Fresh And Local At Kalapaki Joe’s

Kalapaki Joe’s is where locals go for excellent drink specials and moderately priced food. Now, we have another reason to go. With a new chef and bartender, the restaurant is featuring fresh specials.

“We try to provide a good-quality product for a reasonable price,” says owner Jody Valente. “The menu will stay the same, but we’ll be incorporating fresh, local produce into specials.”

Bartender Nilo Badua is no stranger to fresh produce. He grew up on his family’s farm, and for more than 20 years he made cocktails at Gaylord’s and 22 North.

Valente is putting those skills to good use, and is giving Badua creative freedom to handcraft cocktails using fruit and herbs grown on his brother’s farm at Kilohana Plantation.

Lime juice is squeezed fresh every day and added to each drink, but they vary wildly after that. A taste of Thailand comes through in Thai Delight ($8), a drink made with coconut cream, basil and citrus vodka.

The Island Breeze ($8) combines rambutan and longan – fresh from the farmers market – with vodka, and it’s a refreshing drink that tastes like the essence of spring.

“These drinks will change with the seasons,” says Badua as he slices open a blood orange for the Bloody Goose ($8). “These oranges are from my brother’s farm.”

He cuts off the peel, dices it and muddles it in a shaker. A little ice and an ounce of orange vodka are added before he gives it a good shake. It takes less than a minute to make this drink, and it tastes like orange candy for adults.

My favorite is the Lavender Crush ($8) with fresh pineapple, coconut vodka, house-made lavender “essence” and African blue basil. The combination is herbaceous, sweet and refreshing, and I can envision my bar tab climbing because they go down so easy.

Andy Althouse is a classically trained chef who has been cooking farm-to-table food on Kaua’i for more than 25 years. His new role will enable him to add local produce to the menu and include daily specials that feature farm-fresh produce.

A regular menu item is the Ahi Avocado Poke ($9.99), made with fresh Hawaiian tuna from the Honolulu Fish Auction. The tuna is tossed in sesame oil, soy sauce and chili pepper flakes, and studded with slivers of onion and chunks of avocado. A garnish of alea sea salt is sprinkled on top.

Another menu staple is the Pesto Glazed Local Fish ($16.99) with steamed rice and a garden salad.

Today, fresh shutome is grilled to juicy perfection, the pesto adds a nice zing, and the salad is crisp with thin slices of turnip, cucumber and radish.

Today’s special is the Blue Moon Beer Battered Fish ($12.99) with balsamic coleslaw. Perfectly fried swordfish has a surprisingly light and crisp coating that is not oily.

“I don’t add any leaveners to the batter,” says Althouse. “That’s why it’s so crisp.”

Also on special for the day is the Blackened Ahi Wrap ($11.99) with fern shoots and an organic salad. The fish is spicy, and a fiery chipotle orange sauce turns up the heat. The blanched fern shoots are the length of the wrap and add a satisfying crunch to the soft fish.

“One of my main farmers is Glenna from Ueunten Farms,” says Althouse, “and the fern shoots are from them. She hooks me up with a lot of good stuff.”

Fresh food is usually pricey, but buying produce at the farmers market costs less. Maybe that enables Kalapaki Joe’s to offer fresh meals at affordable prices. However they do it, I’m happy they are now offering these meals to go with those awesome drink specials.

Kalapaki Joe’s, Lihu’e 3501 Rice St. #208 Open daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.