My friend and I were eager to enjoy Makawao Steak House's new "complete meals for two." We sauntered into the Baldwin Avenue landmark, and sat down on the leather chairs near the cozy fireplace in the lounge, when the owner approached us.
Donna Eneim said she wanted to send an appetizer of calamari strips to our table. While this was gracious indeed, after she left, I whispered to my friend I had eaten calamari for lunch and was not amused.
But the crisp-on-the-outside and the tender-on-the-inside strips of calamari steak turned me into a firm believer that Makawao Steak House serves the best on Maui, bar none - and I've eaten this popular dish in countless restaurants over the years.
Bartender Earlyne King toasts.
steamed lobster tail
prime rib of beef
We even "fork fighted" over the last few pieces and we could have easily ordered another batch. It was amazing how crunchy yet tender they were.
"Everybody goes for the calamari!" says Donna. "And the escargot with garlic-herb butter."
The good news is, you may order the calamari strips that are lightly breaded with panko, sauteed and served with the chef's special lemon-butter-caper sauce as part of the new "complete-meals-for-two" menu.
It's a four-course feast for two with shared appetizer (the other choice is shrimp cocktail), one trip to the salad bar, choice of entrees along with dessert and beverages such as coffee, tea or soda for $60, plus tax and tip. That's $30 each for a tasty night on the town.
"We are not enforcers of the one-trip-to-the-salad-bar rule," says Donna with a smile. "We've been here forever, and we're just trying to do the best we can so our customers can afford to eat here."
Donna continued to tell us her Eneim family first opened Makawao Steak House in 1976 with partner Lance Mann. But the building was constructed in 1927 and first served as a fish market.
Few buildings on Maui can boast as colorful of a history. Back in the day, the fish market catered to the needs of the hard-driving ranch hands in the barroom-brawl-of-a-cow- town on the slopes of Haleakala.
It was an era when horses were hitched and tall tales were embellished by cowboys for hours on end. Over the years, the horses gave way to cars and the fish market turned from one restaurant to another.
From plate lunches to soda fountain foods (the original bar stools are still present) to a pizza chain and then the Chart House, the restaurants continued to turn until the Eneims took over in 1976.
"We maintained it successfully for several years, until our youngest son, Randy, decided to relocate to Kauai and open the Kalaheo Steak House outside of Poipu," says Donna. "Makawao Steak House was still here, under other ownership. We repurchased it in 1998 and then decided to bring back some of our original recipes and the popular salad bar."
The salad bar may not be as big and varied as in some of Maui's hotels, but it is always a crowd pleaser. We piled our plates with fresh and crisp greens, pickled beets, cherry tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, onion slices, raisins, sunflower seeds, bean salad and more. The dressings range from blue cheese to papaya seed.
"We rotate the salad bar items so our regulars will have lots of variety," says Donna. "We just started using the Maui Gold pineapple that is being grown by the new Hali'imaile Pineapple Company."
Makawao Steak House uses many Maui products such as Maui Cattle Co. beef. "It's really good meat," says Donna. "And we just started bringing in Maui Brewing Co. beers for beer lovers."
Of course, steaks are always a big hit in cowboy country, and the chefs do them justice here. Choices include strip loin, top sirloin, filet mignon and petit filet sizzled to your liking - and you may add sauteed onions, mushrooms or pepper sauce as extras.
The prime rib is legendary. If you are hungry, do get the Kalaheo cut that weighs about 24 to 26 ounces. It's bone-in. The regular cut is 12 ounces.
"The cuts of meat are slow roasted in our special blend of sauces," says Donna. "All of our entrees come with the chef's specially prepared potatoes or island-style white rice, salad bar and fresh bread."
Many people opt to start off their evening like we did, in the lounge. Sip a nice wine from the ever-expanding list and check out the art. Customers send in cowboy memorabilia that is fun to peruse. Longtime bartender Earlyne King will also delight you with cocktails and humor and the fireplace will keep you warm.
Popular starters include sashimi, seared ahi, steamed or cold artichoke served with mayonnaise and melted butter, fresh mushrooms sauteed with garlic, and warm brie cheese with mango chutney and mustard.
A giant pot of Portuguese bean soup is made for diners on the weekends, and clam chowder entices the weekday line up of customers.
"We get a lot of repeat customers," says Donna. "It's really a local restaurant. We get the same repeat guys at the bar and many families come here to dine once a week. It's casual and it's comfortable."
Seafood lovers will find succulent lobster, king crab legs, fresh island fish and a number of combos. Or opt for St. Louis pork ribs, or chicken Zoie stuffed with spinach and ham. Desserts such as Mudd pie from the old Chart House days will bring you back again. Makawao Steak House's version is enough for two and made with Kona coffee ice cream.
Besides serving dinner nightly from 5 to 10, Makawao Steak House features a daytime Tea Room from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays.
"It's my pride and joy," says Donna. "You can just come with a friend to chat and relax. Or you may book the whole room for a private affair. We've done birthdays and bridal and baby showers."
The Victorian-themed room is quaint, flowery and the tea service is tops. For $15.95 you get tea of your choice, finger sandwiches; freshly baked scones with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and jam; pastries and ice cream - but there's no calamari in sight!
For reservations or more details, call 572-8711.