The Garden Cafe Is Here To Stay
“People keep coming in and telling me, ‘I hate that you’re closing. We’re going to miss this place,'” says Rodman Machado, executive chef at The Garden Cafe in Kilauea. “Thing is, we’re not closing!”
Rumors began circulating last August, when Common Ground Kauai, a 47-acre property that includes a 1,600-square-foot organic garden, a farm-to-table cafe and a permaculture touring environment, was put up for sale. Realtor broker Tim Mira lists the property at $10 million, and Machado assures me that owner Chris Jaeb will sell when he finds the right buyer.
“Just because Chris is selling doesn’t mean we are letting go of our values,” Machado tells me. “We are not in a rush to find a buyer. We’ve had people who were interested, but they weren’t the right fit. We are looking for someone who wants to perpetuate our message of health and sustainability with a restaurant that’s driven by an organic garden.”
Machado and I are sitting at a chunky wood table in the outdoor cafe. We are sheltered from the late-morning sun by a large, fixed awning and flanked by colorful plants that rustle in the breeze. Customers conduct business meetings over lunch, or use the free WiFi.
The garden, just 50 yards from the restaurant, is in remediation. Machado solicited advice from Sun and Lisa Fuller of One Song Farm. After soil testing, they decided to replenish the garden’s soil and plant sunn hemp cover crops.
“We have been growing in that garden since we opened about three years ago,” explains Machado. “The soil was extremely deficient in vital nutrients, and in about 60 days, we’ll be able to plant our initial crop.”
Machado and his staff work the garden, but since they can’t harvest anything, he buys organic produce from local farmers, including Growing Strong Farm, Moloaa Organicaa, Olana Farm and One Song Farm.
“I’ve been blessed with great partnerships with these farmers,” says Machado. “When I go to Sun and Lisa’s garden, I’m in awe. It’s healthy and bursting with vitality, and they grow so many things! It humbles me.”
In his home garden, Machado grows Tahitian taro, a plant he prizes so much, he’s brought it with him on his last five moves. For more information on Tahitian taro, see this week’s Farmers Market column, which includes a recipe from Machado.
At the cafe, Machado cooks the leaves with garlic, ginger, onions and coconut milk and serves the Tahitian Luau with Grilled Opah with Kilauea Lomi Tomato Relish ($17). I’ve never had it before, but I am comforted by one bite, like an old memory of Mom’s home cooking.
Breakfast and lunch menus are small but packed with wholesome options. Huevos Rancheros ($12) comes with beans, a daily whole grain, veggies, organic eggs and your choice of local grass-fed beef or kalua pork.
Drink options include organic coffee, espresso, Kauai Kombucha, Akamai Juice, Kauai Farmacy tea and house-made Hawaiian Ginger Ade. The Garden Cafe also cold-presses a Power Juice ($10) of beets, carrots, cucumber, celery, yacon, ginger, garlic, kale, turmeric, parsley, cilantro and lemon.
“The enzymes from cold-pressed juice stay in your body for three days,” says Machado. “Other juicing methods can destroy those beneficial enzymes.”
The Garden Cafe also blends smoothies that Machado likes to call super-food elixirs. All are vegan and gluten-free, and not as sweet at typical smoothies. Vanilla Thrilla ($9.50) has warm notes of spice; Mint Chocolate ($8.50) blends hemp milk with raw cacao, cinnamon and vanilla; Green Dream ($9.50) tastes of banana and is loaded with kale and pineapple; and Blueberry Acai All Star ($8.50) includes brown rice protein powder and mesquite.
“We’re not going anywhere and I’m not giving up on the vision of Common Ground and The Garden Cafe,” Machado says wholeheartedly. “I’m going to keep focusing on giving this community the most tasty and healthy meals on the North Shore.”
The Garden Cafe
4900 Kuawa Road, Kilauea
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.