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Honu Seafood & Pizza makes splash in Lahaina

August 4, 2011 - Carla Tracy

Acclaimed chef Mark Ellman and his wife, Judy Ellman, have just opened Honu Seafood & Pizza, their latest restaurant venture in Lahaina. Honu is Hawaiian for “turtle,” and it’s fast becoming the talk of the town, ever since it started running people through for sample tastings last weekend. We were fortunate to be invited along with the sea of employees, local luminaries and more.

We spotted Kimo Falconer of MauiGrown Coffee with his wife, Dierdre; Bill Haywood of Maui Jim Sunglasses with his son, Montana; Glenn Beadles of On Location Services with his wife, Cindy; Tricia Shoemaker, a co chair for Maui Calls with her boyfriend and musician Tom Cherry; Cathy Daly, a server at Ferraro’s with her boyfriend Ara Gurunian of Mala Ocean Tavern; Bill Countryman, general manager of Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa; and many more. I’ve posted some of their pictures to the side of this blog. Click on them to enlarge.

Situated right on the ocean at 1295 Front St., next to its sister restaurant, Mala Ocean Tavern, Honu Seafood and Pizza has sweeping views of the boats and neighbor islands, a tall “clear story” with lots of windows and fun artwork by Capt. Kenny Neismann, who used to push a shopping cart around town. He’s known as the “Picasso of the Pacific,” and Oprah Winfrey and Peter Fonda collect his works.

“The structure was built in the 1930s as was the Local Motion store before we took it over,” says Ellman about the sixth Maui restaurant he’s opened. His other properties have included Avalon, Maui Tacos, Penne Pasta, Maui Dogs and Mala Wailea, the latter in partnership with superstars such as Clint Eastwood and Alice Cooper.

“We’ve custom built all of the tables, brought in rocks from Bali, stones from Indolotus Imports. Our kirei board bar is made from reclaimed sorghum wheat and is environmentally friendly and sustainable, too.”

In the 1980s, the location was a health-food store. David Gridley of Maui Oma Coffee Roasters also worked there when it was a wood shop. “We tried to keep it like it was built,” says Ellman. “Of course, we had to make it architecturally sound.”

“We hope to open for breakfast perhaps in September, once we get our sea legs,” says Ellman, looking at the ocean as turtles play right in front of him. They are currently developing recipes for scones, and use natural sugar alternatives such as stevia and brown-rice syrup.

The concept came about because, “Judy and I love to travel and we love going out to eat,” he says. “In the Bay Area, the first thing we do is bee line for oysters, crab, great wines and beer.”

“And, pizza,” chimes in Judy. So at Honu, a crab tank with lots of live crustaceans is situated at the entrance. So is a little nook with T-shirts, Ellman’s “Practice Aloha” book and other souvenirs.

The couple also installed a brick oven that cooks Naples-style pizzas at 700 degrees in about three to four minutes. They make thin crust pies with double zero flour, canned tomatoes from Naples and fresh mozzarella cheese.

“Flatbread in Paia is the closest thing to our crust. But we don’t do hippie toppings.”

They have 26 seats at the bar and pour 50 beers, mostly organic and microbrews. The esoteric wine list is categorized into a range of prices from $20 on up, in $10 increments. “I also have an emphasis on scotch, rum and tequila selections.”

Chef Keoki McKee, who formerly cooked at Mama’s Fish House as well as the Hotel Hana-Maui, is chef. He makes crab Louie, grilled octopus, steamed Ipswich clams from Maine, and two each of East Coast, West Coast and Hawaii fish such as petrole sole, sand dabs, halibut, monkfish and skate. He also does unusual items such as fried pig’s ear, and pork belly with grits.

“As a chef, I’m on the fence about things," says Ellman. "Here, I’m talking about our Dudson plates out of England that are only fired once, using less of a carbon footprint. But we’re in a modern world. Planes come back and forth, back and forth. There’s no reason we can’t have Cape Cod meets Hawaii right here on Maui.”

So they’re serving lobster rolls right next to menpachi reef fish. Imported stone-ground grits right next to sea asparagus and farm fresh produce from our island.

Mark and Judy Ellman have given their Mala Ocean Tavern Pastry Chef Elizabeth McDonald more to do and they’ve hired their daughters Ariana Guarnier and Michelle Ellman as managers.

“We’re excited about the new restaurant and the menu,” says Ariana. “It’s good energy here. Bright and happy and it’s great to see my dad so inspired.”

“He’s a good role model, that one,” adds Michelle.

The 100-seat crab shack, seafood house and pizza parlor is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., except on Sundays when it closes at 9:30 p.m.

For more details, call 667-9390; or visit the website at HONU Website.


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Blog Photos

Dierdre and Kimo Falconer at sunset