Maui Food and Dining

Monkeypod Kitchen’s HH: Happiness on a Budget

March 14, 2014, 2:54 PM HST
* Updated March 14, 3:50 PM
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Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.

By Vanessa Wolf

The Wings. Beware the innocent-looking "tzatziki" with the celery in it. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Wings. Beware the innocent-looking “tzatziki” with the celery in it. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman offers an expansive, eclectic menu.

Light eaters, multi-plate nibblers and cheapskates will be happy to learn there is also a diverse spread available as part of the happy hour menu.

Better yet, it’s offered twice throughout the restaurant every day from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.

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We started with the Wood-Roasted Chicken Wings ($14.95 when it’s not happy hour/$7.50 when it is.)

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The eight plump drumstickettes – which leaves one to ponder what they do with the wing portion – are heavily seasoned with garlic, chili and – predominantly – rosemary.

A nice change from the usual gingery Asian or vinegary Tobasco flavor profiles, the herbaceous wings are accompanied by a tzatziki sauce endowed with a garlic concentration level of relationship-testing intensity.

If you come with a date, make a indelible pact to eat it.

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Or don’t touch it and have a long discussion about what you both want out of life, because juicy free-range chicken wings and garlic breath should (hopefully) figure in there somewhere.

The Smoked Taro Hummus is a unique twist on the usual. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Smoked Taro Hummus is a unique twist on the usual. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The Smoked Taro Hummus ($11.95/$6) is proof positive that Chef Peter Merriman is most definitely not a vampire.

More like a baba ganoush in taste and texture, this dip will inform everyone at your next stop that you’ve arrived long before you say a word.

To call it garlicky seems like a vast understatement.

The “hummus” comes with a nice portion of crisp tortilla chips and some particularly creative fresh cucumber, romaine lettuce and watermelon radish slices: a refreshing and delightful change from the usual. We’re looking at you, pink radishes. Smooches.

Light, inventive and more than enough resulting bad breath to keep unwanted suitors at bay for days: what’s not to love?

The Handcrafted Jalapeno Poppers ($11.95/$6) are a thoughtful take on a typically frozen-then-flash-fried bar offering.

Four fresh jalapeno halves are filled with garlicky (but of course) goat cheese, coated with breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried.

The Jalapeno Poppers are a lot more creative than the usual fare. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Jalapeno Poppers are a lot more creative than the usual fare. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The resulting product looks familiar, but is actually a revelation: light, juicy and bursting with garden-fresh flavor.

The accompanying sauce is a dud.

Described as an “Upcountry tomato pineapple salsa” it comes across more like spicy marinara pasta sauce with pineapples in it. Not so much.

If all this talk of garlic has you cringing, relax and order the Pumpkin Patch Ravioli ($13.95/$7).

The five plump ravioli are stuffed with a sweet, rich pumpkin filling and arrive intermingled with fresh spinach leaves. Drizzled with basil pesto, sage brown butter sauce and topped with clumps of chevre cheese, there is no way this decadence is good for you, but hey… you only live once.

The allium level remains equally low on the slightly droopy, house made Hand Cut Fries ($6.95/$3.50).

However, all that changes if you fish out some extra quarters and splurge on the Garlic Truffle Oil version ($7.95/$4).

The Pumpkin Patch Ravioli was an unexpected delight. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Pumpkin Patch Ravioli was an unexpected delight. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Either way, the skin-on potato slices arrive accompanied by a zesty fresh ketchup and – fights may break out as the supply runs low – creamy mustard aioli.

Not the best fries we ever had, but the price is right.

Service seems to work on a “everybody takes care of the tables that need it” basis. This can get tricky if you need **your** server – consider asking for your check long before you need it – but otherwise it’s easy enough to flag someone down for an extra plate or water refill.

The high-ceilinged space is large and offers gorgeous flourishes: we want a coat made out of the flowery upholstery material in the main dining room. Pretty please?

Meanwhile – probably owing to all that wood – the noise level tends to range from “loud” to “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?”

On a busy night or when there’s live music (or both) learn to read lips or maybe just play charades.

The Roasted Butternut Squash Pizza. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Roasted Butternut Squash Pizza. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

If bar food doesn’t sound hearty enough for your early bird or late night budget dining needs, Monkeypod also offers all their pizzas – minus the lobster-clad Bourgeois ($25.95) – for $9 during happy hour.

The Roasted Butternut Squash Pizza ($15.95/$9) is what you might expect to find at the California Pizza Kitchen.

Not great, not awful and loaded with an sundry hodgepodge of slightly undercooked squash chunks, pine nuts, white sauce, olive oil and rosemary. We like the idea of it, but not so much the execution.

Cooked in a kiawe wood-fired oven, it somehow managed (we blame aforementioned oven) to be both doughy and burned at the same time.

The Hamakua Wild Mushroom & Truffle Pizza ($18.95/$9) is a little more traditional and a lot more successful. Topped with truffle oil, thyme and thin-sliced Hamakuas, we probably could have done without the salty cream sauce. Still, the dough was light and the crust nicely crisp this time around.

The Hamakua Wild Mushroom & Truffle Pizza. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Hamakua Wild Mushroom & Truffle Pizza. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Many might balk at the $19 price tag for a thin 12” pizza, but from 3 to 5:30 and after 9 p.m., you’re much more inclined toward a happy ending.

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Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman is located at 10 Wailea Ike Dr #201 in Wailea. They are open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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