By Anni Caporuscio

Farmers Market Ratatouille. Beautifully presented medley of market vegetables (Erin and Jose really know their farmer’s markets) warmed to perfection so they’re still crisp, but soaked in saffron and flavored oils. It includes okra, sweet corn, squashes and bruised grape tomatoes. It’s topped with a cool dab of burrata (soft mozzarella) resting on fresh pesto. As you eat it, the cheese melts a bit and mixes with the veggies.

For The Local, Erin Keller and Jose Cortez share a vision for excellence: They want to feel good at the end of the night for a job well done. The Local will not be a frozen place, they say. They would give people a true rendering of the flavors here on Kaua‘i.

Erin and Jose have based their vision on a restaurant they would want to eat at. After all, decades spent in the industry have set their standards are pretty high.

The Local is a dream — and to me, a love story.

Erin says she loves line-cooking more than anything in the whole world, and she speaks modestly of her skills in the kitchen. Her journey after culinary school took her toward specialties in Southeast Asian cuisine (having worked at the James Beard award-winning Pok Pok in Portland, which influenced Asian food-travel), pizza (versatile and wonderful) and crème brulee (she started a wholesale crème brulee business).

Jose has performed every position in the restaurant, from dishwashing up to right-hand man — and he knows the business inside out. You may have seen him working with Jim Moffat at Hanalei’s Barracuda for many years. Jose was Erin’s server when they met. After many months of a long distance romance and lots and lots of Facetime, Erin moved to Kaua‘i.

Double Decker Diner Burger with Wailua Meat, dripping with cheese.

Part of their conversations involved the dream of opening their own restaurant — add this to the love story. Along with the vision of excellence is the vision of using local products. Their philosophy is simple: When you have choices, make locally sourced choices. However, sometimes this isn’t easy on a tropical island. Many local ingredients come with inconsistent results; think weather, availability and seasonality. Based on what they can get, the menu at The Local may change every couple of weeks.

When they can’t access an ingredient in Hawai‘i, they seek out sustainable companies. Erin and Jose are dedicated to the “shop local” concept and to supporting co-businesses for the long term. They are committed to showcasing, featuring and utilizing every thing that’s available for bar and food in Hawai‘i.

Local ingredients also feature heavily in The Local’s superb signature fresh juice cocktail menu. It features Hawai‘i-made spirits as well, including Kaua‘i’s Koloa Rum Company and a heavy representation of liquor produced on Maui. My recommendation is to order off the specialty menu even if it’s not your habit. These drinks are top-notch, and you’ll actually feel healthier, somehow.

Most plates at The Local are shareable, which is great to bring a friend and try a bit of everything. This Salted Caramel Creme Brûlée, however, is only for one person to savor and experience. Let’s get back to the love story and my personal love affair with creme brûlée — this one is topped with a heavy sprinkle of Kona sea salt. It’s a buttery creaminess and a warm sugar layer that breaks off in shards.

“There’s something to be said for familiar food,” Erin said. The menu is a collection of commonly loved dishes with an original twist. There is the Jidori Spicy Buttermilk Fried Chicken, a simple fried chicken prepared a little like hot wings (Jose’s favorite) with Kaua‘i Juice Co’s chocolate habanero hot sauce. Or the Coconut Shrimp grilled with citrus notes and peanuts. Or Fish and Chips, a worldwide standard, but they use the local tuna belly for a richer fish. Deviled Eggs with a sophisticated twist of a fried chicken skin garnish. Caesar Salad with local kale added to the mix.

The Local Kaua‘i is in the heart of Old Kapa‘a Town at 4-1380 Kuhio Hwy, a couple doors down from Java Kai coffee shop. Follow The Local on Instagram for beautiful pictures of food and drink. Check them out for happy-hour drink specials, music and their ever-changing menu.

  • Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.