Our 2012 Top Picks For Ono Eats

This year, my husband, Dan, and I have had the honor and pleasure of sharing many of Kaua’i’s exceptional food providers with you. For more than two years, I have been writing about them in MidWeek Kaua’i, and Dan’s tantalizing photos have run alongside my words. As 2012 comes to a close, we thought we’d share our Top 5 places to eat.

There is no official format from which we based our decisions. The only steadfast rules are that the restaurant was featured within these pages in 2012, provides wholesome food, friendly service and chooses local ingredients first.

As consumers, creating a sustainable Kaua’i means purchasing from local businesses. This sometimes costs more, as mom and pop don’t have the buying power of large corporations. But just as our land, air and water are worth protecting, so are the island’s small businesses. Not only do the following restaurants fill our bellies with delicious food, but they also infuse Kaua’i’s economy with their buying ethics.

* In the Jan. 4 issue of MidWeek Kaua’i, we introduced you to a new pub in Nawiliwili called The Feral Pig. Since then, we have returned for handcrafted cocktails, the Feral Burger, gluten-free biscuits and gravy, and a seven-course dinner paired with beer from Maui Brewing Co.

The Pig’s atmosphere is neighborly during the day and lively at night. The food is honest and good. Meals are built upon local ingredients such as Passion Bakery taro buns, Island fresh fish, Kaua’i beef, Kaua’i shrimp, taro and other local produce. For those who like to drink local, the shelves are always stocked with Koloa Rum.

* On Feb. 8, we covered Collin Darrell’s pop-up restaurant Grown. These multicourse dinners spring up at different locations around Kaua’i, and are the ultimate in eating super-fresh and seasonal. Guests have enjoyed farm dinners and cocktail parties, and Darrell has commandeered a few restaurants for one night as well.

Ingredients for each event are purchased from local farmers just days before, so you never know what will be served. One thing is for certain, the meal will be unique and it will be delicious. If you haven’t had the pleasure, turn to this page each week. Darrell has another one in store for the beginning of 2013, and we will cover it just in time for you to buy tickets.

* The April 18 issue featured an Earth Dinner at Hukilau Lanai. Not even a month after spring rains devastated the island, the restaurant rallied with local farmers and celebrated its 10-year anniversary, as well as its third annual Earth Dinner. Owners Ron and Krissi Miller consistently serve delicious food made with fresh (never frozen) Island fish, local meat and produce, as well as Kaua’i-made products such as Nani Moon Mead, Koloa Rum, Kunana Dairy cheese and McPhee’s Bees Honey. From freshly baked bread to sausages and sauces, everything is made from scratch. A little known secret: Try the very affordable and relaxing poolside lunch. The menu changes every week and features sandwiches such as giant meatball subs ($5.95) with marinara sauce and melted cheese; the popular Prime Rib Au Jus Sub ($7.95); and Grilled Filet Kabobs over Caesar Salad ($7.95).

* On May 9, we ran a story on the delightful Art Cafe Hemingway, and since then we have returned for breakfast, business meetings and lunch with friends. The bright, charming atmosphere is roomy and neat, which puts my mind at ease. The food is impeccable, tastefully made and sourced with quality in mind.

The cafe houses a gallery, and owners Jana and Markus Boemer insist the art be original and outside the typical tourist box. After I eat, I always pop upstairs

to see what’s hanging. Artists have showcased their pottery, photographs and paintings, and new exhibits open during Kapa’a’s First Saturday Art Walk.

* I have read countless books and watched many heart-wrenching documentaries about how our food is grown and harvested. The toxic toll on our environment, the people (harvesters and consumers) and the inhumanely raised animals are too much for me to bear. So when we covered Tiki Tacos for the Sept. 19 issue, I was happy to find an affordable, delicious and guilt-free dining option. Owners Tiki Morales and Bard Widmer hand-make $5 tacos, as well as salsas and tamales on Saturdays. The menu is loaded with local ingredients including pork, beef, lamb, fish and produce, as well as hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken. I also like to take jars of salsa home for our morning eggs, homemade enchiladas or Dan’s favorite snack, chips and salsa.

To those who read this column each week, we send you a hearty, heartfelt mahalo. We also thank those who have shared their stories and welcomed us into their kitchens. From our ‘ohana to yours, we wish you an exceptional 2013.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.