WRITTEN BY TAMAR MEYER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANNA KIM
RECIPES COURTESY OF CHEF LEE ANNE WONG OF PAPA‘AINA IN LAHAINA, MAUI
SOMEWHERE ON SUNDAY between early morning and late afternoon falls the time for brunch. Because after a late night out all we really want is to sleep in and wake up whenever it feels like we can honestly say that we had a great nights sleep.
There is something unique about waking up in Hawai‘i if you are kama‘aina or an in-love visitor. We always remember Hawai‘i and especially her food. Recently I had the opportunity to visit for 4 weeks; a week on each of the four main Hawaiian Islands known as Hawai‘i to locals, Maui, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. Each of the islands had something very different to offer but I was going after coffee and really good food.
I specifically want to talk about brunch. Technically that super casual meal that falls between morning and afternoon on a Sunday. That meal you go to with a wrinkled white t-shirt, sweat pants and bed hair and an don’t care attitude.
I love to stay local when I travel, but nothing wrong with a fancy hotel either. On Maui we stayed in Historic Lahainatown at The Pioneer Inn. An establishment that has been a Maui fixture since 1901, Recently the restaurant and bar was taken over by one very talented hard-working chef, Lee Anne Wong in 2020. It is the oldest hotel in Lahaina and on the island of Maui and the oldest in continuous operation in the state of Hawaii. Oh my, if the walls could talk.
But brunch has been popping up and becoming more and more popular all over the US mainland and Hawaii is now just coming around to this idea and thankfully this is Chef Wong’s creative comfort zone. Think freshly roasted, brewed Hawaiian coffee, hand-made donuts and perfectly cooked eggs all wrapped up and topped by a bright cocktail.
Now brunch has some serious history behind it. The word brunch was first coined in the 1890’s. A writer pushed the words “breakfast” and “lunch” together. It was claimed to be “cheerful, social and indicting” along with “compelling talk”.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
We woke late, rolled out of bed and took coffee to go choosing to walk around the Lahaina Harbor area. Fishing boats had already departed but the area was seedy in all the right ways to give character to our walk. Then we headed for brunch.
Chef Lee Anne Wong to many does not need any culinary introduction. From Top Chef alumni to working with the best chefs and food producers she moved to Hawaii in 1990 and opened the super popular Koko Head Café in Kaimuki, Oahu. Fast-forward 4 years she found her love-match with Lyle Cady, a successful graphic artist in his own right then came baby Rye. The entire family moved to Maui and Lee Anne struck a working relationship to transform the tired restaurant which has been renamed and reimagined as Papa’aina inside the historic Pioneer Inn.
There is no Chinese food on Maui to write home about, which is surprising on one hand with the local population made up of many Asian immigrants. Then you ask Lee Anne about this missing culinary craving and you can see her imagining a slew of older but knowledgeable Chinese aunties in the kitchen sitting on old wooden stools making handmade noodles and dumplings – it just doesn’t exist. Too labor intensive and with the current labor shortages, we get the picture loud and clear.
ABOUT THE FOOD
We begin brunch with a 100% local fruit plate. And Lee Anne is serious about local. She is often found at the farmers’ market close to her home on Saturday mornings. We are told by the best farmers that Lee Anne was here and gone before the sun came up. We counted over a dozen different fruits, described in detail in the photo.
Then we ordered Avocado Pancakes. We inhaled them. More please was running through our mind as a second cup of coffee was offered with perfect timing.
My partner wanted fresh fish since we were near the Lahaina Harbor. She was 100% right. It was better than the over saturated poke found all over the island on ever street corner and food truck. The smoked Kanpachi was refined, fresh and delicious.
At Koko Head Café the Chef creates a skillet dish, which we understand is a throw back to the way locales have breakfast. Papa’aina continued the tradition with Baked Eggs with Garlic Cream. So good we asked for the recipe.
Since my partner doesn’t eat eggs (can you imagine?) there are many other selections for the eggless personalities and she ordered Beef Noodle Soup. The broth was hot, rich and flavorful – the best soup we ate during our entire trip.
The atmosphere feels authentic and steeped in history. The food is bright and contemporary. Service is like visiting friends home which was caring, attentive and comfortable. [ eHI ]
Left to Right
> Kim Brisson-Lutz – Brew Master at Maui Brewing Company, Kihei, HI
> Heather Brisson-Lutz – Master Roaster/ Owner of Origins Coffee, Kihei HI
> Qiana Di Bari – Owner of Sale Pepe Pizzeria e Cucina, Lahaina, HI
> Pomai Wiegert – Go Farms, Hawai‘i
> Melissa Padilla – Melissa Padilla Creative & Co., Hawai‘i
> Kaili Scheer – Restaurant Marlow in Pukalani, HI and Olympia Etal, HI