GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
A grilled vegetable and potato frittata is part of The Kalapawai Cafe & Deli's daily fare.
Kalapawai Cafe’s a prize find
I have few regrets about having moved from Kailua to be closer to work in town ... except, I noticed right away that there are few breakfast nooks (hint, hint) that meet my criterion of food variety and quality, pleasant atmosphere, good service, well-mannered clientele and affordability, as in $20 to $25 for two.
In Honolulu -- despite its restaurant density -- I can count on one hand the places that come close, including The Contemporary Museum's Contemporary Cafe on Sundays, the Academy of Arts Pavilion Cafe on Saturdays (both could use more variety) and Hau Tree Lanai (tends to be crowded).
Believe it or not, tiny Kailua has an abundance of restaurants that meet each criterion, and now they have one more in Kalapawai Cafe & Deli, a sister establishment to the historic Kalapawai Market, located at the entrance to Kailua Town.
Chalk it up to lifestyle. Just being in Kailua means a person is committed to maintaining a degree of serenity in one's life, no matter how busy. Those who work in Honolulu and drive home through the tunnel may notice a physical change while driving home, as one tends to breathe more deeply and relax upon entering Kailua. A peaceful, leisurely weekend breakfast is a welcome part of that equation.
Kalapawai owner Don Dymond was thinking lifestyle when he opened the new cafe and deli, which currently offers 22 to 25 deli items regularly throughout the day, and a tapas (small plate) menu for dinner nightly. He aims to increase the offerings to 40 to 45 items a day, driven by the need to provide take-out items to take the stress out of meal times. Because of the constant planning that goes into putting dinner on the table every day, many adults start to look at meal times more as a chore than a pleasant indulgence.
"I grew up eating anything and everything," Dymond said. "Later I started seeing another lifestyle and I was a bit late but I decided to clean up my act."
The new Kalapawai Cafe & Deli was inspired by the Bay Area and Europe. In travels to Spain, France and Italy, Dymond said he noticed, "They have a wonderful lifestyle of enjoying their meals in a casual environment, eating healthy, eating a variety of food priced right, and maybe having a little wine with it. They're very smart.
"We wanted to incorporate all of this in our cafe. The only thing we don't do is serve late dinner. In Spain, they don't eat until after 9 p.m. That's virtually impossible in Kailua. Kailua closes early."
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chef John Memering shows his Caribbean Mojo Pork, left, with owner Don Dymond and chef Jason Iwane holding the peppers and sausage platter.
IT TAKES A few seconds to get to know the cafe/deli's system. You may get hung up by the cash registers, where a display of scones ($1.91), muffins and dessert confections from The Sweet Shop and The Sweet Spot may distract you.
But eventually you'll turn around, confronting vast deli cases full of take-out salads and wraps, plus vegetable and entree items sold by the pound. Such all-purpose offerings fit the bill whether you are zipping in to pick up a quick bite en route to work, to a picnic or potluck outing, or want a handful of side dishes to accommodate homemade meatloaf or roast chicken. You can also eat at tables set up inside and out.
You can dine the traditional way on the likes of salads, pizzas, lox and bagel ($5.75), and sandwiches such as a BLT with the addition of avocado spread ($5.75), delicious cold chicken aioli wrap ($5.75) and hot pastrami sandwich ($5.75) on light rye. Neither the bagel nor pastrami sandwich could compare to nearby Brent's, but they manage to hit the spot without putting a strain on your body. Portions are smaller than people are accustomed to, more in keeping with the way human beings should eat than the way we do eat, with overblown portions a result of food industry supersizing over four decades.
The most popular items, Dymond said, tend to be healthy: grilled vegetables ($7), salads and hummus with pita ($5).
Ten-inch pizzas ($10) are intended for two, but could easily be devoured by one due to its thin, cracker-like crust. I loved the Mediterranean-inspired veggie pizza, with its diced tomatoes, sun-dried tomato pesto, red peppers, feta, black olives and mushroom, with the herbal kick of basil.
Those ready to try something new can put together their own tapas meal, building from such deli-case offerings as Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon, garlic and sage (yum!), chilled fillets of grilled Chinook salmon ($14.95 per pound), red cabbage slaw, Tuscan white bean salad, cold ginger shrimp ($23.95/pound) and a concoction dubbed "Red Eye," a meatloaf with Portuguese sausage baked in its center. When broken down into single, quarter-pound portions, the cost was a mere $1.28 to $6.84 each.
At night, many of the items are available for in-house dining, with the addition of such hot entrees as roast pork loin ($10) and steak with mushrooms and onions ($16) heavy on salt, pepper and Cajun spice.
No doubt if I were still living in Kailua I'd be stopping in two or three times a week for a variety of items. For now, I'll have to settle for once a month.