Makawao Garden Cafe: Sandwiches, Salads and Mom
By Vanessa Wolf
If it’s been a while since your mom called you pet names while filling your empty tummy, it could be time to pay a visit to the lady who gave you life.
But let’s say – for whatever reason – that’s not so easy.
No worries, as the sweet, sunny proprietress of the all-lunch-and-only-lunch Makawao Garden Cafe can pretty much take her place in a pinch. In fact, let’s just call her Mom.
We must start by noting that during all three visits, we were struck by Mom’s relentless cheerfulness. She gives off the impression that she’s sincerely happy to be there, doing what she’s doing.
Bravo, Mom. There should be more of your kind in the world.
What the world maybe doesn’t need more of, however, is the Bacon and Brie Sandwich ($6.50 half/$8.50 whole).
Yes, it sounds appealing – we enthusiastically agreed when Mom suggested it – but the execution was a flop.
Bacon? A disappointment?
We were as floored as the next guy, but then again, it’s not every day someone fashions an entire meal out of Bac-Os®.
Yes, sadly, our hoagie roll was outfitted with a thin layer of pulverized bacon bits, lettuce, tomato and a few translucent slices of brie. Honest to Pete, we are not even sure how Mom managed to slice the gooey cheese so paper thin. Maybe freezing it first?
Regardless, it is what it is: a BLT with too much bread and no mayo. Maybe check out Costco, Mom, where the brie flows plentiful and cheap.
On our next visit we tried again to order the Crab and Avocado Sandwich ($7.50 half/$9.75 whole), but that baby is as elusive as a Big Foot on a unicorn.
We tried to order it three different times without success, to our chagrin.
“How about a Ham and Cheese?” Mom suggested with her trademark sunny smile.
And so it was.
Makawao Garden Cafe’s Ham and Cheese Sandwich ($6.50 half/$8.50 whole) is pretty much a time machine to your third grade lunchbox, minus some carrot sticks and a thermos of milk.
Whole wheat sandwich bread is layered with deli ham, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo.
It’s pretty much exactly what you would make for yourself at home, but without the messy cleanup.
The accompanying Caesar salad was the highlight of both dishes. Although very basic – no anchovies (Inadvertent goof. Thank you, Hell’s Kitchen), no croutons and only a whisper of shredded Parmesan cheese – the garlicky Caesar dressing was outstanding.
Suddenly it seemed that maybe we were doing this all wrong. Perhaps where Mom really shines is with salads.
Thus, we ordered up a Curry Chicken Salad ($7 half/$9 whole).
Mixed spring greens are topped with shredded carrots, zucchini, and – you probably saw this coming – chicken salad.
Comprised primarily of white meat chicken, mayo and curry powder, we found it a bit sweet… Or perhaps that was the influence of the dressing.
The bright orange plop of baby food puree on top – later determined to be extremely ripe papaya – looks pretty, but added nothing flavor-wise.
It’s not going to change your life, but if the promise of a simple, light “ladies who lunch” type-salad tickles your fancy, this is a solid choice.
The space itself is comprised of three outdoor tables and a small, two story structure in which the food is prepared. Basically, it’s a food truck with an upgraded location.
If you can find a spot to sit, the garden-like setting is peaceful and excellent for covert people-watching.
Parking on Baldwin street, however, is (always) a bitch.
On our final visit, the Catch of the Day Salad ($7.50 half/$9.75 whole) confirmed our burgeoning theory: Mom has some ninja-like knife skills.
The same vegetation foundation (mixed spring greens with shredded carrots and zucchini) is topped with six sashimi-sized slices of near-flavorless mahi mahi and some overripe alfalfa sprouts.
We’re not going to lie to you: Mom let us down with this one.
The scant fish portion was in desperate need of seasoning. Or some time on a grill. Or salt. Anything.
Regrettably, seeming to sense its own extraordinary blandness, the wan bits of mahi mahi took to extreme measures. In less than five minutes, they had completely soaked up the flavor of the alfalfa sprouts and became completely permeated with their bitter earthiness.
We know Mom doesn’t want us crying over spilled milk, but what about fish that tastes like old sprouts?
The basil vinaigrette helped somewhat, but not enough.
We imagine on a better day it’s another nice, light salad choice, but that was not our luck.
In all fairness, we never did get a chance with the Crab and Avocado sandwich and perhaps that is the crown jewel that would have changed the tone of our experience. Certainly it’s perpetually sold-out-by-noon status suggests as much.
Nonetheless, if you are in Makawao and the mood for a half-sandwich or light salad, Makawao Garden Cafe has a varied and well-priced smattering of offerings.
And, if that’s not so much your groove, you can count on Mom to be there with smiles and terms of endearment to make you feel like you’ve popped in for a visit home.
Makawao Garden Cafe is located at 3669 Baldwin Avenue in Makawao. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.