Kona Brewing Company
Before leaving for our trip to Hawaii, you bet that my husband and I came up with a list of various recommended food places that we wanted to try. After all, how often does one get to go to Hawaii, a place where there’s a melting pot of people and culture and history. That can only mean great food. And in our research, we sure did come across some great, and different, food options. Obviously, there’s no way we’d humanly have the opportunity to hit up every single unique, and delicious, food option. And in fact, many times, we didn’t want to tie ourselves to one option or another, but rather leave our options open and be flexible as there were times we had no idea when we’d be able to fit in a meal through all of our sightseeing, or where we’d even be. So instead of making concrete plans, I kept a list on my phone of the various food places we’d read about that interested either my husband or I. This way, if we found ourselves in a certain neighborhood, in a certain part of town, and we were hungry, we’d know where to go.
After having flown into the Big Island from Los Angeles, and after getting settled at our hotel on Keauhou Bay, we knew we needed to head out and find some good eats for dinner. Without a car for the day, we relied on public transportation in the form of the Kona Trolley to take us from our hotel in Keauhou Bay into Kailua-Kona (more often referred to as just Kona), the heart of the tourist industry and the biggest city on the western side of the Big Island, just a few miles north of where our hotel was. Because we were relying on public transportation and weren’t operating on our own schedule, we had to be smart about what we wanted to do for dinner or else be stuck in town without any way to get back to our hotel except for, perhaps, a very expensive taxi ride. This meant our best option for dinner was casual dining. Located right in the heart of Kailua-Kona where it was started back in the mid-1990’s the Kona Brewing Company was the perfect spot for our first meal in Hawaii.
My husband had heard of, and even tried some different varieties of beer from the Kona Brewing Company. Started by a father-son duo who wanted to create unique and different craft brews and incorporate the spirit of Aloha and the islands, it was also important that the operations that were set up remain environmentally friendly to the area. The Kona Brewing Company produced its first commercial product – 3 different types of beers – in 1995 and has grown from those early days to a company that distributes its products in 9 different countries and 36 states in total.
Opened in 1998, the pub and brewery in the heart of Kailua-Kona features a restaurant and bar with a large lanai, all of which highlight local Kona and Big Island materials used to create the establishment and lush tropical vegetation indigenous to the islands to welcome the patrons. This showcase restaurant was created as a place where people could come together to enjoy their favorite pub grub with a local flair using local specialty ingredients and of course, their favorite pint or two of handcrafted Kona Brewing Company ales and lagers. With the success of this first restaurant on the Big Island, the Kona Brewing Company has now expanded to a location on the island of Oahu in Hawaii Kai opened in 2003.
To kick off this vacation the right way, my husband ordered a pint of KBC’s brew. While some of KBC’s beer options were familiar to him as he’s tried them before on the Mainland, he wanted to go with something a little different and unusual and outside of something we could get back home. My husband’s choice was the black sand porter. Described by KBC as “smooth and dark with strong roasted and chocolate malt flavor and aroma. The full malt flavor of this beer is complimented by our distinctive blend of hops.” This black sand porter was the 2012 bronze medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival, no small feat. My husband really liked this strong, dark brew and its hoppy flavor. And while he couldn’t taste the roasted chocolate malt, there was a bit of an aroma and the flavor of the beer was strong and bold. And the beer paired really well with the pub grub we ordered.
As we hadn’t eaten all day and had been traveling, we were starving by the time we arrived at Kona Brewing Company. I told my husband, I’m going to order what I want and you can’t stop me. Ok, so my eyes were probably bigger than my stomach and we ultimately ended up with leftovers, but that’s ok as they came in handy as our hotel room actually had a refrigerator for us and we actually did eat our leftovers.
To start, my husband wanted an order of garlic twists. The menu describes these as their homemade spent grain twisted and topped with garlic salt and parmesan cheese. The dish came with a side of marinara dipping sauce. I really liked the homemade spent grain bread, it was light and airy and baked really well. The marinara dipping sauce was also something I really enjoyed, nice and tangy and bold with flavor. However, being described as garlic twists, I was expecting more of a bold garlic flavor, something pungent and in your face. Unfortunately, the garlic salt didn’t scream garlic to me and I really felt like I was dining on cheesy bread twists rather than anything that had garlic on it. That doesn’t mean that the pupu (Hawaiian term for starter or appetizer) was any less enjoyable, its just that what was delivered to the table didn’t stand up to our expectations as described on the menu.
The pupu I chose to start off our meal was mac nut pesto cheese bread. After all, we are in Hawaii right? Known for macadamia nut everything. I thought macadamia nut pesto sounded pretty darn good. The appetizer consisted of Fire Rock focaccia topped with house-made macadamia nut pesto, roasted garlic and provolone, all served with a side of marinara. Using nutty provolone cheese melted on top of focaccia bread topped with macadamia nut pesto was a great combination. Nutty pesto with nutty cheese. And those things you see on the bread, which I actually originally thought was whole macadamia nuts, is actually roasted garlic cloves. Before you get scared that the garlic will be overpowering, the way they roasted the garlic almost entirely gets rid of the pungent odor and taste of garlic and just leaves behind a really soft, and sweet texture that just kind of melts in your mouth. The focaccia bread for this cheese bread is perfect, crispy and airy throughout and not too heavy for the dish.
As Kona Brewing Company is known for their pizza, we just had to give them a test run. At first, my husband and I were going to split a pizza, but then ultimately decided we should each get our own pizza. KBC makes their pizza with their own spent grain crust, hand tossed and topped with whole milk mozzarella. After looking through the menu, my pizza choice was for the Kaluna bacon cheeseburger pizza. Made with Big Island Kaluna ground beef mixed with sweet onions, bacon and cheddar cheese on top of bbq sauce and whole milk mozzarella and finished with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and KBC’s own “special sauce”, this pizza is spectacular. The sauce with the fresh veggies on top really made the pizza stand out and come together. It tasted just like a cheeseburger with really spectacular ground beef and bacon, except it was a pizza, but a burger, but a pizza.
For his pizza, my husband ordered the Hawaiian lu’au which was tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, Canadian bacon, pineapple, and roasted onions. Basically, it’s a play on the “Hawaiian” pizza of Canadian bacon and pineapple that you find on the mainland. My husband thought that the pizza was fabulous. The addition of the roasted onions added some depth and volume to the pizza and the ricotta added some creaminess that blended well with the mozzarella. No complaints whatsoever on the delicious pizza served at KBC. I can see why pizza is the most popular item on the menu, well after the beer that is.
Surprisingly, on this night, we decided to skip the dessert. After two very bread-y appetizers, and two pizzas, we were stuffed and just couldn’t take anything else. It’s a little hard to believe isn’t it that we didn’t get dessert? It shocked us as well. But hey, there would be plenty of time for sweets and good eats on this trip to Hawaii, no need to overdo it on day 1 of the trip!
It’s easy to see why so many locals are fond of Kona Brewing Company. It’s a great place to drop by for a pint or two of their unique handcrafted beers and some really good pub grub to go with it, all in a nice, relaxed atmosphere. After all, it’s Hawaii, can it get better than this? This was a great way to kick off our vacation. Good food, good vibes, good people. Kona Brewing Company is definitely a place I’d go to again in the future if I find myself in Kona.