Paisley Meadery opened on King Street in Chinatown early this year. That by itself is big news — it's the only place in the state where the alcoholic honey drink is made, with the exception of Nani Moon Meadery on Kauai.
So what exactly is mead? It isn’t beer, nor is it wine. Like cider, it’s in its own category, made from honey, water and yeast. Owner Brian Paisley, who made both craft beer and mead as the former brewer of Pacific Breach Brewing Co. in Pearl City, explains that just as grapes make wine, honey makes mead, and his signature mead ages over cacao instead of wood. Paisley's sparkling mead is carbonated, while his lilikoi, breadfruit and green mango meads are not. Nor are they all sweet. If you're in the mood for something else, there are beers and braggots, which are beers with a honey base instead of grain.
Paisley's goal in making meads? To make them 100 percent local, from start to finish. From honey to water to yeast to flavorings, everything is from Hawaii.
Okay, so that’s pretty revolutionary. But as of last week, Paisley now also serves lunch. The light, sparkling mead is designed to pair with food, and with Paisley as the cook, the menu changes daily with one or two dishes on offer each day. There’s Taco Tuesdays, South in Your Mouth Wednesdays with southern barbecue, Mob Town Thursdays with pasta dishes, and Phoco Fridays, featuring a Vietnamese-Mexican twist. Sometimes he posts dishes on Instagram; if not, call and ask: 673-5263.
The beef for these tacos is a shoulder roast that’s marinated overnight in mead and brandy; it's tender and juicy, packed with beefy flavor and a hint of spice. These are hefty portions atop six-inch tortillas — possibly the best taco Tuesday deal yet, since other places sell 4.5-inch street size tacos for $3 apiece regular and $2 to $2.50 on TT. These Tijuana-style tacos are $3.50 each or three for $10. Trust me — just get the plate.
Each sandwich is so stuffed with fillings you might want to start off with a fork. French rolls are from Daily Bread on South King Street and the brisket is slow-cooked all night. You can get your meats over cabbage … but the toasted rolls are the better option, by far.
As tender and juicy as the meats are (especially the chicken), the housemade barbecue sauce stays on my mind long after my sammie is gone. Paisley says it's a longtime family recipe with just a hint of tangy smoke. It's on the sweeter side, but the meats’ salty flavors balance it perfectly. The slaw is refreshing and well seasoned.
The pasta lineup for Italian Thursdays includes Paisley's Sicilian great-great-grandmother's lasagna, spaghetti, stuffed manicotti and linguine. The linguine has an olive oil-based dressing with herbs and sautéed clams. Paisley suggests a sweet mead for pairing.
Phoco Fridays (pronounced FAW-co) feature dishes like phocos (corn tortillas filled with brisket, viet de gallo, housemade fish sauce and sriracha), Viet dip sandwiches ($10) and Phorritos (a bowl of pho wrapped burrito-style in a flour tortilla). Viet de gallo is essentially a Vietnamese pico de gallo, and the addictive pho jus makes me wish for a larger sandwich to dunk in it. This hybrid of pho broth and au jus has hints of lime and Thai chilis.
On Fridays and Saturdays the Meadery will serve up steakhouse-style dinners starting from 7 p.m. Think wagyu filet mignon ($45), ribeye ($35) and cowboy ribeye ($70), all aged at least 30 days and designed to pair with Paisley's signature sparkling mead.
"Why the emphasis on steak?" I ask.
"There’s no one doing steak in Chinatown," Paisley says, "and I like to cook stuff that you don't normally find.”
Other dinner menu items include Viet- and French-style escargot ($22), vegetables of the day ($8), salmon roulade ($35) and the half-baked Paisley ($15) for dessert. I’m definitely interested in the last, a cheesecake that’s flambéed with brandy and smothered in a chunky, housemade applesauce.
Paisley hopes to turn a downstairs space into a speakeasy by this summer, complete with jazz musicians and soloists. And as the restaurant menu grows, he also wants to extend dinners to Thursday nights.
Talk about sweet plans for the new meadery! In the meantime, I just found my new lunch spot.
36 N. King St.
Mon-Thur 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Fri-Sat 10 a.m. until the last person leaves