gannon’s restaurant in wailea: elegant country club ambiance; no membership required

Chef Beverly (Bev) Gannon is a Maui culinary legend. Born Beverly Shanbaum, in Dallas, Texas, she originally worked in the entertainment industry as road manager for singer Liza Minnelli, actress Joey Heatherton, and entertainer Ben Vereen. But after several years on the road, Bev found herself burned out.

So she turned to her passion—cooking—and enrolled in London’s Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School. After that, she studied under acclaimed chefs Marcella Hazan and Jacques Pepin, then started up a catering business in Dallas.

In 1980, she and then-boyfriend Joe Gannon (they married a year later), a rock and roll lighting legend, moved to Maui, where Chef Bev started a catering business in her home kitchen in Makawao called “Fresh Approach,” now known as “Celebrations Catering,” the longest-running catering business on the island.

In 1988, Bev and Joe opened their first restaurant, Hali‘imaile General Store, in a run-down, abandoned pineapple plantation store. Their dining establishment immediately became a popular and critical success, and continues to this to day racking up numerous accolades.

When the Gannons arrived on Maui in 1980, the common joke at the time was that your best meal in Hawai‘i would be the one served on the plane. This was because hotel chefs were largely European trained, and served “continental cuisine” with maybe a smattering of crushed macadamia nuts for a “local flair.” But, to be fair, these chefs were severely limited by the ingredients available at the time: shipped-in frozen fish, frozen vegetables, iceberg lettuce from California, tasteless tomatoes, etc. Local vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish weren’t readily available.

In 1991, 12 Hawai‘i chefs, Bev Gannon among them, established Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, a culinary movement that inventively blends Hawai‘i’s diverse, ethnic flavors with the cuisine of the world. These innovative chefs contributed recipes to a cookbook published in 1994, “The New Cuisine of Hawai‘i: Recipes from the 12 Celebrated Chefs of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine,” by Janice Wald Henderson, that’s still available today. The cookbook showcases 120 boldly flavored recipes featuring local ingredients, including taro and chili cakes; fiddlehead fern salad with Waimea tomatoes and sesame dressing; Big Island goat cheese with Maui onion tart; wok-fried ‘opakapaka (pink snapper) with spicy black bean sauce; pineapple stir-fried rice; Hawaiian focaccia; pumpkin siu mai (fried dumplings) with Maui strawberry salsa; and coconut crème brulee.

Not ones to rest on their culinary laurels, Chef Bev and Joe opened their second restaurant, Joe’s Bar & Grill in Wailea, in 1995 (no longer in business), and 14 years later, in 2009, their third, Gannon’s, A Pacific View Restaurant, in the clubhouse at the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Courses.

Although I’m not a golfer, there’s something about dining at a country club-style restaurant that has always appealed to me. Walking into Gannon’s, Charles and I know we’re in for a memorable evening. The ambiance is at once elegant, yet inviting. And the overlying theme is “red,” from the chic Red Bar the restaurant is famous for, to the red glow that washes over the entire dining area after dark. It’s impossible not to feel special and romantic here.

Gannon’s is definitely off the beaten tourist path. It offers diners an appealing secluded feel with drop-dead-gorgeous panoramas. Situated approximately 200 feet above sea level, you get a birds’ eye view of the neighboring islands of Kaho‘olawe and Molokini, Pu‘u Olai cinder cone and, of course, the vast Pacific Ocean. In the foreground are the manicured greens of the Gold and Emerald Golf Courses punctuated with bright fuchsia-hued bougainvillea. It’s casual elegance at its finest.

Our server this evening is Cody, who has been with Gannon’s since its beginning in 2009. After collecting our beverage order (Lemonade for Charles—$5; Cucumber Kula cocktail for me—$14), Cody brings warm bread, the aroma of which is positively intoxicating. We happily nosh while making some important food decisions.

We begin our meal with the 5-Spice Duck Salad ($20). It’s a gorgeous presentation featuring arugula, endive, radicchio, goat cheese, and raspberries topped with an absolutely addictive duck leg that’s been brined and marinated, then deep fried. It’s all drizzled with a tasty raspberry vinaigrette.

Next we sink our teeth into the Kalua Pig Spring Rolls ($18), which are deep fried to perfection, stuffed to the gills with tender kalua pork, and served alongside a wicked fire shoyu dipping sauce.

Manager Nancy Hill, who’s been with the restaurant for seven years, stops by to chat. In addition to lunch, happy hour, and dinner, Gannon’s is a popular wedding venue, and it’s easy to see why. “We like to say we’re a hotel without rooms,” says Nancy. “We can manage up to three weddings per day, plus regular service.”

For our entrees, Charles has selected the Lacquered Pork Porterhouse ($40), and I’ve chosen the Pineapple Miso Fresh Catch ($40), which this evening is prepared with ‘opakapaka, a particular favorite of mine. The only way to describe Charles’s pork chop is “ginormous.” We’re definitely looking at leftovers. It’s a flavorful 14-ounce Kurobuta chop sitting atop spicy wok-fried green beans and savory “tater tots,” which are golf ball-sized (how appropriate!) nuggets of deep fried mashed potatoes. It’s a satisfying meat-and-potatoes kind of dish.

My ‘opakapaka is also generously sized and succulent. It’s perched on a bed of furikake ginger rice and sautéed broccolini, topped with spiralized carrots, and surrounded by pineapple/onion relish and a lovely unagi sauce.

By now, the sun has begun its nightly colored light show: this evening it begins with yellow and orange; transforms to bright pink and red framed by blue/gray; then morphs into a pale pink finale.

Gannon’s features live music from 5 to 8pm Thursday through Saturday nights. This evening classical guitarist Jim Spector is providing the pleasant background music. Jim has dazzled audiences worldwide for decades. Concert highlights include a performance for the Queen of England, and appearances at Orchestra Hall Chicago and The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

At the helm of Gannon’s kitchen is Executive Chef Bret Pafford. Chef Bret is a native of Indiana, and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of American in New York. His cooking style developed from working in prominent kitchens in New York and California—including cooking alongside great chefs like Sottha Kuhn from Le Cirque and Jean-Louis Palladin at Restaurant Palladin. He apprenticed at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Gary Danko in San Francisco, and Voigner in San Mateo, and served as chef de cuisine at Ojai Valley Inn and Spa under James Beard Chef Michael Otsuka.

For dessert, Charles and I are enjoying the Apple & Berry Crisp ($12), and he’s also savoring a cup of Maui Coffee Roasters “Joe’s Blend” coffee, which Cody tells us is a proprietary fusion of Sumatra, Cuban, and Columbian beans selected by Joe Gannon himself.

The crisp is composed of cinnamon-spiced apples and blueberries topped with a pleasantly chewy mac-nut streusel crust that’s not two sweet, and garnished with a scoop of toasted coconut gelato. Between us, it disappears rather quickly.

Maui is extremely fortunate to be home to such fine restaurateurs as the Gannons. May they continue to share their extraordinary talents with us for a long time to come.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Gannon’s a Pacific View Restaurant, serving the renowned cuisine of Celebrity Chef Bev Gannon in collaboration with Executive Chef Bret Pafford.

WHERE •

At the Wailea Gold & Emerald Golf Courses, 100 Wailea Golf Club Drive, Wailea.

WHEN •

Gannon’s a Pacific View Restaurant serves lunch every day from 11am to 3pm

Happy Hour is daily from 3 to 8pm;

Dinner is every evening from 5 to 9pm.

HOW •

Reservations are recommended:

Please call 875-8080 or visit the website at http://www.gannonsrestaurant.com

 

 

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