Merriman’s Does Pizza In Poipu

Every year, Honolulu Magazine awards gold, silver and bronze medals to the best restaurants across the state, based on reader votes. This year, Merriman’s Kapalua (Maui) took a bronze, Merriman’s Poipu was awarded a silver and Merriman’s Waimea (Hawaii Island) won the gold.

“Winning the silver Hale Aina Best Restaurant on Kauai award is a really big deal,” says Mark Arriola, executive chef at Merriman’s Fish House Poipu. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve done a lot. I’m competitive. I want a solid bottom line, the best food and the best comments on places like Yelp and OpenTable.”

Arriola, who’s been the executive chef at Merriman’s Poipu for three years, credits his staff for creative specials. These professionals, from across the island as well as the Mainland, have traded prestigious positions to work under Arriola in Merriman’s kitchen.

“To have something we could all celebrate together was really cool, and I’m super stoked for my staff,” says Arriola. “The award has elevated everybody’s game, but we like to have fun. If a dish doesn’t look right going out, someone will show me and say, ‘Chef, is that gold medal?'”

Last year, the downstairs cafe changed its name to Merriman’s Gourmet Pizza & Burgers. The menu showcases local farmers, ranchers and fish, for which Merriman’s is known, but there is an upscale element customized to the eclectic tastes of Kauai residents. This is refreshing surprise for a restaurant that only serves salads, fish tacos, burgers and pizza.

Meat eaters can choose between a free-range, natural turkey burger ($12.95) with caramelized onions, aged white Cheddar, Asian pear and organic arugula or an Omao Ranch lamb burger ($16.95) with grass-fed lamb, hummus, tomatoes, organic lettuce and Tamimi Farms cucumber raita and Kauai Kunana Dairy feta. Or, one for the gluttonous meat lover: The B.K.E. Burger ($15.95) is a behemoth, juicy burger that should quench the omnivore’s insatiable quest. An A’akukui Ranch grass-fed beef patty sits on a pillow-soft bun made with Kauai Beer Company’s Black Limousine, a dark lager that also is available on tap. Layered in between are house-roasted kalua pork, slow cooked onions, house-make kimchi and a fried, local farm egg.

If you prefer vegetables, the 100 percent Kauai Vegan pizza ($12.95) is made on an organic wheat crust and topped with Kilauea tomatoes, roasted Lawai mushrooms, Kauai Fresh Farms eggplant, kabocha squash and kale pesto. If you want it on a gluten-free crust, it’s $1 extra.

Another surprise is Merriman’s Fish House pizza ($25.95), which changes toppings each month. Usually, when I see seafood and pizza combined on a menu, I look somewhere else. But this pizza is amazing. Tender Kona lobster chunks, paper-thin potato slices, a rich white sauce and truffle oil is an indulgence I can dive right into. Slim slices of fresh jalapeno, chewy nubs of roasted Hawaii Island sweet corn and Fontina cheese drag me under and I express my with delight with every delicious bite.

“A lot of people eat downstairs and don’t get a feel for what we do upstairs,” explains Arriola. “We decided to put one high-end pizza down there, that’s created with ingredients that we use in the Fish House.”

Well done, Merrriman’s Poipu. I’m looking forward to your 2014 gold medal dishes!

Merriman’s Fish House
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka, Koloa

742-8385
Upstairs: 5-9 p.m.
Downstairs: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Marta Lane is a Kauai-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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