Merriman's remains a Hawaii Regional Cuisine classic on the Big Island.
It’s only been 20 years since a cabal of young, island-based chefs founded Hawaii Regional Cuisine. One day, if they end up erecting a “Mount Rushmore” on Diamond Head that’s dedicated to the cause, one of the people with a chiseled stone likeness would probably be Peter Merriman, who founded the very first Merriman’s in Waimea’s Opelo Plaza in 1988.
Peter Merriman now owns five restaurants, including his Big Island original, a seven-year-old Mediterranean cafe in Waikoloa village, restaurants in Kopolua (Maui) and Kauai (fish house and cafe). Corporate chef Neil Murphy helps Merriman oversee all of the restaurants.
The original location has a peaked roof, a dining room with iron chandeliers sporting “pineapples” and an open kitchen.
Merriman’s grows herbs and fruit for the restaurant alongside a gravel patio, including bananas, sugar cane, papaya and lemongrass.
The chef sent out an appetizer sampler, including flaky mahi-mahi fillets with ponzu (citrus soy) relish: daikon, heart of palm, rincon onions, Kay Farms parsley and mushroom, all from the island; ruby-hued, wok-charred ahi plated with pickled ginger, garlic, shallots, mixed herbs and a dish of spicy-savory wasabi soy dipping sauce including mirin and lemon juice; and a juicy tomato slice topped with sweet grilled Maui shrimp, Haas avocados from Kay Farms, sweet onion, and tangy lemon vinaigrette.
Merriman’s signature BBQ Grilled Shrimp & Asparagus ($13) featured sweet white Pacific shrimp, crisp sliced asparagus, lemon vinaigrette. sweet local tomato and al dente rice grains folded with garlic and minced macadamia nuts.
Chinese Short Ribs ($15) were especially good, with boneless, high quality meat cooked in balsamic vinegar for 4-5 hours until tangy and caramelized shreds formed. The course came with a ramekin of hot mustard and tart, subtly spicy kimchi, which both cut the meat’s richness.
Taro Burger ($4) was one fun find that Merriman’s surprisingly adds to any salad, some of which don’t seem like natural fits. However, as a side, it was a great purple patty that’s griddle-seared, chunky, crispy, dense and naturally sweet.
To drink, my choices consisted of Tahitian Limeade ($2.25) with tart, fresh-squeezed lime juice and coconut juice, served over ice. They also had Tropical Fresh Fruit Sodas ($3.50) either raspberry, lilikoi, and strawberry, mixable with fresh fruit puree and soda or 7Up. Lilikoi, aka passion fruit, was tart, subtly sweet and refreshing when mixed with soda.
Dessert was the only course that didn’t hit a crisp chord, featuring Grilled Cream Cheese Pound Cake ($7.95) that was drier than expected, even when combined with tart Tropical Dreams lemon ice cream and sweet Waimea strawberries crushed with sugar and balsamic.
French Pressed Coffee ($4.95) three different options, with Rooster Farms 100% Kona Coffee being the darkest roast, Haren’s Old Tree Estate 100% Kona Coffee, and my pick, the lightest, Hamakua Hawaiian Cloud Forest Coffee, which was pretty good, but a little richer and sootier than my normal cup, probably due to the brewing method.
Merriman’s delivered my best Big Island meal and one of the better meals from my 10-day Hawaiian trip, combining fresh local ingredients with compelling international influences.
Note: The Big Island Visitors Bureau hosted me at Merriman’s as part of a four-day island tour.
November 28, 2011 at 11:40 AM
Have dined several times at the original location while visiting a friend who operated the Tex Drive-In in Honoka’a just a few miles east of Waimea. Really good food, nice people, and a dining oasis on the big island.
November 28, 2011 at 2:25 PM
Glad to hear you enjoyed Merriman’s too. Tex Drive In is a great spot as well, to be sure.