Auntie B’s Tasty Westside Grinds
Twenty-four years ago, a brain tumor changed the course of Bonnie McKibben’s life.
As a singer, she had done well. In 1971, at the age of 17, she released the album You’re Only Lonely with singers Glenn Frye (later of the Eagles) and renowned songwriter J.D. Souther. With an a cappella band called Panache, McKibben released another five albums, and sang for President Reagan on his 80th birthday.
“I made many life decisions that day after surgery,” recalls McKibben, as a flash of sparkles lights up her eyes. Her thick, gray hair is tied back in a ponytail and topped with a bow. Her black apron with silver rhinestones reads, “Queen of Everything.”
After becoming a scuba diver, buying a Harley and a chance encounter with Julia Child, McKibben graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in California. She and husband Mark opened Culinary Queens in Pennsylvania. In between catering for weddings and corporate events, McKibben continued to sing with Sweet Adelines International and was crowned the Queen of Harmony.
Last November, McKibben opened Auntie B’s Cafe in Waimea Canyon Plaza. (Mark is owner of Kaua’i Lighting Service.) Hanging above the unassuming space is a sign that features a cartoon bee wearing a tiara and holding a jewel-tipped scepter. A couple of tables are placed outside and the Food Network plays on a wide-screen TV inside the small, clean cafe.
The breakfast menu is modest, and in the afternoons the shop is filled with children from nearby schools enjoying bubble drinks, shave ice and house-made waffle cones filled with Oahu-based Dave’s Ice Cream.
Lunch features homemade soups, salads and sandwiches. Sides of lightly salted white and purple potato chips ($1.50) are fried to order, and so are springy malasadas (two for $1.50), made with a recipe that took McKibben a month to perfect.
A simple turkey sandwich is transformed into something special when house-made mango chutney is spread on wheat bread, corner to corner. The sweet and savory base is a little spicy and complements slices of turkey, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions.
Ground Kaua’i beef is hand-shaped into thick patties and a lattice of crisp bacon is placed on top. This ensures that there’s bacon in every bite of the Bacon Cheddar Burger ($6.50), which is loaded with melted Cheddar cheese, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, thin slices of red onions and a side of dill pickle.
“This is a straight-up bacon burger,” says my husband, Dan, who is a burger aficionado. “It’s nice, clean and tasty!”
For vegetarians, the “Laura” ($6.50) is stacked with seasonal veggies and topped with house-made lemon-garlic dressing. It was named after Laura Haack, a Westside resident who told McKibben, “I won’t eat anything that had a mother.”
Today, The Laura is stacked with bright-red beets, cucumbers, radish, celery, green bell peppers, carrots and lettuce. Each vegetable is thinly sliced and artfully placed, creating a beautiful harmony of color and texture.
“I really like to cook for people who appreciate food,” say McKibben. “People come in here expecting to get a quick hot dog, and they find they can get a Caesar Salad with Cold Poached Salmon ($7.50) made with honest-to-goodness anchovies, a cooked egg and real olive oil. And it’s made fresh just for them, right at that moment.”
Auntie B’s Cafe
8171 Kekaha Road,
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.