merriman’s kapalua brings on the brunch

merriman's brunchIt’s difficult to imagine a more breathtaking venue for enjoying a sumptuous meal than Merriman’s Kapalua, which sits on the point overlooking spectacular Kapalua Bay. Known for dazzling sunset views, Merriman’s now offers an opportunity to take in its exceptional surroundings during the day, while dining on some of the most innovative brunch menu items imaginable.

“We have such great views of Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, and the channels in between, it’s a natural spot to enjoy brunch,” says chef/owner Peter Merriman, who was one of the original 12 founding chefs of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, a successful joint effort to move away from ingredients shipped over long distances, and preparations that copied continental recipes not well suited to conditions in Hawai‘i.

Janet and I arrive at Merriman’s at noon on a Sunday when brunch service is in full swing. A Kapalua breeze wafts through the open-air dining room, and the seemingly boundless Pacific Ocean displays a gradation of color that progresses from near-shore aquamarine, to brilliant teal and, finally, deep-sea cobalt. A solo musician, Kimo, performs relaxing background music.

Server Patrick tells us Merriman’s offers a true farm-to-table dining concept with a menu showcasing 90 percent locally sourced ingredients. He says Peter Merriman’s philosophy is to “serve food you would cook for your Mom.” Perusing the brunch menu, Janet and I find the offerings to be unique, well thought out, and sophisticated. You can choose from items that lean more towards breakfast, and those that are more like lunch. French press coffee, brunch cocktails, “mocktails,” and wines by the glass round out the selections. While most brunches on Maui are all-you-can-eat, food coma-inducing affairs, Merriman’s brunch is a more refined experience.

Janet and I begin with cocktails and a glass of house fresh pressed vegetable-fruit juice. The cocktail menu contains tempting concoctions with clever names: Janet has selected the Bloody Merriman ($12), described as “a farmer’s take on the classic”; while I’ve chosen the Corpse Reviver No. T’ree ($13). The Bloody Merriman is made with Ketel One vodka, Tamimi Farms tomatoes, and a house spice blend. It’s garnished with lemon and lime wedges, green olive, and crisp cucumber spear. Wowza, does this cocktail pack a punch! Any traces of sleepiness from the previous night will be banished with just one swallow. If you wish, you can add bacon for an additional $2, and/or a Kaua‘i prawn for $5.

The Corpse Reviver (No. T’ree) is a lovely blush colored blend of Plymouth gin, Lillet, lime, and watermelon-lemongrass puree. It’s smooth and velvety on the palate, and a luscious surprise awaits at the bottom of the glass: a delectable amarena cherry, grown in Italy and preserved in sugar. I could have eaten an entire bowl of them. No more maraschino cherries for this girl.

The house-pressed juice is a full-flavored fusion of pineapple, ginger, carrot, and lime juices, which has unexpected body and leads the palate through an incredible taste sensation sequence.

Patrick has revealed to head chef Phil Wang what Janet and I are up to, and that we’d like to taste as many dishes as possible. Apparently, that’s music to the chef’s ears, and Patrick tells us he’ll be bringing out an assortment of smaller portions for our tasting pleasure.

Merriman’s Organic Big Island Cinnamon French Toast ($14) is like no other you’ve ever seen or eaten. It’s like French Toast meets donuts: deep fried with a sprinkle of powdered sugar; garnished with fresh blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and pineapple; and served with maple syrup butter that’s more butter than syrup. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Chef Phil has prepared for us half orders of the Keahole Lobster Benedict ($26 for a whole order) and Fried Green Tomato Benedict ($14 for a whole order). Patrick tells us Keahole lobsters originate in Maine, but are raised on the Big Island. For the Benedict, lobster meat on a toasted English muffin is topped with a slice of perfectly ripe avocado and poached egg, and smothered in jalapeno hollandaise. The piece de resistance is a generous piece of succulent claw meat served alongside. The fried green tomato version includes the requisite English muffin and poached egg, but pleasantly surprises with a chunky Upcountry vegetable relish, sautéed Big Island spinach, and sauce Béarnaise.

At Merriman’s, the house-made, fresh-baked bread ($5) changes daily. Today it’s mango-pineapple—moist and delicious, and served with a ramekin of sweet butter. It quickly disappears from the plate.

For the Asian palates among us, Merriman’s brunch Jook! (a.k.a. congee)—Hawai‘i’s Chinatown rice porridge, jidori chicken, Hirabara Farms kale, bean sprouts, cilantro, and hot chili oil ($17)—is set to please.

I’m a huge omelet fan, and Merriman’s Hamakua Mushroom Omelet ($14) is a sure-fire winner. Eggs, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and wilted Hirabara Farms spinach are finished with a decadent slice of melted brie. Ooh, la la!

Just when we think brunch can’t get any better, Patrick brings our prime Filet Steak & Eggs ($29). It’s a stunningly beautiful and colorful dish: seared medium-rare Nebraska filet sits atop slow-roasted Maui onions, wilted Hirabara Farms Swiss chard, and burnished orange bourbon-braised carrots. Fluffy pale yellow scrambled eggs and bright red marinated Tamimi Farms cherry tomatoes bring it all together.

Breakfast (or brunch) just isn’t complete without bacon, no? Four slices of crispy bacon ($6) are still sizzling when Patrick brings them to our table. What’s not to love about that?

Janet and I are beginning to reach maximum saturation, but there’s still more to come. From the “More Like Lunch” section of the menu, Patrick brings House-Made Cavatelli Pasta ($17), which he says is also a popular item on Merriman’s dinner menu. It’s easy to see why: toothsome pasta resembling tiny hot dog buns is tossed with nuggets of Maui’s own Anuhea asparagus and sautéed Hamakua mushrooms, and garnished with daubs of fresh ricotta. Although I’ve enjoyed all the dishes so far, this is the one I will crave long after brunch has ended.

And what would brunch be without potatoes? Merriman’s Parmesan Truffle Fries ($9) are crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside—just like french fries should be. The presentation is whimsical: steaming fries are piled high inside a brown paper bag, and accompanied by a ramekin of ketchup for dipping.

I know what you’re thinking. How in the world can they eat so much? Janet and I are asking ourselves the same thing right about now. But after all that protein, we’re craving something sweet. For brunch, Merriman’s offers the same dessert choices as at dinner. We go for absolute broke and order the Maui Gold Pineapple and Toasted Macadamia Nut Bread Pudding ($12). This decadently rich bread pudding is enhanced with an Old Lahaina Rum butter sauce which renders the dessert thick and ooey gooey. A generous dollop of rich vanilla ice cream sends it completely over the top.

Peter Merriman says it best himself: “From Jook! to Hamakua mushroom omelets, to our Keahole Lobster Benedict with jalapeno hollandaise, our brunch fare is always fresh and local, familiar and interesting.” Janet and I couldn’t agree more.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Merriman’s Kapalua, now serving brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Their philosophy is “local first, organic whenever possible, but always sustainable.”

WHERE •

One Bay Club Place, Kapalua. Complimentary valet parking.

WHEN •

Brunch is served from 10:30am to 1:30pm Saturday and Sunday; Happy Hour is daily from 3 to 5pm; Dinner daily from 5:30 to 9pm.

HOW •

669-6400; merrimanshawaii.com/kapalua/reservations/

 

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