A taste of Hana Ranch

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I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about Hana Ranch Provisions in Paia from my Maui friends over the last few months. They weren’t just raving about it; they were claiming it was their favorite Maui restaurant. That’s a pretty big statement to make, especially with so many awesome eateries on the Valley Isle to choose from.

I go to Maui a lot, but rarely drive to Paia, despite the many great shopping and dining spots there. Olivia Maki and her brother Morgan, who — in a nutshell — oversee some of the operations of the restaurant and Hana Ranch, decided to fix that and flew me to Maui specifically to try the restaurant, tour the ranch, and get a preview of their new food truck in Hana. How good was it? Let’s put it this way: I flew back on my own to have dinner there. That’s pretty good.

There’s a lot of creative farm-to-table dining happening on Maui, since they are surrounded by farms and very progressive farmers to complement the talented chefs. But there’s nothing quite like Hana Ranch Provisions in Maui … or Honolulu, for that matter. That’s not to say they’re so different they don’t fit; Morgan, who was raised in Louisiana and was a chef in San Francisco before moving here, took Paia’s hippie-chic vibe and elevated it to the upscale hippie chic that you might find in, say, Hayes Valley or The Mission.

Chef Gary Johnson, who heads up the kitchen.

Chef Gary Johnson, who heads up the kitchen. Oops on the photobomb!

When the restaurant first opened, Morgan brought chef Jon Watson, with whom he’d worked in San Francisco, to develop the menu. That should give you a hint as to how the food looks and tastes. Once the restaurant got up and running, they brought chef Gary Johnson (you’ve seen him at high-profile Maui restaurants) to lead the team so they could spend more time in Hana getting the food truck going.

You can see more photos of the restaurant and the ranch in the gallery below. I know you want to see more of the food, so here’s what you can expect to see when you head to Paia, although the menu does change frequently.

Start with their home made ginger beer.

Start with their home made ginger beer.

The non-alcoholic ginger beer is straightforward and nicely balanced, not too sugary or spicy.

House pickles, $6.

House pickles, $6.

They use vegetables (and sometimes fruits) that they grow on the ranch for their house pickles, which are a great accompaniment to the food — especially the sandwiches. I like that the pickles are not too vinegary, but are mild and crunchy with a slight sweetness. And yes, they are working on being able to sell these in jars to go!

Curry kabocha squash soup, $11.50 at lunch, $12 at dinner.

Curry kabocha squash soup, $11.50 at lunch, $12 at dinner.

A lot of places have pumpkin soup, but here they give it a layer of curry flavor and a little crunch from pumpkin seeds. It’s not too sweet at all, and even with the curry, it tastes a lot like Thanksgiving. This is perfect with…

House baked bread at dinner, $5.

House baked bread, $5.50 (size of bowl may vary).

…the house-baked bread, which is fresh and has a slight chewiness. For those of you who like crust, that crusty layer is very sturdy, too! They even make their own butter and sprinkle it with local lava salt. It’s very addicting.

Chioggia beet carpaccio, $14 at lunch, $14.50 at dinner.

Chioggia beet carpaccio, $14 at lunch, $14.50 at dinner.

What genius thought of beet carpaccio? Fresh, sweet beets from the farm are sliced paper thin and served with kumquats, mustard greens and dill, and topped with deep fried shallots. Although the beets are the focal point of the dish, the kumquats lend the strongest flavor and are what pull everything together. You get sweet, tart, crunchy and bitter in each bite.

Hana Ranch burger, $16 at lunch, $16.50 at dinner.

Hana Ranch burger, $16 at lunch, $16.50 at dinner.

You can’t leave Hana Ranch Provisions without having their signature burger. Split it with someone if you have to, but get it. The patty is juicy, and although their beef is grass-fed, you don’t get that grass-fed funk in the flavor. It’s served on a house made ‘ulu brioche with cheddar, caramelized onions and horseradish aioli. Don’t waste the bread and butter pickles, as these are some of the best we’ve had. My friend Dania Katz says she dreams about these pickles.

Fried fish sandwich, $18 at lunch.

Fried fish sandwich, $18 at lunch.

If meat is too heavy for you (I told you to split the burger!), try the fried fish sandwich. It’s served on that same ‘ulu brioche with pickled radish slaw, almost like the vegetables you get in a Vietnamese sandwich. Again, very good, fresh and tasty, and the batter is fried to a delicate crunch. It’s a simple sandwich, but with a nice blend of flavors and textures.

Vietnamese beef meatball, $15 at dinner.

Vietnamese beef meatball, $15 at dinner.

At dinner, we got the Vietnamese beef meatball appetizer, which is served atop a green papaya slaw, Thai herb salad, chile and hoisin with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts and cilantro. You get very Asian flavors of the salad with the savory-sweet meatball.

'Ulu and sweet potato gnocchi, $14 at dinner.

‘Ulu and sweet potato gnocchi, $14 at dinner.

We were blown away by the ‘ulu and sweet potato gnocchi, which practically melted in our mouths. It’s definitely sweet, but the brown butter and balsamic give it more complex layers of richness with a little tartness. It’s very garlicky, too, which I think helps keep the dish from being too sweet. Definitely order this when available!

Eggplant tagine, $19 at dinner.

Eggplant tagine, $19 at dinner.

To be honest, I was so full at dinner that I didn’t eat much of the tagine, but what I tasted was good — a flavorful mix of roasted veggies with couscous, toasted almonds, olive, fresh tumeric and crispy chickpeas. In Paia, you need such filling, non-salad vegetarian options, and this is definitely a new approach for our veg friends.

Seared ahi, $35 at dinner.

Seared ahi, $35 at dinner.

I was surprised at how much I liked the seared ahi, which is comprised of generous cubes of fish, Kula cauliflower, braised chicories, and (of course) a soft-poached egg. The cured mackerel vinaigrette is amazing! It’s not fishy, but is intensely salty (just where it’s drizzled), so that made it one of our favorites of the night. I was also surprised at the $35 price tag, but perhaps it is very high quality fish.

Kauai shrimp tagliatelle, $32 at dinner.

Kauai shrimp tagliatelle, $32 at dinner.

I love home made pasta, and these al dente ribbons of tagliatelle are both silky and firm at the same time. You can’t beat fresh, local shrimp, either, and Kauai’s have a subtle sweetness in the meat. They leave the heads on, not just for presentation, but for people like me who eat the insides. The sauce is also slightly sweet due to the fresh tomatoes, but not due to added sugar.

Icebox cake, $9.50 at dinner.

Icebox cake, $9.50.

Save room for dessert. The chocolate icebox cake and its frosting are light and not too cloying — just right for finishing a heavy meal. The raspberry coulis is a nice touch.

Rosemary panna cotta, $10.50 at dinner.

Rosemary panna cotta, $10.50.

One of my new favorite desserts is the rosemary panna cotta, topped with chocolate almond bark and kumquat marmalade. The rosemary is really very subtle, so again the kumquats lend the strongest flavor. I didn’t think the chocolate almond bark was necessary, but chocolate lovers on our table snarfed it up.

Overall, both meals were very special and had very unique twists on familiar dishes — especially because so many of the ingredients were literally fresh from the farm. It’s definitely worth a look if you are going to Maui, and worth the detour even if you weren’t planning to head to that side of the island.

Here’s a look at our ranch tour, plus a sneak peek at the Hana Ranch food truck.

The first time we went, general manager Morgan Maki took us to lunch at the restaurant before we headed out to the ranch.
 
The Hana Ranch Provisions grab and go coffee stop next door.
 
Unique, fresh-baked pastries using local products are featured here — very Paia.
 
They have gluten-free items, too.
 
They've been experimenting with pickling some of the vegetables they grow at the ranch, and using them in their dishes. They aren't yet for sale, but that's next in their plans.
 
The flexible layout of the dining room.
 
The bar area is a popular spot (usually at night).
 
Trying to get up close to the kitchen.
 
Aha! We got in. Chef Gary Johnson (left) heads up the kitchen. Gary is originally from Ft. Worth, TX, and learned the Art of Scratch Cooking from his mother and grandmother, both highly talented amateur chefs.
 
Morgan flew us out to Hāna — which is just a 15-minute flight versus hours of driving a treacherous road — and showed us an aerial photo to give us perspective on where Hāna Ranch sits in relation to the rest of the community. In January 2014, Hāna Ranch Stewards, LLC purchased the main mauka portion of the ranch — roughly 3,600 acres above the Hāna Highway — as well as its associated cattle operations and water utilities. Hāna Ranch Partners has retained ownership of the coastal and town lands that are makai of the road (approximately 350 acres). Bio-Logical Capital, LLC will be managing the ranch on behalf of Hāna Ranch Stewards.
 
Not many ranches in the world can boast such a view.
 
New growth, and the opportunity to create living "libraries" of fruits grown in Hawaii.
 
This is a banana "library," growing dozens of different varieties in one spot so they can study and keep track of them.
 
They plant items that are complementary next to each other, like cilantro around beets, or mustard greens next to the "sweet and spicy" mix, not just for your health. Its also a natural repellant so moths won't eat the greens.
 
A patch of dry land taro. Hopefully they can get a taro library started!
 
They're also experimenting with having goats on property as natural lawn mowers, but found that the weather is not ideal for them. It's kind of cool to see the various ideas they have and how they work.
 
 
 
One of Hana Ranch's cowboys, with his dog, Princess.
 
Morgan showing us the greenhouse, where many of the seeds are sprouted before replanting in the field. (He's actually watering them.)
 
We also got a preview of their new food truck! If you go to Hana, there are trucks along the way to feed people driving that long, winding road for hours. Hana Ranch is launching their own soon, headed by chef Jon Watson, who was the original chef to open Hana Ranch Provisions.
 
Jon made us some papaya, banana and coconut smoothies — all from fruits grown on site. The fresh, local products make a huge difference in the flavor, and they're not too sugary sweet at all. At the time, they were thinking of $5 for 12 ounces and $8 for 16 ounces. Trust me. Go with the large cup.
 
This was a deluxe-sized salad with carrots and lettuce from the ranch. They're thinking of $8 for salad (although this is probably not the actual salad you'd be getting).
 
Jon at the grill behind the truck, with bread they bake themselves. The burger isn't exactly like the one at Hana Ranch Provisions, but still mighty tasty and super moist. The fresh-grilled flavor just can't be beat. This will go for about $12, with a side salad.
 
Here's a sneak peek at some of the other sandwiches they'll be serving: Fish of the day, $12 or $13; and vegetarian, $11. There's also an experimental sweet potato, quinoa, and black bean veggie burger in there, but at the moment Jon is still perfecting the recipe. We tasted them all, and it's not like any sandwich you've had. Remember, these guys are chefs, so the dressing is a little different, but full of balanced flavors. Papaya ketchup? Black nerontondo radish aioli? There's no one within a 3,000-mile radius with anything close.
 
Pippa Harriman is a Vermont girl who somehow ended up in Hana, running the ranch's fruit stand. She showed us her machete skills and cut open a coconut for us!
 

 

Hana Ranch Provisions
71 Baldwin Avenue, Pāʻia
808-868-3688