Duke’s Beach House — ‘Localicious’ fare on the beachwalk
KAANAPALI – Sometimes you think a place that’s so popular with visitors can’t be comfortable for locals. When you think of Duke’s Beach House on Kaanapali’s North Beach, think again. I found this restaurant to be a hidden gem both for its scenic location off the less-traveled north end of the Kaanapali Beachwalk and for Chef Greg Gifford’s “localicious” fare.
On a recent Friday evening, my partner and I found plenty of beach access parking at Honoapiilani Park and strolled along the boardwalk as the sun was making its descent. When we entered the oasis of thatched palapas, we were greeted by smiles and welcomed to Duke’s by Community Relations & Banquet Coordinator KC Hendrickson. I asked her what she likes best about the restaurant.
“This beautiful location is not on the main part of Kaanapali Beach, so it’s more romantic. We’re also committed to Growing Future Farmers by donating proceeds from sales of our Maui Farm Salad to the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation,” KC said.
TS Restaurants Corporate Chef Scott McGill is one of the founding chefs of Growing Future Farmers “one salad at a time.” The initiative raises money to support Maui’s next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Duke’s Head Chef Gifford is passionate about supporting local farmers and agricultural co-ops that bring island farm products to the restaurant.
Chef Greg remarked, “We’re on an island in the middle of the Pacific, so we need to be sustainable. I want to keep our farmers in business. I do due diligence and use 80 percent to 90 percent local products in my dishes.”
After learning that, I couldn’t wait to get started on the menu. Chef Greg brought us Black Pepper Sashimi: ruby red line caught ahi spiced with pepper and served with edamame-cucumber salad, shaved daikon and yuzu-ponzu sauce. We also sampled tender slices of Panko Crusted Calamari and dipped them in Meyer lemon remoulade and guava cocktail sauce. Both of these classic starters were a perfect blend of fresh sea treasures and sweet-tart sauces.
Next, the Maui Farm Salad was a must-have. Baby spinach leaves were tossed in papaya seed dressing with chunks of Asian pear, vine-ripened grape tomatoes and chopped macadamia nuts – a burst of crunchy, juicy natural flavors in each bite. We also tried the Lobster Coconut Thai-style soup with shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots. It was rich and creamy yet lightly spiced.
I asked the chef what he recommends as signature dishes. He told me that one of his favorites is the Banana Leaf Steamed Island Fish. He gets fresh fish in season from local fishermen. Fish in sake-ginger sauce is wrapped in a banana leaf, steamed and served with bamboo rice, black bean bok choy and mushrooms. Chef Greg also pointed out the Hawaii Ranchers beef entrees, which are now USDA Prime cuts of beef.
“I take pride in the product we serve and work hard on the freshness to make sure I have enough to feed everybody everyday,” said Greg.
We decided on entrees from the land and ocean. That night’s special was a duo of island fish: monchong with a delectable orange sauce was served with a chickory-frisee bitter salad in sweet mango-lilikoi vinaigrette. The balance of bitter and sweet created a flavorful mouth-feel. The other filet was mahimahi grilled with garlic, capers and yellow tomatoes and served over a polenta-herb cake with olive oil relish. The Mediterranean style was a palate pleasing complement.
From the steakhouse grill, Tom dug into a New York Prime 14-ounce cut that had been massaged with sea salt. He said it was “the best steak I’ve ever had in a restaurant.” The morsel I tasted would rival any steakhouse’s claim to fame. It was served with roasted fingerling potatoes and a Brussels sprout-quinoa grain salad.
Our waiter, Derrick, was very knowledgeable about the wines served at Duke’s and explained how the restaurant was going green to lessen its footprint on the environment. In the “barrel to glass” program, Duke’s offers a selection of popular premium wines by the glass that come in a keg kept at an ideal temperature (even in the tropics). Beers are all on tap, too. Kegs are reusable for at least 20 years, and each saves over a ton of trash from the landfill. Your wine tasting experience is enhanced by a glass served as fresh as the winemaker intended. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I tried was perfect. The restaurant’s traditional wine list features a well-balanced, elegant selection of sparkling, white and red wines.
As the sun painted the dusky sky with yellow, orange and red, we lingered over dessert and coffee. You can choose from a trio of creme brulee, tropical sorbets, cheesecake, flourless chocolate lava cake or famous Hula Pie – all made locally.
Live music is served nightly at the ‘Ohi’a Bar during Aloha Hour from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by dinner music between 6 and 9 p.m. Henry Kapono performs one Friday a month, usually from 5 to 7 p.m.
A well-kept secret for locals is the new North Lanai with its own bar, rustic stone walls and ‘ohi’a branch trellis over an expansive seating area. It was built for special events and is becoming popular for weddings, but it’s also perfect for small gatherings. For reservations, call 662-2900 or visit www.dukesmaui.com.