Explore the North shore

From Paia to Haiku, restaurants entice with fresh and organic homespun tastes

Kimo Beezley (in photo) works the oven at Flatbread Company and then the pizza is sliced (second photo). The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photos

Last week, I got out of my Central Maui groove and drove past salt-sprayed Hookipa Beach Park with its mountainous surf, dipped into verdant Maliko Gulch with views of Haleakala and climbed and took a right on Haiku Road past towering Cook Pines. My first stop was in the Aloha Aina Center in Haiku.

The Greek Oven Maui

Who saw the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?” The father of the bride hilariously connected everything to Greek culture. When I mentioned this to The Greek Oven Maui owner Adonis Kapsalis, he laughed. But he does agree with the film’s character.

“You’ve heard of Hippocrates, yes?” the Athens native asked. “He said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ The Mediterranean Diet is the best in the world. On Ikaria Island, for instance, scientists study people who live well beyond 100. The reasons are their diet and that they don’t wear watches.”

Adonis met his South American wife Santuzza Kapsalis when he lived in Brazil. The couple moved here six years ago to be Realtors. But the restaurant bug bit and they’ve owned The Greek Oven since March.

Let their food be your medicine with vegan moussaka that is savory and light with mushrooms, lentils and quinoa that imitates meat with potatoes and eggplant in a silky cashew bechamel sauce with gluten-free flour.

“We are open for a la carte brunch, or lunch, daily from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It’s really casual. You order at the counter and we serve on biodegradable plates. Our dinners started in September with just two nights and now we have expanded from Wednesdays to Sundays from 5:30 to 9 p.m. It’s table service with real silverware and an upgraded menu. We make everything here from tzatziki to hummus to tomato sauce,” he says.

Adonis is proud of the Nobriga Ranch beef he uses from Makawao and the Australian lamb he imports for the gyros, pitas, meatballs, moussaka and kebabs.

“We do gyros but we use real lamb, not like you see at the fast-food places. We bake it in the oven for three hours with lemon and Greek olive oil and oregano from our house on Aegina Island where my dad grew up. It’s unbelievable. In Greece, we have really good weather. Everything is just perfect. It’s a blessed land,” he adds.

Salads burst with spinach and figs; beets, carrots and goat cheese; and The Original Greek with local tomatoes and cucumbers and Kalamata olives, feta cheese and olive oil from the Sparta region of Greece along with capers, red onions and Kapsalis family oregano.

Vegan moussaka is all the rage at The Greek Oven Maui. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“Americans put lettuce on Greek salads but that’s not how it’s made in my country,” Adonis says.

The Greek platter is also quite popular as you get tastes of a variety of popular items and you may substitute the pita for house-baked, gluten-free sourdough.

Vegetarian taste buds will be transported to the sky where Zeus rules with bruschetta Mykonos-style; saganaki of pan-fried cheese with fresh lemon juice and grilled pita; pappardelle of zucchini noodles and veggies; and crushed potatoes Kretan-style.

“Our parchment-wrapped mahimahi Paros-style is baked with fresh organic local veggies and our roasted lamb comes with apple and potato mash. People are very surprised about the mash. The apple pie recipe is of my mother with whole grain and spelt flours.”

Santuzza is a chef who studied culinary art in Italy and then chocolate making in New York. Do try her chocolate fudge delight with vegan coconut ice cream. Keiki will find their own menu and the restaurant may be reserved for your private parties at night.

Owners Adonis and Santuzza Kapsalis flank employees Toria Rosaga (holding plate) and Nicole DeRose Bianchi in the intimate dining room. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

* For more details or reservations, call 575-9752.

Flatbread Company

Pizza has never been the same in Paia since Flatbread Company opened 10 years ago. It jumps with a lively crowd of colorful local characters and curious visitors from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

“We have a seating capacity 131 on the ground floor and 20 to 22 diners upstairs, “ says Managing Partner Erik “Hutch” Hutchinson, who worked his way up from starting as a dishwasher back in the day.

The Flatbread franchise started on the East Coast and has locations from Providence, R. I. to Salem, Mass. But Paia is the “perfect setting,” states the website. It’s got “balmy breezes and rollicking surf in a town full of characters and karma. No lack of soul here.”

Bua Ban “Dang” Dalton stands next to a Buddha painting at Sala Dang Thai Kitchen. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Sales of IPA brews match the rapid-fire baking of the Mopsy’s Kalua Pork pizzas and the Pele Pesto pies.

“Every hour is happy hour,” Hutch says. “We try to keep our focus on supporting the community. For instance, each Tuesday, we allow a different nonprofit to bring in silent auction items. A portion of pizza sales goes to the organization. It’s a great opportunity for them to get exposure.”

In addition, people flock to Flatbread like bees to a hive as every menu item screams of being organic, fresh, sustainable and oh-so good for you. The many local farms from where ingredients are procured are listed on the chalkboard.

Dough is made from 100-percent organic wheat milled into white flour. Meats range from nitrite-free pepperoni to free-range pork and chicken to hormone-free maple fennel sausage.

Mozzarella is premium whole milk. Fresh organic tomatoes are sweetened in a big pot with real maple syrup. Organic onions are caramelized in a humungous cast-iron skillet. But the earthen oven that exudes aromatic kiawe-wood aromas is the centerpiece that transports you straight to hobbit land.

Her cuisine is authentic and exotic. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“All of our organic wood-fired pizzas are made in our primitive clay oven,” explains Hutch. “And we can create any of our pizzas to be gluten-free. But because there is flour everywhere, true celiacs should note that it is a heavily glutenated environment.”

All of the salads are local and organic. You may start your meal with Kumu Farm mesclun and sweet-leaf lettuces with green papaya by Ono Organic Farms and sprouts from Kahanu Aina Farm with housemade Maui pineapple vinaigrette.

There never is an extra charge for extra sides of dressings, sauces, parmesan cheese and olive oil. Flatbread Company also provides free refills on coffee, fountain sodas and ice teas.

“It’s a family-friendly restaurant. Kids can grab crayons and they make the menu covers for us,” says Hutch.

* For more details, call 579-8989.

Sala Dang Thai Kitchen

It’s been awhile since I visited Thailand, but the first thing I noticed on the covered lanai of Sala Dang Thai Kitchen in Haiku is that it looked just like my favorite restaurant on Koh Samui island.

Ornate carvings, endless elephant statues, Buddha masks and paintings, colorful Thai tablecloths and aromas of Thai basil growing outside competed with the giant mountain apple, mango and avocado trees swaying in the breezes outside. Sala Dang is located on Kokomo Road behind the Maui Electric Sub Station.

“Sala” means “pavilion,” “open-air place,” to meet and talk story and enjoy a good meal in the Thai language.

“Dang” is the color red and the nickname of owner-chef Bua Ban “Dang” Dalton. She has been cooking for her family since she was 12 in the jungly Isan region of northeast Thailand near Laos.

“The concept here is very simple Thai food,” says her husband Scott Dalton, who works the front of the house. “It seems that everyone is trying to do fusion Thai, hip and very expensive. We want to give people in Haiku a good value.”

The short but oh-so satisfying menu lists appetizers, soups, noodles, curries, stir frys and Thai fish frys along with non-alcoholic beverages, as Sala Dang does not have a liquor license.

Of interest is that Scott is a bartender at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a restaurant and he’s an expert in sake. I attended a couple of his classes in recent years, including a fun one at Sansei in Kapalua.

Dang also cooked at the former Tsunami Nightclub at Grand Wailea for seven years back in the day. And she used to run the Tuk Tuk Thai food truck in Haiku.

Now, in her open-air restaurant full of Thai memorabilia, she continues to cook from her heart, as if she is preparing each and every dish for her own family.

“We’ve been open for three years here,” Dang explains. “It used to be Daily Grindz and Wayne’s Sushi before we took it over.”

The Daltons grow their own papayas, lemongrass, chili peppers, kaffir lime, galangal, Thai basil and Holy basil, and all of these ingredients are incorporated into the exotic and authentic dishes.

Dang excels at a rainbow of curries with your choice of toppings that are artfully arranged and served over rice or rice noodles.

“The hottest curries are Evil Prince and the red and green curries. Medium hot is the Panang curry and mild curries are yellow and Massaman,” she says.

Delight in vegetarian curry, or with chicken, beef or pork; or choose clams, fish, shrimp or calamari; or fish and shrimp served together.

Dang can prepare the beloved Pad Thai with your choice of angel-hair rice noodles or mung-bean noodles. But the Pad Se Ew drunken noodles are the most popular dish with garlic, ginger, eggs, meat or seafood, “however you like,” with mushrooms, soy sauce, kaffir lime leaves, chili and Holy basil as finishes.

You may order crispy whole fish with tamarind sauce or spicy sauce; or crispy fish fillet over green mango-papaya salad. For the whole fish, she uses opakapaka, pompano or sole; and for the fillets she procures snapper, mahimahi or salmon with shrimp as a possible add in.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Sala Dang is closed Sundays.

* For more details, call Sala Dang at 463-4166.

Paia Bay Coffee & Bar

There’s a hidden oasis right in the heart of Paia town and it reminds me of Bali because it’s all open air with trees and umbrellas, cool water features, fun furnishings, artwork and a walk-up counter where you order your food and drinks, get a number and they bring it to you.

New Managing Partner Liam Grist likens Paia Bay Coffee & Bar to a tropical speakeasy. I say, run, don’t walk to this casual hangout also reminiscent of the former Jacque’s Place in Paia. The prices are super low, the food is fabulous and it’s a people-watching haven.

Tucked away behind San Lorenzo boutique on the Hana Highway, Paia Bay has an entrance through the back of the boutique and another on Nalu Place.

“It’s been here for four years now,” says Liam, who bought into a restaurant partnership with Danny Keevil in November. “I moved here from Madison, Wisconsin and Oregon for the windsurfing and kiteboarding. I lived in my van and did web design and business consulting and that is what I was doing for the owners when the opportunity opened up for me to buy into it.”

Hours are 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily with Magic Hour kicking it up a notch or two from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays.

“We get 200 customers in the mornings, yet we have the smallest kitchen ever,” says Liam. “I’m really impressed with my cooking staff and how they move around in there. We have to get deliveries every day, so the food is always as fresh as it gets.”

Ingredients such as tomatoes, avocados, onions, mixed greens, lemons, limes, bananas and sprouts are all organic and local. For breakfast, you’ll find organic eggs scrambles; acai bowls; Greek yogurt with lilikoi coulis, granola and wild berries; croissants; and bagel sandwiches with vegan or smoked salmon toppings.

You may sip all manner of coffee drinks, espressos, teas, kombuchas and much more.

“We made sure not to interrupt the coffee vibe in the morning with alcohol,” says Liam. “But on Saturdays and Sundays, we do offer Mimosas and Bloody Marys.”

Speaking of drinks, all are craft cocktails from Head Like a Kite with mezcal and lava salt edfresh pineapple to the Paia Pisco with cardamom simple syrup and lemon sour that makes Liam think of a previous holiday he had enjoyed in Chile.

“Our Magic Hour, or happy hour, is getting more and more busy,” says Liam. “We wanted to call it something different. We crank up the music and you can feel the buzz in the room.”

Pupu include chicharrons with bacon broth, steamed mussels in coconut-curry, black-peppered cashews, vegan sushi rolls, ceviche and fresh poke with reasonable prices and sharp presentations.

“Surfrider Foundation has awarded us to be a Certified Platinum Ocean Friendly Restaurant because we use all compostable products,” says Liam.

In addition, Paia Bay is open for private events on some nights of the week.

“We did our first holiday parties and they went really well,” he says. “We offer big platters of ceviche and sushi and whatever we serve here.”

* For more details, call Paia Bay at 579-3111.

Paia Bay Coffee & Bar partner Liam Grist and General Manager Chole Northrup hang out by a water feature in the open-air eatery that is reminiscent of Bali with its vibrant ambience and fun menus seven days a week. Paia Bay Coffee & Bar photo

Paia Bay Coffee & Bar photo