My ideal summer day is spent outside in the shade, preferably near refreshing beverages and all forms of meat on a grill. And while the restaurant scene in Honolulu is slowly reemerging from a pandemic takeout slumber, many have opted to go alfresco.
But when eateries with outdoor areas—such as the two Kaka‘ako locations of the Merriman’s group—stayed closed, I couldn’t help but wonder, what the alfresco is going on?
See also: It's here: Peter Merriman's Moku Kitchen
Then on July 5, Merriman’s Honolulu announced a new pop-up concept. It promised burgers, hot dogs, Mexican street corn ($5), Caesar salad ($7), New England clam chowder with bacon ($8), a Beyond vegan bratwurst ($10), wine ($9 per glass), and local brews from Waikīkī Brewing Co. ($6) and Paradise Ciders ($9). It didn’t take long for the (socially distant) lines to form on their V-shaped lānai along Auahi and Kamakeʻe streets. Right at the point of that V is a huge barbecue filled with various juicy meats. My prayers have been answered. Maybe it was the social post; maybe it was the drool-worthy smells wafting through the streets that pulled the masses back to the Ward neighborhood spot.
When we showed up on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we were greeted with a menu of daily specials which boasted a locally caught grilled monchong sandwich with chipotle aioli, lime, crushed avocado, local clover sprouts and tomato ($15) as well as a Kaua‘i Dog topped with kālua pork, kim chee pineapple and jalapeño ($13).
I was in the midst of a panic attack when I had to choose between the signature burger and a Kobe beef hot dog ($8), but the more focused person in my party went straight in for the fish sammie. If you’ve ever had that delightfully light yet hefty fish sandwich at Moku Kitchen, you’ll know how good this little zinger is. Perfectly paired with a Skinny Jeans IPA, this is what summer is all about: local fresh fish, tangy creamy sauce and a bright citrusy punch.
See also: Our Top 5: Gourmet burgers
After I sorted myself out and ordered a burger with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and a dijonnaise sauce ($10), we found ourselves a quiet spot on the Kamakeʻe side of the restaurant. That burger made with house-ground beef was so much larger than I thought it would be and definitely a steal. The thick, medium-cooked beast of a patty was, yes, juicy but wonderfully unfussy with a simple selection of toppings. Did I have to bring half of it home? Yes. Why? Because I wanted to leave room for the famous mai tai ($12) I saw whiz by me to another table.
While the restaurants were closed, Peter Merriman, the man behind the Merriman’s, Moku Kitchen and Monkeypod restaurants, fed his furloughed employees. Every week through early May, Merriman’s distributed food to more than 100 workers on the Big Island, Oʻahu and Kauaʻi, and on Maui through early July. The meat and produce were bought for a discount or gifted from local producers including Maui Cattle Company, Fresh Island Fish, Hawaiʻi Island Goat Dairy, Sysco, Kauaʻi Fresh Farm and D. Otani. These bags of groceries held produce from Sysco Corporation and Otani Farm. The company also gave grants to 25 employees. “We hope these were small silver linings and we will continue to ‘Do the Right Thing’ for our Merriman’s family and the community,” said Peter Merriman in an email response. “We hope everyone does the same.”
That company kindness is just part of the reason I have returned to support the pop-up.
A few specials have tempted me back including the umami burger (which is topped with herb-and-garlic sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, arugula and a lemon truffle aioli), cocktails-to-go (in adorable little mason jars), ice cream sandwiches made in house, Keahole lobster tacos and Keahole lobster with grilled corn, potatoes and garlic bread.
I look forward to Merriman’s Honolulu and one of my neighborhood favorites, Moku, reopening soon but let’s hope that their Street Burger and Beer Garden concept stays close by. Forever.
1108 Auahi St.
Daily 11 a.m.–8 p.m.