It was a pleasant drive from Central Maui to our favorite Upcountry landmark, until it started to pour.
We got a little wet in our short run from the back lot with complimentary parking, but the fireplace in the lounge beckoned as did the cushy chairs and the festive decorations that owner Ray Eneim set up.
We were looking forward to a nice meal at Makawao Steak House, and from the minute we arrived, it warmed our souls with its cozy atmosphere, welcoming owners, fir trees and savory menu items.
Hostess Celeste Palmeira toasts to the holidays at Makawao Steak House, where entrees are more affordable now that the salad bar and the sides may be ordered a la carte.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
"Our son, Randall Eneim, founded the Makawao Steak House back in 1976 with Lance Mann," Raymond's wife, Donna, told us. "But he moved to Kauai to open a steak house there and this changed hands several times until we all couldn't resist to take it over again 14 years ago."
Of course, the building's history dates back to when it was first constructed in 1927 as a fish market.
It's expansive with another fireplace and various dining rooms, including the private Victorian-themed tea room in the back that's perfect for holiday parties.
Restaurant at a glance:
* Where: 3612 Baldwin Ave., in Makawao (complimentary parking in the back lot).
* Hours: Open nightly for dinner with lounge service starting at 5 p.m. and dinner seating starting at 5:30 p.m.
* Holiday schedule: Open on Christmas Eve regular hours, but closed Dec. 25 and 26 and New Year's Day.
* Happy Hour: Get $2 off of all cocktails and appetizers Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with live music by Clarence Kahaikapuna.
* Other music: Dine Saturday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and listen to Randall Rospond of the group Haiku Hillbillys.
* Monday night special: Enjoy all you can eat of prime rib with starch and bread and butter for $29.95.
* What else: You may purchase gift certificates in any amount; book holiday parties; salad bar is now a la carte so that entrees are priced lower; and the spicy New Zealand mussels are out of this world.
* For reservations: Call 572-8711.
"If a family wants to have a private party for 15 to 20 people, we'll put them in the private dining room," says Donna. "They can laugh and joke as long as they don't fall off the tables," teases Ray.
These days, the Eneims are adding new appetizer items and reducing entree prices by turning their popular salad bar into an a la carte affair.
"We were able to drop the prices on the entrees by about $6 each this way. Now, as an option, you may take one trip to the salad bar or go for the all-you-can eat version and this is a meal in itself. We also now serve crisp Caesar salads."
The salad bar may not be as big or fancy as at some of the hotels, but it's always been a crowd pleaser.
Crunch fresh greens, pickled beets, cherry tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, red onion slices, raisins, three-bean salad and Maui Gold pineapple chunks. The dressings range from papaya seed to the house-made bleu cheese, rich and creamy.
"A couple of other new a la carte options we're offering are the ratatouille, a longtime favorite dish of Mediterranean countries and green-lip mussels."
The ratatouille side dish is affordable at $3.50. Large, it combines zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, celery and garlic, all cooked in their own juices and topped with jack cheese.
The New Zealand mussels offer just the right amount of spiciness and are served in a big bowl with aromatic broth, perfect for bread dipping.
"About two weeks ago, we started a new Monday night special of prime rib with starch and bread and butter," says Donna. "It costs $29.95."
Of course, steaks cooked to perfection are always in demand in cowboy country and you may choose from top sirloin, New York strips or beef tenderloins. The Maui Cattle Co. beef that is used is lean, grass-fed and full of flavor. Meat lovers will also find slow-roasted St. Louis pork ribs, smothered in a spicy guava-barbecue sauce. Bring your appetites as it's a full rack.
This is also a steak house that has always featured quality seafood. Dig into king crab legs with lemon and drawn butter; two 5-ounce lobster tails, garlic Kalaheo shrimp and fresh island fish.
In my esteem, their calamari steak is the best on the island, breaded in panko crust, crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and served with lemon, butter and caper sauce. Order it as an appetizer or as an entree. All entrees include brown or white rice and warm bread and butter
Everyone raves about the baked potatoes, paniolo burgers and French dip sandwiches. All great, affordable eats if you want to pop into the restaurant during the Makawao Christmas Faire Saturday, and Makawao Town Party Dec. 16.
Desserts such as the Mudd pie with Kona coffee ice cream; and house-made rum cake, served warm, will keep you coming back, rain or shine.