By Anni Caporuscio
Something I love about Kaua‘i restaurants is that so many of them are history tellers. Not just in their locations, menu choices or in museum-quality antique photos. It’s the old fashioned service. It’s the blurb of “did you know” historical tidbits in menus. It’s the infusion of traditional Kaua‘i into contemporary styles. It’s an attention to legacy that gives Kaua‘i restaurants some real lasting class.
I had the pleasure of dining at Kalaheo Steak and Ribs last month, and was delighted to speak with owners Caroline Frederiksen and Ernie Kanekoa. Between the two of them, they have decades of restaurant and hospitality experience on Kaua‘i. They took over the Kalaheo Steakhouse in 2010 and renamed it Kalaheo Steak and Ribs, with the vision to revitalize the neighborhood steakhouse.
Kalaheo used to be a ranching town, so logically, it should have a steakhouse, right? Kalaheo Steakhouse was on the way home for many people, serving as the neighborhood watering hole for decades. Caroline and Ernie wanted to keep the neighborhood feel of the place and accentuate the ranching history of the area.
It was important for them that Kalaheo Steak and Ribs would cater to locals, and in doing so they diverted from a high-end steakhouse and serve burgers and a hearty meatloaf.
The restaurant is a traditional steakhouse with the whole cast of steaks, but with an island flair, serving chicken, fresh-fish and even some vegetarian dishes. The appetizer menu is full of local cuisine, like a game-changing poke, to get you ready for the main event — meat.
I was charmed by the ambience in the well-maintained old building — sturdy wooden chairs, private booths and scuffed redwood floors lit by a dying sunlight drifting through the windows. And Ernie and Caroline greeting guests, filling waters, sharing familiarities and walking around to the tables like a neighborhood patron would. The staff was outgoing and cheerful. “You can’t do it without your staff,” Ernie says.
The menu is a no-nonsense collection of healthy portions and favorites. Entrees are served with your choice of rice or baked or mashed potatoes. Dinner served between 5 and 6 p.m. comes with a free dessert of their Hawaiian Sweet Bread Pudding, served warm with cream and guava syrup. Linger and enjoy a long dinner.
Kalaheo Steak and Ribs has a full bar and lounge seating, an intimate dining room where you can enjoy dinner, and a saloon. That’s right, a saloon with bare wood walls, saddles and branding irons on the walls, a small stage for a band and a cleared-out floor for dancing. I’m told that in the not-too-distant past, paniolo would tie their horses outside and saunter in for a drink.
On Thursday and Sunday you can hear Wailoa, a Western/Hawaiian band, and Fridays alternate Not My First Rodeo band with karaoke night. The Saloon has its own bar and menu of, you know, saloon food.
Kalaheo Steak and Ribs is at 4444 Papalina Rd. in Kalaheo. Visit www.kalaheosteakandribs.com for more information. I recommend making reservations; the place fills up pretty fast. Use Open Table on their website or call 332-4444.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.