hali‘imaile general store: the grand dame of upcountry maui

HGS_Sashimi Napolean (4C)When a restaurant has been in business for nearly 30 years, you just gotta know they’re doing something right. Such is the case with Hali‘imaile General Store (HGS), opened in 1988 by renowned Chef Beverly Gannon. And a recent visit reminded Charles and I just how lucky we are to live only 10 minutes away from this venerable Maui dining establishment.

Driving Hali‘imaile Road is always an adventure. There are no street lights, and the road bisects acres of tall sugarcane riffling in the trade winds, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, after a handful of miles, you round a bend and, standing like a beacon with its cluster of welcoming lights, is HGS—much like a roadhouse from days gone by.

This is no serendipitous coincidence—the building housing HGS is actually steeped in Maui history. The pineapple boom in the Islands in the early part of the last century is responsible for the existence of this historic building. In the 1920s, camp houses for plantation workers abounded in Hali‘imaile, and a camp store was built in 1925—the original HGS. But the store was not just for groceries. HGS was a butcher shop, fish market, and post office, and had departments for clothing and household appliances. It was a one-stop-shop for necessities, as well as a place to catch up on news and local gossip…the latter being a tradition Chef Bev encourages in the present day!

In 1987, Chef Bev and her husband Joe took over the lease for the old HGS. They retained the name, and opened the doors in 1988 as a gourmet take-out deli and general store. “Our first day there were over one hundred people waiting for a bite to eat,” Chef Bev recalls. “We had five or six tables, no wait staff, and our patrons wanted to know, ‘Where do we sit?’  Hali‘imaile General Store is a restaurant today because of what our customers wanted.”

“The Store,” as Chef Bev has always called it, has racked up award after award over the decades, most recently a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2015, and a 2016 OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award. Chef Bev describes the cuisine as “eclectic American with Asian overtones.” She’s one of the original 12 founding members of the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine Movement, which took local food to new heights in the 1990s, and continues to grow and strengthen each year. This movement champions the concept of using fresh local ingredients in island cuisine, rather than importing ingredients from out of state. The Gannons’ other dining establishment, Gannon’s, A Pacific View Restaurant, is in Wailea, and Chef Bev continues to operate her popular catering company, Celebrations Catering, which is the longest-running catering company on the island.

The ambiance at HGS is lively, family friendly, and just plain fun. Our server, Tony, is a Gannon veteran, having worked at the former Joe’s in Wailea for nearly 20 years. “After having a wonderful meal at HGS, I knew I wanted to work here,” he says. “The menu is so complete—it’s got everything covered. I never thought I’d find a restaurant as good as Joe’s, but this one is even better.”

The color scheme at HGS is rustic—creamy white, mustard yellow, and brick red, with chocolate-brown trim—and the walls are adorned with works by local artists such as Pam Andelin and Ed Lane. If you see something you like, you can buy it. We’re seated in the back room. Tony tells us that HGS’s regular customers have their favorite room—front or back—and they won’t sit anywhere else. Mason-jar water glasses are reminiscent of a bygone era, and pineapple-motif dining chairs give a nod to the area’s pineapple-growing history.

For cocktails, Charles has selected the Paniolo Manhattan, which Tony describes as “a Manhattan on the way to an Old Fashioned” (Hali‘imaile Distilling Company’s Paniolo Blended Whiskey, Carpano sweet vermouth, orange bitters, luxardo cherry, and a twist of orange—$12); while I’ve chosen HGS bartender extraordinaire Wendy’s award-winning “Tai Mai” (Maui’s Old Lahaina Light & Dark Rums, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, fresh lime, house sweet & sour, citrus zest, and liliko‘i, served flash blended—$12). It’s wonderful to see locally made spirits being promoted and used creatively by restaurants such as HGS.

For our first course, we’ve ordered up the Warm Goat Cheese Tart ($14), which Tony says graced the cover of the original Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine cookbook and, from the raw bar, the Sashimi Napoleon ($24), which is a must-have item for Charles and I every time we dine at HGS. The decadently rich tart’s crust has been baked to a gorgeous golden brown. It’s accompanied by port wine-poached figs that are the stuff dreams are made of, and Maui micro greens. All three components are sprinkled with toasted pine nuts for an earthy crunch. Always a delight, the Napoleon is composed of layers of succulent ‘ahi tartare, smoked salmon, and sashimi ‘ahi, nestled between crispy fried wontons. It’s accompanied by an addictive wasabi vinaigrette that’s smooth and well balanced.

Perusing HGS’s wine list, it’s obvious why the restaurant received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence last year. It contains an impressive selection of domestic and foreign wines available by the glass or bottle; there are even some appealing wines available in half bottles. Right at the top of the list is MauiWine’s pleasant Lokelani Sparkling Rosé ($11 glass/$44 bottle), which I had sampled recently at the winery in ‘Ulupalakua.

We dig into the Caesar Salad ($12): incredibly tender Waipoli baby Romaine is dressed with a bold garlic and anchovy blend, and topped with crunchy garlic sourdough croutons and nutty Asiago-Parmesan cheese.

Charles’s Roasted Meyer Lemon Half Chicken entree ($34) is da bomb. Served in a cast-iron vessel, the chicken is incredibly moist, and the skin has been crisped to perfection. A sauté of Brussels sprouts, onions, bacon, and fingerling potatoes that’s been bathed in a warm lemon citronette brings this delightfully rustic dish together. I’ve ordered the Yuzu-Kabayaki glazed Grilled Salmon ($34). Not only is it beautifully presented, the tasty combination of salmon, coconut red Thai sticky rice, and tender baby bok choy is both sweet and savory at the same time.

For dessert, Charles and I share the Lemon Bundt Cake ($10). This petite cake is surrounded by a luscious blueberry compote that’s punctuated with dollops of whipped cream. Charles’s Maui Coffee Roasters brew provides the perfect complement. HGS’s signature dessert is the Hali‘imaile Pineapple Upside-Down Cake ($12), made with caramelized Maui Gold pineapple, and buttery vanilla pound cake, served warm with whipped cream. Charles and I intend to try it on our next visit!

Tony is right…HGS has it all covered. From seafood to steak, poultry to lamb, and even baby-back ribs, you can’t possibly go home less than satisfied and ready for a return visit.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Hali‘imaile General Store, serving eclectic American cuisine with Asian overtones in a lively roadhouse-type atmosphere.

WHERE •

900 Hali‘imaile Rd., Makawao

WHEN •

Lunch is served Monday-Friday, 11am-2:30pm; dinner nightly 5:30-9pm

HOW •

Reservations recommended: 572-2666; hgsmaui.com; opentable.com.

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