Heading To Hanapepe Friday Night

Hanapepe Cafe's portabello mushroom salad with tangy balsamic dressing

Everything at Hanapepe Cafe, including the lasagna and bread, is made from scratch by owner Helen Lacono and staff A Friday evening display of desserts

All in the family: Hanapepe Cafe owner-chef Helen Lacono (center) with granddaughter Ku'ulei Breen (left) and daughter Andrea Kaohi

A Friday evening display of desserts

Why would a wildly popular restaurant be booked solid only one night a week?

Simple.

The Hanapepe Café & Bakery only offers dinner Friday nights. The popular eatery, located in the center of old Hanapepe town, also is open Monday through Thursday for breakfast (7-11 a.m.) and lunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.), but if you want to enjoy the once-a-week dinner menu, Friday evening is it.

Every Friday night, owner and chef Helen Lacono and staff give it their all with made-from-scratch vegetarian, non-vegetarian, seafood and Italian-inspired dishes. On the third Friday of each month, the menus feature collaborations with special guest chefs from around the world, including French, Persian, Japanese and Greek cuisine.

Dinner is served in a warm, convivial setting that captures the feel of Hawai‘i in years past, and accented with live slack key guitar music by Kaua‘i’s Cindy Combs. If, like me, you’ve stopped into the Hanapepe Café & Bakery for a morning pastry (absolutely wonderful, by the way) and espresso, but have never visited for dinner, consider a night out in Hanapepe town, starting with the café.

A word of caution: If you just pop in hoping to get a table, you’ll probably be out of luck. Friday night reservations fill quickly, and it’s not uncommon for tables to turn over three times in one evening.

With this in mind, I made an early reservation (dinner is offered from 5 to 8:30 p.m.), surprised to find that by 5:15 a number of tables were already seated. Hanapepe Café does not sell alcohol, but diners are welcome to bring their favorite bottle of wine (a nominal corkage fee applies).

Like most of old Hanapepe town, the Hanapepe Café occupies a historic building, which is denoted by an informational sign and black-and-white photo that explains the building once housed a service station and later Igawa Drugstore and soda fountain. More recently the building was converted to a café and then, about 10 years ago, Lacono bought the business, which she runs with a staff that includes her daughter Andrea Kaohi and granddaughter Ku‘ulei Breen.

Inside the café, old-time ceiling fans whirl over a restored U-shaped sandwich bar, and the dark-brown wooden floor creaks with character under every footstep. Seated at a table near the alcove where Cindy Combs performs, we’re offered the one-page menu board (each Friday night menu is designed specifically for that night alone) and consider our options: red passion salad, split pea smoky tomato soup, fettuccine Alfredo with crab and asparagus …

We decide on the spinach and eggplant lasagna with garlic bread ($28) and fresh island shrimp with jasmine rice pilaf and vegetables ($34), and begin with a wonderfully rich kabocha squash and pear bisque ($5), and beautifully arranged portabello mushroom salad with a tangy balsamic dressing ($12). As we admire the Hawaiian quilt and wood crafts displayed against the walls, our waitress serves us warm house-baked bread. I’m in danger stuffing myself with this irresistible bread, but halt when I notice the enormous portions served to the table beside us. “Save room for dessert,” my wife reminds me, gesturing toward a spiraling display of baked desserts at the front entrance. Good thing, too, because if for no other reason (and there are plenty), a visit to Hanapepe Café & Bakery should include baked goods — they’re truly exceptional. On this Friday night the restaurant is abuzz with customers enjoying dinner, a quick-heeled staff serving plates of fresh, hot food and the sounds of people enjoying a night out in Hanapepe. Lacono, who makes everything from scratch (“there’s no Crisco in my kitchen!” she told me) wants her restaurant to be welcoming whether you’re from `Ele`ele or El Paso, Kilauea or Kickapoo.

“I want people to feel comfortable here, like a guest in my own home,” she says.

And comfortable it is. The music, the simple black-and-white décor — and yes, the creaky wooden floor, too — all add to the homey feeling. When our meals are served, we’re already happy we’ve come, but the delicious food pushes us into the “fan” category. My lasagna is big in size and flavor and the island shrimp are equally delicious.

When our dinners are finished, I’m wondering if I can still claim I’ve stuck to my New Year’s resolution, but frankly, I don’t care anymore. When our waitress presents the dessert menus, it’s official — another year’s resolution dashed.

We order tutu’s famous bread pudding and a slice of mango pie (each $8) and are pleased to find that they’re both as light as they are tasty. After a meal this good (and filling), a leisurely stroll is what we crave most and luckily Friday nights are the night for strolling in Hanapepe. As it has been for years, shops and galleries stay open late in Hanapepe and the place really comes alive.

Walking along what can otherwise feel like a one-horse town, Friday nights in Hanapepe have grown into quite an affair. After not having visited on a Friday night for several years, it almost felt like we were on a Neighbor Island – the evening buzz, the street music, the crowds …were we still on Kaua‘i?

If you’re feeling like you need to break the monotony in your weekly routine, take a Friday night trip down to Hanapepe. Make a night of it, something to remember, by starting off with dinner at the Hanapepe Café.

And if a Friday night trip to Hanapepe is difficult for you, stop in Monday through Thursday for breakfast or lunch. Or, if you’re looking for a way to treat Mom on Mother’s Day, consider the Hanapepe Café & Bakery’s English tea and brunch offered four times a year. The next one will be Sunday, May 8 (10 a.m.-2 p.m.). Lacono describes the event as “huge buffet with savory dishes, pastries, teas and coffees — a phenomenal amount of food — for $35.”

The Hanapepe Café & Bakery is open Monday-Thursday, 7-11 a.m. (breakfast), 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (lunch), and Friday 5-8:30 p.m. (dinner). Closed Saturday and Sunday. For dinner reservations (a must), call (808) 335-5011.

 
 
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