Meals on Wheels

To eat like a local, you gotta hit the wagons

By: Kim Steutermann Rogers

Hawaii_0508It’s one of those endlessly sunny days on Kauai when Barr Surles’ cell phone rings at Anini Beach.

“Lunch shack,” Surles answers. “Hi, Ray. Sure, that’s one shrimp double up and a chicken quesadilla.”

Surles spends his early mornings and evenings surfing. In between, he whips up burritos, quesadillas, flautas and — his signature — fish tacos.

“I probably have a better office view than anyone anywhere,” says Surles.

Blessedly, the shores of Kauai are undeveloped. But when hunger hits, Kauai’s commercial-free beachfronts make finding something to nibble on a bit of a challenge.

There are a few fast-food joints in busy Kapaa and Lihue, but they’re not conveniently located near a beach. Plus, your clients won’t want to pull out a cold hamburger and soggy French fries purchased hours earlier and miles down the road. And the other option — a picnic lunch — is tough to make if your clients are staying at a hotel. Besides, plain old sandwiches are decidedly not very Hawaiian.

The Anini Beach Lunch Shack, with its North Shore oceanfront view, is the perfect solution. Here local fishermen share their catch with Surles. Some days it’s ahi (tuna). Some days it’s ono (wahoo). Other days it’s mahi mahi (dorado). Basically, “it’s whatever jumps in somebody’s boat,” says the longtime Kauai resident.

Another vendor, Carrie Newhouse, is a newcomer to the lunchwagon business. She first opened a clothing boutique one block from the ocean in Kapaa, and then decided to put a corner of her parking lot to use. She went to Oahu, bought a kitchen-outfitted van and, just like that, Newhouse became a restaurateur.

Now she serves all her personal favorites at her Carrie Daway Cafe, including one recipe she was given by a friend’s grandmother she calls Bradda Lou’s Kick-Ass Coconut Shrimp. She fries the shrimp fresh and serves it with a dipping sauce made of sweet chili, macadamia nuts, ginger and cilantro. The dish comes with a side of organic baby greens drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and a scoop of rice.

Meanwhile, on the South Shore, Susan Allyn parks her Savage Shrimp lunch wagon in Poipu on the road to Spouting Horn, just seconds from numerous swimming and snorkeling beaches.

Allyn attributes her success to the smell of roasted garlic — which she liberally adds to her shrimp scampi dishes — wafting in the air. The side of homemade coleslaw mixed with locally made Auntie Lilikoi dressing is a unique touch as well.

Besides good food and unique ingredients, all three lunchwagon chefs believe in something else, too: fresh, made-to-order meals. There’s nothing pre-packaged about these offerings.

So, if a meal on wheels seems less than gourmet to your clients, let them know lunchwagon fare is not only typical Hawaii, it’s good. Real good.