You know that feeling you get when you look at a place and think, “this has a lot of potential.” That’s what Javi Barberi, Dave Fincher and Julian Bonfardin thought about the basement waterfall restaurant located at The Wharf on Front Street in Lahaina. The spot, formerly known as Blue Lagoon, Da Kitchen and Makani Kai, never really had a fitting personality. Until, perhaps, now. Now known as Down the Hatch, the three partners have developed a casual eatery with a bar and a shave ice stand that seems to be humming along. I even like the cute pun in their name, riffing off the “down” stairs location.
The team picked up the place as Makani Kai and operated under that name for a short time while they worked on the rebranding as Down the Hatch. They say that allowed them to see some of the things that weren’t working for the space and fine-tuning that which did work. But some ideas just snuck up on them, like the decision to counter-order food, rather than rely on table service.
“We launched counter-service on Fourth of July,” says Barberi. “We had two servers call in and say they weren’t coming in. We had to think quickly how we were going to make it through the day short staffed and the counter idea came up. We knew we wanted to do some kind of counter service in the future, but it kind of forced our hand that day.”
I was glad that they changed to counter-service for this location. It really does streamline the experience for you, and makes service faster. Fincher says they’re willing to take chances and sometimes the big risks also involve big payoffs.
“We have Michael Seacrest in the kitchen, and since we are all from the South, there’s a lot of southern influence in the menu,” says Fincher. “Seacrest was experimenting with his mom’s gravy recipe. We didn’t have sausage when we were trying this out, so we used bacon instead. So that’s what we do, bacon gravy. It’s one of the twists on our chicken and waffles. We’re always evolving and streamlining our ideas. If it’s just crazy enough, it might work.”
The chicken and waffles ($14.50) was one of those dishes that gets recommended to you here, and you should definitely take it seriously. I ordered it because its one of those signature dishes, but I already had a bad attitude about it–how could it be better than the fish tacos my girlfriend just ordered? Surprisingly, it was the winning dish for the table and every drop of the bacon gravy was dabbed up by their phenomenal savory herbed waffle. It was one of those dishes where you offer a bite, but everyone takes two. Luckily, the portions look like they came from down south, too, leaving plenty to share.
We also tried the Lava Lava Shrimp appetizer ($12.50). It’s crispy fried shrimp in a divine, spicy aioli served in a metal martini shaped vessel. The same shrimp is in the Louisiana Po’boy sando ($14), but this time appears on a huge baguette with lettuce and tomato and tartar sauce, along with a generous helping of shoestring fries.
Then we dove into the grilled fish tacos. The menu lets you choose from mahi, Lava Lava shrimp, sweet potato, seared ahi or Baja chicken. Tacos also come with a side of chips and salsa. Tacos run from $12.50 to $15.75, depending on your order. The Strawberry Summer Spinach salad ($13) was as delicious as it was pretty, with mac nuts, goat cheese and fresh slices of strawberry adorning it.
Down the Hatch also has a craft cocktail menu and the bar offers a selection of swanky drinks thanks to bar chef Adam Rio. Rio was on hand to demo a few of his noteworthy selections from “Fresh Squeezed Fridays,” where you choose the booze and he concocts a refreshing quaff.
“There’s a trend now in the food industry with guests and they want to be more involved,” says Barberi. “It started with flights a long time ago, and now you see it more with guests becoming involved in the dining experience. The stuffiness leaves the room when that happens."
You can order Valley Isle Kombucha on tap, which makes its way into stellar mocktails and cocktails. The bar, of course, also keeps it real with a standard Mai Tai and all the basics, and happy hour runs 3-7pm and again from 10pm-2am daily. It features $3 drafts, $4 well cocktails, $5 select tropicals and $8 boilermakers.
Down the Hatch is doing an Industry night with half off food on the late night menu and drink specials on Thursday, a Flip Night on Saturday–flip a coin, call it right, get half off your tab. Their kama`aina discount is 20 percent off food.
As I said earlier, there’a also a shave ice stand at Down the Hatch that serves acai bowls. If you’re looking for something cold and sweet, they have you covered.
Lahaina’s newest hot spot also hosts the occasional monthly late night party like their Anti Valentine and David Bowie Tribute party. Look for their next event on St. Patty’s day. Down the Hatch is open from 11am to 2am every day at the Wharf in Lahaina.