When we went back to Maui earlier this year, we were staying in a rented room in a condo at the Grand Champions Resort in Wailea. I was hoping to be able to try the restaurant they had one the premises, Joe's Bar & Grill, a restaurant owned by renown Hawaiian restaurateur and chef Bev Gannon. However, in 2015 she had leased the restaurant to two guys who turned it into a Mexican place that didn't work out. She was left holding the lease - along with a number of debts the two had accumulated - and she ended up just closing the place to focus on her other two restaurants, Gannon's - A Pacific View Restaurant at the Wailea Golf Club just down the road (click here to read our visit to Gannon's), and the Hali'imaile General Store in the Upcountry of Maui (click here to read about our visit to the Hali'imaile General Store). However, we were told that a new restaurant had opened up just walking distance from the Grand Champions Resort, one that wasn't here on our first visit. For dinner one evening, we made the short trek to the Monkeypod Kitchen.
The man behind the Monkeypod Kitchen is chef Peter Merriman who - along with Bev Gannon - was one of the original 12 Hawaiian-based chefs that first championed Hawaiian Regional Cuisine 25 years ago. His first restaurant, the eponymous Merriman's in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii, has won numerous awards in its nearly 30 years of existence. (Click here to read about our visit to Merriman's on our visit to the Big Island over six years ago.) There are two other Merriman's locations - one on Maui in Kapalua, and the other on Kauai in Lihue. (We also ate at the now-closed Merriman's Market Cafe during our original stay on the Big Island. It was one of the finest burgers I've ever had complete with one of the juiciest and tasty tomatoes I've ever tasted.)
Merriman opened the Monkeypod Kitchen, a much more casual restaurant compared to his namesake restaurants, in February of 2011. His goal was to be more eco-friendly with the only bottles available in his restaurant being wine bottles. He had a beer tap system that delivered 36 beers that were all refrigerated at 29 degrees. The food that is served at the Monkeypod Kitchen is all sourced locally from produce farms, ranches, and local fishermen. In December of 2012, Merriman opened a second Monkeypod Kitchen location in the Ko Olina resort on Oahu.
The Wailea Monkeypod Kitchen location is located in the Wailea Gateway Center where the Piliani Highway turns into Wailea Ike Drive. (see map) We decided to walk to the restaurant as it was about a five minute walk from where we were staying. When we got into the place, we found that it was a 30 to 45 minute wait for a table.
We sidled up to the the ornate and interesting bar and were greeted by one of the bartenders, Jon, who gave me a beer list to look through. I was sort of surprised that they didn't have any of the Kona Brewing Company beers on tap at the Monkeypod Kitchen, but they did have the Maui Brewing Company's Big Swell IPA - a beer that I enjoyed many times while we were in Hawaii earlier this year.
Cindy got a mai tai - naturally. Only this mai tai was unique in that it was made with Old Lahaina light rum, Maui dark rum, lime, mac-nut orgeat, orange curaçao and finished on top with a honey-lilkoi foam. it was finished off with a thin slice of pineapple. This was a killer mai tai, so good that I had to have one after I finished my beer.
The dining room at Monkeypod Kitchen features wood beamed-ceilings that were positioned to cut down on the ambient noise in the space. It had sort of an contemporary-island atmosphere to the dining area.
There is a wonderful outdoor patio area along the south side of the Monkeypod Kitchen. Of course, it was an even longer wait to sit out there that evening. The patio was illuminated with Edison light bulbs and had a nice laid-back island vibe.
After about 35 minutes at , we were shown to a back corner table/booth. It was comfortable, but a little too cozy for two people to spread out in. We were given menus and after a bit our a server for the evening, Renee - a little blonde with an even disposition - came over to greet us. We both ordered mai tai's for our drinks for dinner.
A couple things jumped out at me on the menu. One was the fresh catch fish tacos consisting of that day's fresh fish, served on a locally made double corn taco shell, tomatillo salsa, fresh avocado slices, locally grown tomatoes and sliced jalapeños. Right below it on the menu, they had an Asian pork taco made with locally-handcrafted kimchee, jalapeños, chopped asian pears and finished with a sriracha aioli. They also had fresh poke tacos on the appetizer list made with raw ahi tuna, ginger, chopped cabbage, an avocado cream sauce, and soy sauce and served on deep-fried wonton shells. Every one of those sounded great.
But when it came time to order, I took a completely different turn. Remembering how great the burger was at Merriman's Cafe on the Big Island six years prior, I went with the Pete's Classic burger that featured a locally-grown beef patty and topped with gruyere cheese, Unami mushrooms, and a horseradish creme sauce. I asked Renee if they could put tomato slices on the burger and she said that would be no problem.
The burger came with parmesan/garlic fries, but I knew I wouldn't be concentrating so much on those as I would the burger. It was stacked high when it came to the table and I had to open it up to take a look at the two deep red tomato slices that I asked for on the burger. If you're a regular reader of Road Tips and if you've seen previous entries on our trips to Hawaii, I think the tomatoes grown on Hawaii are the best in the world. I don't know if it's the volcanic soil or the long growing season, but their flavor is the best I've ever had. And on a burger they completely enhance the overall taste. And they did the job very well on this burger - which was already very good before the tomatoes were added to it.
Cindy ended up getting the fish special that day - a locally-caught Lehi (also known as the Silver Mouth fish), a snapper fish that has similar features as a tuna, but with a fresh and moderate flavor. It came with capers, curry and lemongrass in a cream sauce on a bed of spinach. She absolutely loved it. She offered me a bite of the fish and while it was light and flaky, I thought it the lemongrass was too overpowering for the taste. Cindy - who loves lemon with fish - thought it was just right. Either way, I loved my burger and she loved the Lehi entree.
Renee did her best in trying to convince us to try one of their signature tropical creme pie desserts with a choice of coconut, strawberry, or banana. She also had a number of different sorbets or gelato available in chocolate, vanilla or coffee flavors. But we were stuffed - and half-assed drunk from the wonderful, and rum-packed, mai tai's they served at the Monkeypod Kitchen.
While I was upset that Joe's is out of business and never got a chance to try the place, I had to say that I was more than happy with the meal we had at the Monkeypod Kitchen. It was a little cramped and cozy in the corner seat, but the food - especially the burger - was very good. My wife was very happy with the fresh-caught lehi she had that evening. The atmosphere was vibrant and festive, the service was professional and prompt, and the overall impression we walked away with from the Monkeypod Kitchen was overly favorable. With the cold craft beer on tap and the world-class mai tai's they served, I would have probably bellied up to the bar more than once if we had more time on this trip to Maui.