Maui finds: Local-only bistro + gelateria

Justin Pardo at work in his Market Fresh Bistro kitchen.Last week I was in Makawao for a writers’ workshop with Rebecca Walker. She is a generous, serious teacher and she set a rigorous schedule for the group. She also knows her food. I went out for dinner one night. Rebecca recommended Market Fresh Bistro up the road from the Banyan Retreat Center where I was staying. “The chef worked at Union Square Cafe.” Say wot?

Opened eight months ago, Market Fresh is hidden in plain sight—part of a mini shopping complex it’s tucked behind Makawao Steak House.  Market Fresh’s motto is what you’d expect from the name: “Global influence…local ingredients.” This isn’t Maui’s first restaurant to tout locuisine. James MacDonald and his O’o and Pacific’o partners started their own organic farm, and Maui is the home of two founders—Beverly Gannon and Mark Ellman—of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which was built on island ingredients.

Grilled Kaua'i shrimp in curried watermelon gazpacho

But as at Honolulu’s Town, it’s not just the fish, tomatoes and goat cheese that’s local—hardly anything isn’t local. From basics like carrots and white beans to leg of lamb, the ingredients did not board a plane (or ship) to get to my plate. (OK, the shrimp, pictured above, came from Kaua‘i.) And the food is uncomplicated contemporary, allowing the fresh stuff to shine. The man in the kitchen is New Yorker Justin Pardo, who not only was sous chef at Union Square, but also executive sous chef at Tabla. His partners are his sister Olivia Coletti and wine guy David Magenheim (they’re girlfriend-boyfriend). The couple moved to Maui six years ago, and Pardo soon followed. Magenheim worked for Southern Wine & Spirits and Pardo worked at Grand Wailea.

Lamb leg wrapped in rainbow swiss chard

They took over the modest space that was Cafe del Sol, and kept the quasi country tea room look, with eggshell pink walls and white-trimmed paned windows. The room has a split personality—when you look toward the open kitchen you get industrial chic. That’s where Pardo prepares chunks of herb-crusted lamb leg (pictured above), wrapped in rainbow Swiss chard atop a pleasantly chewy mix of wild rice, red quinoa and wheat berry crowned with sautéed mushrooms. The meat had great lamb flavor—I’d take it over an imported Colorado leg any day.

Crisp moi atop saffron risotto

Crisp filets of moi are evenly matched with saffron risotto and sweetly punctuated with roasted tomatoes. A warm evening was cooled off with a starter of grilled shrimp in a refreshing curried watermelon gazpacho (pictured above). That’s some Floyd Cardoz influence right there. The dishes change daily, so don’t expect to find these items on the dinner menu, which Pardo nails down at 4pm, once he’s done shopping and mulling.

Me and Stephanie dig in

Dinner is served only Thursday to Saturday. But you can go for lunch every day, and brunch on weekends. That’s where I had Pardo’s fun, and excellent, take on a loco moco—braised Maui Cattle Co. short ribs atop a white bean ragout sweetened with carrots and topped by a fried egg (picture below). I’m not a bruncher, but I’d go back for this.

braised shortribs atop white bean ragout. even the beans are Maui grown

As Market Fresh awaits its liquor license, diners are free to bring their own bottles, and you’ll find ample pairings at Rodeo General Store across the street. Judging from the way Magenheim talks about wine, the eventual list will be worth the wait.

Chocolate banana gelato and lemon-thyme sorbetto at Penguini

People rave about Ono Gelato Co., a cheery gelateria that three Vancouver transplants (one of them a third-generation gelato maker originally from Torino) opened in Pa‘ia in Dec. 2007. And it’s good—they use local fruits (and aim to be as sustainable an operation as possible), but they also use an imported base. Opened just a month ago a few steps away is Penguini, where chef-owner Melissa McKelvey makes her gelato and sorbetto completely from scratch. The texture isn’t as smooove as that of Ono (Penguini sorbetto is a little icy and the gelato a bit hard) but the flavors have more of the intensity I experienced at gelaterias in places like Stresa and Firenze. Chocolate-banana, Meyer lemon and rosemary, lilikoi, ginger—I got two cupfuls in a row. The fruits are all local. People come by to give her fruit. A little cup of two scoops is just $3.

Truffles at Penguini

McKelvey is also a chocolatier, and she makes truffles and gelato sandwiches—the brownie “bread” is more like two thin squares of pure, dense chocolate and sandwich mango-ginger sorbet. It looks as color-intense as it tastes. Oh, and do you like cupcakes? There are tiers of cupcakes on the counter too.

Penguini is actually on the ground floor of the Paia Inn—there’s a screened window in the side of the building. Go there and place your order.

• Market Fresh Bistro, 3620 Baldwin Ave, behind Makawao Steakhouse, Makawao, 808-572-4877. Open daily, dinner served Thu-Sat only. $15-$30.

• Penguini, 93 Hana Hwy at Baldwin Ave, ground floor of Pa‘ia Inn, Pa‘ia, 808-214-4608

Photos by Meadow Braun.

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