Our new "Heaven-on-Earth" place is the small Hawaiian village of Hanalei on the north side of the island of Kauai. We spent a good portion of two days in Hanalei during our visit to Kauai earlier this year and we really fell in love with the place - from the laid-back feeling of the shops and restaurants to the beautiful half-moon shaped bay where we spent hours just walking along the beach. When I get in a funk, I switch on this video that takes me back to my mind's happy place. As we were walking among the shops of Hanalei, we came across a little restaurant that was housed in the Old Hanalei School, an interesting little place called The Hanalei Gourmet. After taking a look at the lunch menu posted outside the door, we decided to try the place for lunch. (see map)
Tim Kerlin grew up primarily in Virginia, the son of a career man for the United States Department of Defense. Along with his wife, Andi, they moved to Hawaii in the mid-1980's. Just after their two children were born in the late 80's, the Kerlin's were ooking for a place to open up as a delicatessen. However, they were rebuffed at every turn from banks who wouldn't finance them in their endeavor. Tim Kerlin then met Gaylord Wilcox, a developer whose family was at one time one of the largest land owners in Hawaii with sugar and pineapple plantations on four islands. Wilcox had taken over ownership of the former Hanalei school and was looking to put in shops and eateries in the old classrooms.
Kerlin had a 90 page business plan that was detailed down to the last penny of expenses he was expecting to incur and he showed it to Wilcox. Wilcox was so impressed with Kerlin's business plan that he got in touch with his personal banker, arranged for Kerlin's business loan and co-signed on the loan. The Hanalei Gourmet opened in March of 1990.
Over time, the little deli was transformed into a formal sit down restaurant complete with a bar area. The menu expanded and it garnered a reputation for interesting locally sourced foods in a laid-back atmosphere. While Tim Kerlin oversees the restaurant, Andi Kerlin handles the books. Tim has publicly credited Andi for keeping the business going all these years.
The space that houses The Hanalei Gourmet is a well-lit room that features artwork from local artists hanging on the wall. The windows that look out behind the bar area frame the mountains that ring the small village. While it was laid-back, it was also somewhat of a vibrant atmosphere. An NBA game was playing on the televisions that hung above the bar area. With a five hour time zone difference between Iowa and Kauai, it was sort of weird to see an NBA game on TV at 2 p.m. in the afternoon in Hawaii.
Off to the side of the dining room was the deli part of Hanalei Gourmet. The deli is the original part of Hanalei Gourmet before they expanded their menu a number of years ago. The deli opens at 8 a.m. for people who are looking for sandwiches to take to nearby beaches or when they go hiking in the mountains along the Na Poli Coast. Lox and bagels are also available from the deli all day long.
Our server for our visit, Rachel, came over to greet us, drop off a couple of menus and to take our drink order. Cindy got a glass of pinot grigio and I saw that they had Kona Brewing Co. Big Wave Golden Ale on tap at the bar. Big Wave is my favorite beer dating back to our first visit to Hawaii over six years.
Lunch begins at 11 a.m. and goes through 5:30 p.m. when they switch over to the dinner menu at The Hanalei Gourmet. Lunch is primarily sandwiches, burgers, salads, and appetizers - known as pupus in Hawaii. For dinner, they take away the sandwiches, but add pasta dishes as well as main entrees such as seafood, steaks, chicken dishes and a charbroiled pork loin.
I wasn't quite sure what I wanted for lunch that day. They had peel & eat shrimp on the appetizer menu that I came close to getting. A pastrami and Swiss on dark rye bread was also a thought. They had a specialty reuben sandwich called The Hanalei Sailor that caught my eye which featured a double portion of corned beef topped with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on dark rye, then grilled. Any of those would have been fine for lunch.
But I ended up going the burger route and ordered one of the three burgers they had featured on their menu - Moe's Ultimate Burger. The basic burger on the menu is called Big Tim's burger which is a 6 ounce local beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. Moe's Ultimate burger takes the Big Tim's burger and adds pepper jack cheese, an avocado slice, and bacon. It's served on a toasted sesame seed bun. A side of fries came with the burger.
The burger was thick and juicy. It was chargrilled and while I like a flat-grilled burger better, the taste of this burger was delicious. It was cooked to what I would call a perfect medium with a hint of pink in the middle. The "toasted" bun wasn't all that toasted, but it was fine. It was a four napkin burger with everything that was piled high on top of the patty.
Cindy went with the fish and chips - beer-battered fresh catch of the day fish, deep fried and served with fries, Asian coleslaw and a soy wasabi sauce. The fish appeared to be light and flaky with a nice batter on the outside. Cindy thought it was simply delicious.
We lingered for awhile after finishing up our lunches enjoying the atmosphere at The Hanalei Gourmet. Rachel tried to tempt us with some dessert or an after-lunch drink such as one of their house mai tai's. We put a significant dent in the mai tai supply while we were in Hawaii, but we decided to go out and take a look at some of the shops that were down the way from The Hanalei Gourmet in the Old Hanalei School. The slow pace and laid-back feel of the place was refreshing and relaxing.
The Hanalei Gourmet was one of those memorable places where the food was good, the service was excellent, and the atmosphere was relaxing, cozy and comfortable. I enjoyed my burger very much while my wife was more than happy with her beer-battered fresh catch fish. Had we had more time in Hanalei we probably would have gone back just to have a mai tai at the bar while looking out the old school windows to the mountains beyond. The Hanalei Gourmet is a "can't miss" if you go to Hanalei.