The Eastside Neighborhood Joint
The Eastside, located in the center of Kapaa, bustles with vivacious city life. Situated on the corner of Kuhio Highway and Kukui Street, the downtown flurry of traffic and pedestrians add a spirited layer to the atmosphere. Inside the breezy dining room, regulars line the bar and talk sports.
“Our goal is to be a sincere neighborhood joint with integrity in everything we do,” says chef Jonathan Pflueger, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother Dillon Scott.
“We get people who want a pupu and drink after work. Some folks request five-course food and wine tastings, and we get local boys who come in and want a big, bad rib-eye,” he says with a swagger in his voice.
“We’ve done our best to be creative with the price points that we have,” Pflueger says of the restaurant’s regular menu items. “From a fish sandwich for $16 to the huli huli chicken for $20.”
Pflueger, a school of hard knocks-kind of chef (and no relation to the car dealer), owned two restaurants in California before opening The Eastside.
“My training has been all hands-on, no culinary education,” he recalls. “I got into a little French kitchen and just fell in love with cooking.”
Quickly working his way up, Pflueger learned from the best.
“I did some training in France at some Michelin three-star restaurants under Paul Bocuse and Georges Blanc,” he says – the former a French chef in Lyon noted of his work with nouvelle cuisine, which stresses the importance of fresh ingredients of the highest quality; the latter a master chef with eight restaurants in France.
The Eastside combines high-quality fare with a casual island atmosphere. Laminated tabletops with tropical floral patterns are set with crisp, white linen napkins – the only upscale touch, besides the food.
“We try to stay very true to an island-style feel,” says Pflueger, who in his loose shorts looks like a surfer with wild curls of salt-and-pepper hair spilling from beneath his hat.
Pflueger’s creativity and expertise are evident in his ever-changing menu, which features seasonal or unique ingredients.
“I’ve always been real aggressive about changing the menu, keeping things new and fresh so that I’m continuously learning,” he says.
“I just got some beautiful fresh mozzarella from a farm on Maui and we’re doing an island-style Caprese with it,” he says of the salad layered with Maui tomatoes, avocado, papaya and a vanilla bean balsamic reduction.
In celebration of the citrus season, I enjoy a savory Grapefruit Margarita ($8) while my husband Dan enjoys a sweet Tangerine Martini ($8).
“We put the same love into our bar as we do our food,” Pflueger says of the cocktails made with freshly squeezed juice.
A hands-down favorite – even the staff clamors for it – are the Lobster Potstickers ($13). Stuffed with a light lobster and scallop mousse, the tender dumplings are grilled on one side. The smoky bottom lends a satisfying crunch to the delicate morsel.
The Prosciutto Wrapped Mahi Mahi ($25) is an explosion of flavor. Prosciutto is wrapped around fresh fish, and a knob of zesty basil pesto is tucked into the pocket.
As if this weren’t enough, it sits on a bed of creamy cannellini beans in a bath of shellfish saffron broth.
The Chipotle Barbecued Beef Short-Ribs ($25) are delicious. A generous serving of tender beef glistens with spicy sauce and rests on a bed of papaya and ginger risotto. Red wine braising juice surrounds the dish lending beautiful color and intense flavor.
Dan and I are stuffed at this point, but in the name of research, we forge ahead with dessert. The White Chocolate Mango Cheesecake ($8) is especially light. Hints of mango subtly infuse the tangy confection while a graham cracker crust lends a gentle sweetness.
The Baked Papaya Coconut Bread Pudding ($8) is uniquely presented in a ripe papaya. Aromas of cinnamon and vanilla mingle with sweet caramel sauce and cool vanilla bean gelato, creating a comforting tropical dessert.
“We are proud of what we’ve done to date,” says chef Pflueger.
“We see it on a nightly basis with our return business and the relationships that we’ve built.”
Reservations recommended for dinner after 7 p.m.
Music nightly 7-9 p.m. theeastsidekauai.com