There is very little development sprawl in Maui’s Olowalu area-residents much prefer its monkey-pod framed road this way. It naturally explains its healthy and vibrant reefs that offer some of the most wonderful snorkeling on the west side. There’s something else Olowalu is known for, and that would be the divine fruit pies from Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop.
Right off of Honoapi‘ilani Highway, Leoda’s was built on what used to be a French restaurant across from the Olowalu campgrounds, next to a general store and a fresh fruits stand. The charming bakery and counter-service eatery was transformed with an unfussy country-style aesthetic, mixing repurposed wood panels painted in shades of blue, white subway tiles and vintage photographs throughout.
Leoda’s opened in November 2011, the youngest addition to the restaurant group, Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu (which translates to three friends in Hawaiian). Among their deliciously successful ventures are now staple local favorites: Star Noodle, Aloha Mixed Plate and Old Lahaina Luau. Though famed chef Sheldon Simeon led the opening; the kitchen is currently helmed by chef Alex Yago, who was also part of the opening team. Born and raised on Maui, Yago worked as a sous chef for a year then moved to their sister lu‘au operation. He returned to Leoda’s in the summer of 2016 as executive chef.
When asked about his earliest food memories, Yago shares, “I remember watching my mom and aunties cook food for a party whether its making pansit, pork adobo, or even the pinakbet (vegetable stew of squash, bitter melon, okra and eggplant with pork and shrimp paste). My mom always lets me know that when I make those things that, hers is still number one. And majority of the time it is, I can’t beat my mom’s cooking.”
His first foray into cooking as a profession started in high school in an unlikely choice among most chefs, yet proves to be pragmatic. Yago worked on the grill at Jack and the Box. “Don’t knock it though,” he says. “That is where I got my speed and organization skills from.” He eventually enrolled in Maui College’s Culinary Arts program. After graduating, he began to work his way up the ladder and traveled to the East coast, Pacific Northwest and Asia to discover different types of cuisines.
The cuisine at Leoda’s can be considered classic American comfort foods with touches on contemporary staples, a place where corn-flake crusted fried chicken on waffles topped with gravy and syrup can happily co-exist with fried Brussels sprouts with bacon in orange vinaigrette. Delicatessen fares like Reuben and pastrami sandwiches are super popular, and I toggle between those and the seared ‘ahi sandwich with avocados and caramelized Kula onions. When everything from the rye bread to the meats and sauerkraut is baked, roasted and fermented (for three weeks to be exact) in-house, the end result shines.
There is an emphasis on local sourcing, and much from their own farm. “It is like a mystery box when the farmer comes in, not knowing what we will get,” shared Yago. At any given day, the bounty may bring beautiful and freshly picked tomatoes, zucchini, kale, banana, cucumbers, sweet potato and taro.
The veggie burgers use the taro along with brown rice, mushrooms and onion with pesto and garlic aioli; and taro, sweet potatoes and zucchini plus Moloka‘i sweet potato compose the vegetarian pot pie. Anything harvested that isn’t part of the menu is an opportunity to create the day’s special.
Handheld savory pies can be Mexican- inspired with Kula corn, cotija cheese, lime zest, chives and cilantro; or lean Italian with Hamakua mushrooms with shallots and parmigiano reggiano. The pies, with their buttery, flaky crust and perfect grazing size, are undoubtedly the star of the show whether housing the savory or the sweet kind.
Liliko‘i, poha berries and other fruits fill the mini fruit pies with seasonal goodness. Consider it a good day if you are lucky to catch them in the case. The chocolate haupia pie is a decadent gift perfectly textured with crushed macadamia nuts. And banana cream pie is always a victory against nearby Lahaina’s brutal sun in its fluffy, cool-whipped and subtle sweetness.
“I know that this sounds corny, but it’s love,” says Yago. “It’s made with fine ingredients, but when our bakers take the time and effort in making and awesome product and the farm with their sweet bananas, you can’t go wrong with this pie.”
There are new combinations in progress. “I am working with our executive pastry chef on some exciting new ideas like playing with the classic pumpkin pie, smoked butternut squash pie with a kiawe streusel along with other pies trying to utilize the farm products,” Yago shares.
Along with this creative practice of artisanship and sustainability, the restaurant group fosters a spirit of family and community within the team. “…We close the restaurant once a year to go either on a snorkeling cruise, barbecue at the beach or whatever the crew would like to do for that year.” There are also highway clean ups and senior bingo bonding and volunteer opportunities. “It helps us, as a team, to remember why we do things, to keep everything clean, to remember to be kind and courteous to everyone always, as we give back to the community.”
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop,
820 Olowalu Village Road Lahaina,
(808) 662-3600 or leodas.com