makawao steak house: mosey on in for some mighty tasty eats

MAKAWAO STEAK_08.2013When veteran Maui restaurateurs Michael and Dana Pastula of Cafe O’Lei fame purchased the Makawao Steak House last summer, we hoped they would put their signature on this venerable Upcountry institution: quality food and service at prices even locals can afford. We got our wish.

My friend Susan and I are checking it out for ourselves, after a fun day of poking into all the shops and galleries Makawao town is famous for. We’re greeted warmly by hostess Tihani, who shows us to a table up front near the famous salad bar. What a great decision to keep it!

Makawao Steak House (MSH) servers look especially spiffy in their long-sleeved white shirts with black ties and aprons. Who can resist the days of old atmosphere at MSH, with its rustic paniolo-style decor—plenty of wood, copper pots, white-paned windows, and valances made from brown and white ticking fabric. And anyone who’s been there before knows about the cozy fireplace in the back room, and the comfortable seating in the bar area.

Our server for this evening is Manu, and she recites the specials spot on. Susan and I are here for the steak (this is a steak house after all!), but it’s nice to know there are other options. MSH has a nice selection of starters—soups, sliders, calamari rings, and flatbread, to name a few. There’s something about Makawao’s climate that’s conducive to eating soup, so Susan and I decide to try the soup of the day (potato/leek—$3), and the onion soup (signature Cafe O’Lei recipe—$7).

MSH’s drink menu contains several signature cocktails ($7); local, domestic, dark, imported, and non-alcoholic brews ($4-6); traditional cocktails ($4-7); and non-alcoholic beverages ($2 for sodas, $3.50 for iced tea, and $4.50 for lemonade). Talk about affordable! Susan tries the Hibiscus Swizzle (vodka, infused hibiscus flower, agave nectar, and lime juice), while I go with the Makawao Sidecar (brandy, Cointreau, mango, and fresh lemon). Both cocktails are well executed, and Susan and I get ready for some serious eating.

Meanwhile, manager Claire Pastula Byler (who is Dana and Michael’s daughter) stops by to check on us. “With this restaurant our family has come home to Makawao,” she says. “We only made some subtle changes, like redoing the carpets and painting the ceiling a lighter color. We wanted to keep it mostly the same.”

Claire has brought us foccacia bread with a kalamata olive aioli that’s similar to tapenade. It’s absolutely delicious. The bread is fresh baked and glazed with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and salt, and it’s a pleasant change from ordinary bread or rolls.

Our soups have arrived and, while the potato/leek looks inviting, the onion soup is covered with an enormous puff pastry that’s been baked to a perfect golden brown. It looks amazing! Both soups are quite tasty—the potato/leek is creamy and rich, and the onion contains savory caramelized onions, and is finished with brandy and gooey gruyere cheese. What’s not to love?

Next, it’s time for the salad bar ($3 with entree; $12 as entree). There are two different lettuces (spring mix and Romaine), cucumbers, mushrooms, carrots, olives, garbanzo beans, and several other items to choose from, along with blue cheese crumbles and grated parmesan. Dressing options are lilikoi/papaya seed, basil balsamic vinaigrette, ranch, and vinegar & oil. There’s even a bowl containing the restaurant group’s famous Caesar salad. With our plates fully loaded, Susan and I happily munch on our salads and the focaccia bread, while attempting to pace ourselves and keep room for the main event—the steak.

We’ve both selected the 7 oz. choice filet of beef tenderloin ($21). Side dishes are $5 apiece, and include steak fries, onion rings, baked potato, buttermilk mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, broccoli, sliced tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, grilled asparagus, steamed rice, and parmesan polenta—definitely something for everyone. All steaks are served with baked beans in a whimsical little cast-iron pot, as well as all the foccacia bread you can eat. Nevertheless, Susan and I go for the gusto and opt for the sautéed mushrooms, grilled asparagus, and buttermilk mash.

Our filets are tender, juicy, and cooked to a perfect medium rare with a divine charbroil flavor. Served alongside the steak is a creamy shitake mushroom sauce. I’m not a fan of shitake mushrooms, so I proceed with caution. But I’m here to tell you that sauce is positively dreamy, and it nicely balances the bold flavors of the steak.

Cafe O’Lei General Manager Napa Recopuerto stops by our table to see if we have any questions. He explains the Cafe O’Lei philosophy: Utilize the best ingredients, under promise, and over deliver. Well, that’s certainly plain and simple, and what makes this restaurant group such a huge success.

Napa tells us the steaks at MSH are Midwestern beef, and not aged. Chef Orlando Acevedo’s approach with steak is to “let the beef speak for itself.” He keeps it simple by seasoning just with salt and pepper, and grilling it on an open flame to achieve that ideal char. “It’s simply good cooking,” says Napa. Susan and I agree wholeheartedly, as we devour our steaks and tasty sides.

In addition to the filet, MSH offers six other beefy options: 10 oz. USDA prime top sirloin steak ($17), 12 oz. certified angus ribeye steak ($23), 12 oz. Hawai‘i ranchers New York steak ($22), 18 oz. porterhouse steak ($22), 14 oz. Snake River Ranch kobe style ribeye steak ($42), and 14 oz. certified angus prime rib ($25). Other entrees include Asian style braised shortribs of beef ($23), homestyle braised lamb shank ($24), jidori chicken ($18), and Pacific Northwest cod & chips ($17). They also offer a nightly fresh fish special. The keiki menu includes grilled cheese and fries, cheeseburger and fries, petite steak and fries, and crispy chicken filet and fries (all $6).

As with the drink menu, MSH’s wine list contains a nice selection of reasonable wines by the glass and bottle. International reds range in price from $8 to $9 per glass, and $30 to $72 per bottle, while domestic reds range from $7.50 to $14 per glass, and $28 to $90 per bottle. A Mano pinot grigio from Italy runs $6.50 per glass and $24 per bottle, and Raymond Reserve chardonnay from the Napa Valley is $11 per glass and $42 per bottle. MSH also has some reasonable house wine selections for $5-6 per glass, and $20-22 per bottle.

After our dishes have been cleared, and Susan and I kick back with very full stomachs, Claire brings us an outrageously large slice of chocolate layer cake. She tells us it’s an old family recipe from her grandmother, who had a bakery in the Philippines. Who are we to resist? We’ll have to work this one off tomorrow. The cake is positively decadent, with premium vanilla ice cream and caramel and chocolate sauces. Holy moly.

MSH also offers their version of mud pie, vanilla crème brulee, apple cobbler, and Cafe O’Lei crunch (choice of ice cream, chocolate covered pretzels, potato chips, and popcorn, with homemade caramel and whipped cream), as well as nightly dessert specials. All desserts are a reasonable—again—$6.

Devotees of the old MSH will be happy to know the folks at Cafe O’Lei have kept the same friendly Upcountry vibe, while adding their own signature to an already successful establishment.

–heidi pool

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