout May. (The annual average is a sweater-less 75ᵒ.) The downside, according to Topretirements.com is the high cost of living—the average home is typically three times more expensive than on the mainland.

So are the drinks.

Fifteen dollars is the going rate for a Mai Tai’s at your fanciest stops on the island. Yet, the curated view alone is worth the price of admission. The calories are just a temporary inconvenience and the keepsake pastel-colored paper umbrellas not weighty enough to cause a bag to top out over 50 pounds on your return flight home, no matter how many one tips back

From the day Longhi’s opened on Front Street in Lahaina Town in 1976, founder Bob Longhi insisted that the chairs be comfortable. He is reputed to have outspent other restaurateurs on seating, a decision he chalked up to sustaining Longhi’s over the decades while other dining establishments closed their doors. The window shutters on this quaint frame building are thrown wide open—purely decorative in Maui’s mild temperatures—to a fiery setting sun, the perfect complement to the Mussels Marinara. Culinary arts, the trademark of Longhi’s, is evident in  proprietary cookbooks for sale in the lobby including Gabriele Longhi's Recipe Portfolioand Longhi’s: Recipes and Reflections From Maui’s Most Opinionated Restaurateur personally signed by Bob.

Kimo’s on Front Street in Lahaina Town occupies prime real estate on the water. From the lanai overlooking a rocky beach below, waves beat to a regular tempo, every fourth or fifth splashing over the railing to the delight of the younger set in tow. The tiki torches glow in the half-moon night and the biggest decision of the day is whether to opt for a Kimo’s Mai Tai (only $8) or a Pina Colada ($7.75). Better yet, a Gilligan’s Ginger Martini  ($9), ocean vodka made in Hawaii, ginger liqueur and a dash of sugar syrup. The red sky at night portends sailor’s delight the next day, and Maui weather doesn’t disappoint.

Cheeseburger In Paradise on Front Street in Lahaina is what it is. Paradise on a bun served retro wrapped in paper. The menu claims: Serving Aloha every day since 1989, and promotes the five-napkin burgers. At $8.95 - $16.95, these burgers the best bargain on the beach. Tourists return to this two tiered frame structure year after year because of the memories and the flavor. The menu is priced for families and younger people on a comparative budget. Overheard: I like it here because I can order a Bud beer instead of a fancy umbrella drink and not feel guilty that I’m shortchanging the cultural experience.

Head up Hwy. 30 a few minutes toward Ka’anapali, the passenger on this journey gets the catbird seat with a view of Maui volcano Haleakala, an active shield volcano. The volcano’s top is perpetually frosted in high cumulus. You can’t miss the turnoff to Whalers Village (yes, there is no apostrophe) smack in the center of Hotel Row. Whalers is the go-to destination for high-end shopping (Coach and Louis Vuitton) along with the requisite scrimshaw. Women’s and men’s apparel, home furnishings, jewelry—you name it, it’s found in these 65 top shelf boutiques. Whalers Village is also home to Leilani’s On The Beach, where it’s hard to tell if the meal trumps the view or vice versa: both Molokai (to the left) and Lanai (to the right) loom in the water plane ahead. The Beachside Grill features pupus (that’s appetizers, folks) and cocktails plus closer-than-a-concert sightings of the likes of Selena Gomez and Justin Beiber in May.

Photo Courtesy of Mama's Fish HouseFifteen minutes further on Highway 30 is the rather benign turnoff for D.T. Flemming’s Beach on the left. The tight road that curls down to the beach and opens up to an official back parking lot at the hem of The Ritz-Carlton.  High up the hill, the luxury hotel 463 rooms large is carved out of a century-old pineapple plantation and extends down the coastline five bays and three white sand beaches. It’s distinguished by dramatic lava peninsulas and the chips at the resort’s Beach House Restaurant.  Every day until 3 p.m. the Beach House serves the world’s best homemade tortilla chips with a side of guacamole and red salsa distinguished by a hint of sweet chili. This cloth napkin venue is no ordinary beach lunch joint. Cloth napkins and a stone wall separate the venue from the common folk surfing on the horizon.

Hightailing it back to the airport at the close of my Maui stay, a must see is Mama’s fish house off the Hana Highway, voted Top Restaurant in the US Value Awards 2010 and the single recommendation I’ve brought with me to the island. Mama’s is a stone’s throw from Haiku—a community, not the eponymous Japanese poetry. And as the story goes, the young Christenson family put down anchor here when sailing across the South Pacific in the 1950s, opening the restaurant a decade later.

Famous for its Old Polynesia fare, the genuine personal touch of Mama’s is not lost on any guest. Even the night’s menu notes the fisherman of the day’s catch—the Lehi caught by Raymond Otsubo and the deep-water Ahi caught by Amando Baula, among others. The Choppino is irresistible at any price. The menu’s turf items are in high demand and the amuse-bouche at the front end of every dinner service is indicative of the personable quality of this place and the wait staff. Where other restaurants or hotel lobbies might smack of a little too much bamboo, Mama’s is authentic. Collected, not decorated, slow paddle fans overhead and rare oriental rugs underfoot give Mama’s a gracious estate sensibility to match the tab.  

I push away from the table too sated to sign up for dessert. Four days 6 pounds heavier, Maui will be remembered in my Trip Tik as a food destination with a little beach on the side.

SOUND BYTES ON MAUI FAQs

Like most ports worldwide, this one was the centerpiece of life. From 1843 to 1860, at the height of the whaling era, Lahaina Town is reported to have attracted more than 400 ships in a single season. Sailors that stayed on for weeks, not just days, spawning a trifecta of troubles for the town: booze, gambling and prostitution. Some 170 years later, the streets are tame by comparison and the whaling influence is limited to humpback whale watching December through May. 

Overall, what the island of Maui lacks in remarkable architecture Lahaina makes up for—the most impressive being the Lahaina Courthouse, constructed on Lahaina’s waterfront in 1859 using materials recovered from King Kamehameha III's palace that had been destroyed by winds the year prior. The foundation of the palace known as Hale Piula are like scars on the lawn separating the restored Courthouse and the infamous birthing rock, a sacred seat at the water’s edge where Hawaiian women of royal lineage would go to give birth. Kamehameha's descendants reigned until 1872, followed by others including Queen Lilioukalani who was overthrown in 1893. One year later, the Republic of Hawaii was formed. The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898 and pronounced it a territory in 1900. Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.

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