Like fashion, culinary trends come and go. Some endure, others are forgotten—remember “foam?” However, one trend seems to be sticking around and even gaining momentum: the gastropub.
What started across the pond in London, England, as simple bars and taverns have now become hip hangouts where everything seems “crafted,” from beers and food to atmosphere and service. From the original London gastropub, The Eagle, to U.S. chain Blackfinn Ameripub, this genre of dining knows no boundaries nor does it show any signs of slowing.
It’s no coincidence that the sprout of the American gastropub mirrors the rise in America’s interest in craft breweries. Across the mainland, gastropubs have established themselves at such top dining destinations as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where chef Sang Yoon revolutionized the burger when he opened Father’s Office in Santa Monica in 2000. Although Father’s Office opened four years earlier, the Spotted Pig in New York City is generally accepted as the first gastropub in America.
When restaurateur/chef Dave “D.K.” Kodama opened Shearwater Tavern in Kīhei, he initially shied away from calling it a “gastropub,” preferring instead to describe it as a “neighborhood gathering place where you can eat everything.” But after visiting several similar establishments on the mainland, the popular chef warmed to the idea that his new casual eatery was indeed a gastro-and-pub rolled into one.
“We have craft beers and whiskey, which accounts for the pub part,” Kodama said. “And we definitely have the ‘gastro’ covered. With some of the gastropubs that I visited, I felt the food was too simple for me; and others were ‘wow, this is amazing gastronomy,’ which is what I want our food to be.”
Like most gastropub fare, the food here is hearty, comforting and meaty. The Shearwater burger, for example, is stacked with Hawaii Ranchers beef, crispy bacon, cheese, garlic aioli, caramelized onion jam and a fresh sunny-side-up egg for good measure. As a nod to Britain’s St. John’s chef Fergus Henderson—considered the modern-day inspiration for the cuisine found at many gastropubs—the oven-roasted bone marrow is simply baked until hot in the middle then served with crostini and mixed greens. It’s a luxe appetizer that’s rich, unctuous and perhaps the culinary epitome for this genre of cuisine.
The other component of Shearwater is the bar, which Kodama entrusted to business partner Chuck Furuya. The longtime master sommelier’s highly developed palate makes him a sound judge when it comes to all things alcohol-related. His craft beer selections may be obscure for neophytes but among cicerones and beer aficionados the options live up to the gastropub experience. Firestone Walker, Breakside Brewery Wanderlust IPA, Avery Brewing White Rascal and Towns Cherried Away Cider complement the local heady beers of Kona and Maui Brewing companies.
In Wailea, The Pint & Cork has quickly established a reputation for its gastropub fare, which Malcolm “Maka” Kwon describes as food that he and his family like to eat. His wife Jessica was the inspiration for the warm mushroom salad, which is composed of an aromatic combination of sautéed baby shiitake and Hamakua King Ali‘i mushrooms, presented over a bed of baby greens. For a Thai-inspired appetizer, try the spicy beef salad kicked up with a Hawaiian chili pepper vinaigrette.
“In the ’90s, everyone wanted Mediterranean food,” said Kwon, The Pint & Cork's executive chef. “In the 2000s, it was all about Pacific Rim. And now, it’s all about casual food prepared with local ingredients whenever possible.”
A mandatory entree at any gastropub is the All-American ground beef patty. And Kwon describes his “Bib Burger” as “McDonald’s meets loco moco on steroids.”
It’s a colorful description but an accurate one. The thick homemade ground beef patty is topped with bacon, charred onions, white cheddar, tomatoes, arugula, whiskey aioli and a sunny-side-up egg for extra gooeyness. Bring on the napkins.
As one of the founding members of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement in 1991, Peter Merriman has always maintained a passion for what he calls “great tasting food.” With his Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea, Merriman adds handcrafted comfort cuisine to his string of victories: 36 microbrews on tap, house-baked buns for Maui Cattle Co. hamburgers, cream pies of local fruit, chef-made cocktails with freshly made fruit juices and nothing in bottles but wine.
Must-tries include the pumpkin-patch ravioli, fluffy pillows of pasta stuffed with kiawe-roasted squash, chèvre and spinach; the wood-fired “Proletariat” pizza, topped with pepperoni, all natural sausage, onions, green peppers, olives and fresh mozzarella; and a Korean iteration of tacos, prepared with bulgogi pork, handcrafted kimchee, jalapeños, Asian pear, Thai chili aioli and locally made corn tortillas.
When he opened the restaurant in 2011, Merriman described Monkeypod Kitchen as “Hawaii’s variation on a gastropub,” adding that this was “the direction in which the country is going.” The prescient chef also predicts that the gastropub trend will continue to proliferate across Hawaii and the U.S.
“We wanted to do more than just fried pub fare,” said the Pittsburgh native, who jokingly admits being a “young punk shooting his mouth off” when he first proposed the idea of opening a restaurant that focused on “regional cuisine” at the Mauna Lani Resort on the Island of Hawaii in 1983. “It’s all about handcrafted beers and fresh food. Nothing is frozen; we try to source everything local. We use the basis of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine and really focus on the quality of our food—and our craft cocktails.”