Story by Marti Rosenquist
To switch into vacation mode, I kick off my escape to Lānaʻi at the Pioneer Inn. Enjoying an omelet alfresco at the landmark hotel while watching the bustling activity of the harbor always puts me in a holiday mood. Located across from the Old Lahaina Courthouse and Banyan Tree Park, the Pioneer Inn predates Hawaii’s statehood by fifty-eight years and retains the charm of its turn-of-the-century heyday, when Mark Twain lingered here and penned accounts of this exotic port to the world outside. Local-style breakfast favorites, such as “loco moco,” ahi Benedict, and mac-nut pancakes, lure vacationers, business folks and harbor hands. During the lunch hour you’ll find wraps, burgers and sandwiches—but my afternoon favorite is the seared ahi salad, which has won the Taste of Lahaina Best of the Fest award. The bar, famous for its mai tai, hosts a popular happy hour from 2 to 7 p.m.
658 Wharf St., Lahaina, (808) 661-3636 Daily, 7 a.m.–10 p.m.
The Lodge at Koele
With soaring stone fireplaces flanking the immense hall, croquet and lawn-bowling courts, shooting range and conservatory, The Lodge is a cross between a country estate and a wilderness lodge—at once more woodsy and genteel than the typical tropical resort. The royal treatment starts soon after your arrival. How better to rescue Dining Diva from a midday sinking spell than with a high tea of scones, lemon curd, clotted cream, and hibiscus tea served in the afternoon hush of the library bar? If you hanker for something more substantial, the bar menu offers kobe sliders, bruschetta, and an addictive truffle-oil-laced popcorn. On the opposite side of the great hall, the Terrace Restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and an ideal spot to take in the melodious strains of the grand piano. For lunch, my companion and I choose venison chili and Maui onion soup. Tonight we’ll dine on duck-leg confit with white-bean ragout, or pan-seared kampachi with caramelized ginger. But first we venture down to the shore, where the Four Seasons at Manele Bay presents a striking contrast to its sister resort. I settle poolside at Fresco, where Chef Dario Montelvere offers daily specials like lobster ravioli and smoked ono affumicato.
Terrace, The Lodge at Koele: One Keomoku Hwy., Lānaʻi City | (808) 565-4000 | Daily, Breakfast 7–11 a.m., Lunch 11 a.m.–2 p.m., Dinner 6–9:30 p.m.
Fresco, Four Seasons at Manele Bay: One Manele Bay Rd., Lānaʻi City | (808) 565-2000 | Daily, Lunch 11 a.m.–4 p.m., Happy Hour 4–5 p.m., Cocktails & Appetizers 4–6 p.m. | Dinner 6–9:30 p.m.
Lānaʻi City Grill
Bev Gannon designed the menu, infusing it with Her Culinary Highness’s usual brilliance. Housed in the laid-back Hotel Lānaʻi, the genial restaurant delivers a unique sense of place in upper Lānaʻi City’s cool climate. Warmth emanates from the fireplaces flickering in twin dining rooms and from an especially attentive barkeep and service staff. Here, that ubiquitous Lānaʻi favorite, pan-roasted venison, may well be the best dish served on island. More delicately flavored than beef, more tender than filet, the locally harvested venison is served with dried-fruit compote on mushroom risotto (done perfectly!) and is the main reason I easily convinced my significant other to book a return trip. My beau applauds the steamed Manila clams, while I swoon over warm bruschetta of vine-ripened tomatoes. We share a gigantic salad of baby field greens, dried fruits, toasted pecans, grilled squash and aged blue cheese, which I declare the perfect culinary interpretation of a cool day in the country.
828/B2 Lānaʻi Ave., Lānaʻi City | (808) 565-7211 | Wednesday–Sunday, 5–9 p.m.
When I need a break from the twenty-first century, I visit this former plantation-style bakery and return to a time when oilcloths bedecked every granny’s kitchen table, and baking sheets stacked with fresh pastries and loaves warmed the country air. Owners Joe and Georgia Abilay bought the former Dahang’s Pastry shop in 1991 and have kept the doors open with gracious service from early morning until 8 p.m. every day since. Situated across from Dole Park, the town square where mile-high Cook pines tickle the sunny skies, this could be right out of Mayberry R.F.D., but for the two-scoop rice and mac salad served with just about everything. A former bakery, Blue Ginger offers a lot more than saimin, katsu and chow fun. Every slice of bread, dinner roll, or Danish pastry is baked in-house; consequently, the sandwiches, from a simple tuna melt on white, to a pastrami-and-cheese on a crescent roll, to the ought-to-be-famous pig in a blanket, are especially delicious. Diva delights in the honey-drenched fried chicken; delicate sesame seeds impart an Asian touch to the classic Southern dish. Daily specials such as spaghetti and meatballs keep the menu varied for locals who parade through the doors and talk story on the Lānaʻi as if it were their tutu’s place.
409 7th St., Lānaʻi City | (808) 565-6363 | Daily, 6 a.m.–8 p.m.
For three generations, this family-owned cruise line has sailed folks to Lānaʻi with a cultural sensitivity that has earned the respect of the island’s residents. Guests board for whale watching, snorkel, snuba and sunshine, but mostly for the food! Twenty minutes into the journey, the daylong nosh fest begins with hot coffee and Mama Coon’s famous cinnamon rolls (made with a secret recipe and served hot from the warmer). Midway into the seventy-five minute crossing, guests are nourished again with turkey and tuna-salad wraps. Once on Lānaʻi, the crew whips up a barbeque served around 3 p.m. at Trilogy’s Hale O Manele pavilion adjacent to the harbor. Following an afternoon spent snorkeling, touring the island, or relaxing in the sun, guests dive into Captain Coon’s kiawe-grilled chicken, Asian stir-fried noodles, and select vegetable (we had peas) accompanied by a green salad bedecked with Mama Coon’s other proprietary secret—a well-balanced vinaigrette dressing. Fresh pineapple slices are the ideal end to a meal on the island that boasts having once produced 75 percent of the world’s pineapple crop. Back onboard for the return trip, as rainbows appear in the West Maui Mountains courtesy of the setting sun, seafarers enjoy one more decadence—Maui’s own Roselani vanilla ice cream drenched with chocolate sauce.
Trilogy Hale O Manele pavilion | Manele Harbor, Lānaʻi | (808) 874-5649 | Hours vary.
Back on Maui, my companion and I find a sublime ending for the day: toasting our culinary adventure over mai tais at Pioneer Inn.