We had just arrived on Maui after a nearly 8 hour flight from Chicago. It was around 1 p.m. when we landed and we had to wait nearly an hour on our bags in the humid baggage claim area at the Kahului Airport. After that, we had to go pick up our rental car at Hertz and that was another 45 minutes of waiting for our car. We were tired and very hungry, so we took off toward the south shore of Maui, to Kihei to get something to eat. I knew of a sushi place in Kihei and my wife seemed to agree that would be a good lunch to have - even at 3 p.m. (which was 8 p.m. body-time). When we pulled up to the sushi place, we found that they didn't open until 4:30 p.m. My wife looked across the parking lot and toward a small strip mall across the street to the south. We saw what seemed to be a couple three places to eat over there and we ended up heading that direction. After parking the car, we had our choice of what appeared to be an Irish pub, a sports bar and a tiki lounge. I thought about checking the Irish pub out, but my wife - clearly the smartest of the two of us - said, "Hey, we're in Hawaii! I want to go to a tiki bar!" And that's how we ended up at the South Shore Tiki Lounge.
The South Shore Tiki Lounge is in the Kalama Village shopping and restaurant complex across from Kalama Beach Park in Kihei. (see map) It's been around since 2003 when Gabriel Sallard started the place. After an economic turn-down in 2008, Sallard ended up selling the restaurant to the husband and wife team of Mikhail and Alma Tassi (pictured at right - picture courtesy Pacific Business Journal).
The Tassi's changed a few things up with the food offerings and they now get just about everything they serve locally. Much of the produce the use comes from an Upcountry Maui farm, seafood is selected daily from fishermen who bring in their catch, their beef comes from the Maui Cattle Co., and even buns and breads are baked locally for the South Shore Tiki Lounge. They also offer vegan selections for those people who prefer to go meatless.
We walked into the South Shore Tiki Lounge and were immediately greeted by a young lady behind the bar. We told her that we just wanted to get something to eat and she invited us to sit outside on the lanai (patio). The bar area is not big - it seats probably a couple dozen people, tops. But the decor - complete with a thatch front to the overhang of the bar - was pure and simple South Seas in whole.
The lanai area was significantly larger with a number of four-seater picnic tables scattered on a wooden floor. A local guitarist - Tom Conway - was setting up for the start of his two-hour set at 4 p.m. and a few of the locals were coming in to listen to him.
We took an open table just about in the middle of the lanai and we were soon greeted by Nora, a petite young lady who was wearing a Chicago Blackhawks t-shirt. She asked us what we wanted to have to drink and Cindy immediately ordered a mai-tai - the first of many both of us would be having during our return trip to Hawaii. And this was a serious mai-tai - it was in a huge tiki schooner topped with pineapple slices and the required tiny umbrella.
Before I left to go to Hawaii, I was talking with a friend of mine and we were wondering if my favorite beer in the whole world - Kona Brewing Co. Big Wave Golden Ale - tasted different on the islands than it did on the mainland. Well, I was going to find out because on the wall in the lanai said that they had Big Wave on tap. However, when I ordered it from Nora she told me that they didn't have any draft beer at that time. "Something is wrong with our beer lines," she said. "They've been acting up all day."
Crap... OK, well, I guess I won't find out if it tastes different just yet. I told her that I'd just take a Big Swell IPA from the Maui Brewing Co., another place that we had visited on our previous visit to Maui. (Click here to see the entry on the Maui Brewing Co.) I forgot how good that beer was - the closest it comes to Iowa is Colorado and I've had it on my last couple of visits out there. But, quite frankly, at that point after getting up early, a long flight, delays at the airport and at the car rental company, any Hawaiian beer would have tasted great.
We were looking through the menu and I really didn't want to get anything heavy as I figured we'd probably go out for a nicer dinner later that evening. I was surprised to see they had pizzas at South Shore Tiki Lounge - and they looked good, too, as a couple at a table over from us had gotten one. But we had pizza the night before - Cindy made me take her to Pequod's when we were in Chicago to spend the night. Plus, a pizza was more food than what I was looking for at that point.
I thought about getting a burger, then I saw the Tropical Tacos - two soft shell tacos filled with a grilled fresh-caught fish and topped with shredded cabbage, cilantro, a mango salsa and finished off with a dollop of sour cream. Cheddar cheese normally comes with the Tropical Tacos, but I asked Nora to have the kitchen hold the cheese. A large scoop of jasmine rice came with the tacos. The tacos were light, the fish was fresh and the mango salsa helped pull all the tastes together. These were very good tacos.
Cindy ended up getting the Kalua pork nachos. The tortilla chips are made in-house and it was topped with pretty much the same stuff that came on my tacos including melted cheddar cheese and jalapeño slices. I love good Kalua pork - traditional Kalua pork is a whole pig cooked in a hole in the ground over Koa wood, with the pork seasoned with sea salt and covered in banana leaves. But you can find recipes to replicate the taste of Kalua pork in a home pressure cooker or crock pot. The Kalua pork they had on the nachos had the deliciously smoky flavor to it.
We got to talking to Nora and asking her about her Black Hawks t-shirt and she said that she grew up in Chicago. When we told her that we had just flown in from Chicago and that we had Pequod's the night before, she gasped and said, "Oh, my gosh! Peqoud's! I'm so jealous. I love that place." She said that she used to work at Pizano's in the Chicago area, but that the Pequod's in Morton Grove was her favorite.
During our previous stint on Hawaii and on Maui six years ago, we found a lot of the people we interacted with who worked at restaurants had an interesting story as to how they ended up in Hawaii. Nora told us that she and her husband honeymooned on Kauai and they ended up moving there. Her husband was a chef and they ended up moving to Maui when he became the chef at a resort just down the road. "That's how we ended up here enjoying the weather year round rather than having to endure those brutal winters in Chicago," she said in an almost cheerful tone.
I wanted to go back at some point to the South Shore Tiki Lounge, mainly to sit at the bar and enjoy a mai tai or two (or three). But we never got the chance. Still, the light lunch that we had, the monster mai tai my wife enjoyed, and the service we received were all very good. The fish tacos were the perfect mix of tropical tastes, the Kalua pork nachos were tasty as well. This lunch was a spot-hitter. The South Shore Tiki Lounge has won many local awards for being the most favorite bar on Maui. It suddenly became my most favorite bar on Maui, too.