Julia’s Banana Bread
Early the next morning, on our first full day in Maui, we woke up at the crack of dawn… actually, strike that, we were up by 3 am and out of the hotel and on the road for close to 2 hours to get to the top of Haleakala at Haleakala National Park to catch the sunrise. Once at the summit of Haleakala National Park, we watched what there was of the sunrise (it was foggy!) and spent some time driving through the park and exploring. By the time we made it back to Kahului, it was still fairly early in the morning and we decided to take a drive around West Maui via Kalehiki Highway. One of the stops we wanted to make was for a little stand at the “head” of Maui that many proclaimed to have the best banana bread in the world.
When my husband mentioned banana bread to me, I knew we had to go. Of course, mention banana anything to me and I’m always going to want to be there. Julia’s Banana Bread is a small little road side stand that you access via Kalehiki Highway, otherwise known as the “Death Highway.” As we started out the drive, it was gorgeous, until we got past Nakelele Blowhole and then all of a sudden the highway narrowed and started to get a bit treacherous. When I had read reviews of Julia’s Banana Bread, a few people had suggested that to get to Julia’s it was best to go from Ka’anapali around the head and over to Kahului. I had planned to drive in this direction anyway, so I never really looked into the reasons for this suggestion any further. Once I made the drive, I knew exactly why driving in this direction was preferred. Kalehiki Highway is known as “Death Highway” because there’s a short 6-mile stretch of the highway that essentially is a narrow, one-lane road that switches back and forth around the face of a rock cliff on one side and sheer drop-offs to the ocean on the other side without any guard rails whatsoever. The edge of the road, if you can even call it a road, was eroded at points and uneven. But the kicker is that while the road is barely wide enough for one vehicle, this road is a 2-way highway. So, as you come around blind curves around mountains and then all of a sudden run head-on into oncoming traffic, it’s both disconcerting and scary. At times, you’re forced to reverse the car until you can find a natural inward curvature to the mountainside and then tuck your vehicle right up against the mountainside while the opposite car squeezes by you with no room to spare whatsoever. After many switchbacks and a few run ins with other cars, I couldn’t be happier when we finally made it to the little village where Julia’s Banana Bread is located. I was so grateful to just get out of the car and stretch my legs. Julia’s Banana Bread is literally a tiny roadside stand in a small farming village. Julia’s is known for her famous banana bread, but also makes other homemade Hawaiian’ goodies as well.
After parking around the corner we wandered into Julia’s stand where we were greeted and presented with a tray full of samples to taste. Among the offerings were island dried mangos with Chinese plum seasoning, macadamia shortbread cookies, macadamia nuts with cashews, coconut candy, and of course small chunks of the famous banana bread. There was also some homemade lilikoi butter to sample as well, which goes great spread on top of slices of banana bread. We came here for the banana bread, so of course we had to try some of the banana bread so that we knew what we were buying before we walked off with some.
While the banana bread may be the most popular item served up at Julia’s, she does make a few other items as well which are also quite poplar. Her homemade lilikoi butter is a little tangy and a little sweet and pairs so well with the delicious banana bread. Julia’s coconut candy is also another popular offering. While coconut candy can also be found on the Road to Hana is quite popular on the island of Maui, many people say that Julia’s coconut candy is the best there is.
The day was turning out to be a nice, sunny day with very few clouds, warm temperatures and just slightly humid. As we’d been out and about all day we were thrilled to see Julia’s cooler full of homemade flavored lemonades. Julia was offering strawberry, POG, passion fruit and pineapple lemonade. When we saw POG lemonade, my husband and I both wanted to have some, but unfortunately, POG must have been really popular because sadly, Julia was all out of POG lemonade for the day. For those not familiar with this extremely popular Hawaiian drink, POG stands for passion orange guava, and its a drink that my husband and I are completely in love with and one of the things we most look forward to when traveling to Hawaii. Since POG wasn’t available, we went with the next best option, which was passion fruit lemonade. Another classic Hawaiian flavor, and wow, this passion fruit lemonade was stunning. The flavor was a little tart and tangy and subtly sweet. You could definitely taste the passion fruit, which was fresh and amazing and you could definitely taste the lemon which was made more tart than sweet, which is exactly how we like lemonade. This lemonade was refreshing and terrific and absolutely hit the spot!
Finally, the banana bread. After having tasted the sample bites of banana bread, my husband and I decided to purchase two loaves of banana bread to take with us. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Julia’s only sells banana bread in pre-made loaves, you can’t buy slices or small loaves. But our sample just tasted so amazing that I wanted to have extra banana bread to bring back home to the Mainland with us that we agreed to buy two. As soon as the loaves were bagged and handed over to us, the first thing my husband noticed was that both loaves were still warm, almost hot, to the touch. That’s how fresh and hot-out-of-the-oven the banana bread was, and it was amazing to know that we were walking away with a couple of loaves that literally had just been baked fresh. You couldn’t ask for anything more. As for the banana bread itself, it was heaven on earth. The flavor of the banana was the real star of the banana bread. With every bite of the banana bread, you could taste the natural sweetness of the banana and when it bakes and caramelizes, it releases its sugars and makes the most perfect banana bread. The one thing you really notice about this banana bread is just how moist it is. I don’t know what the secret to Julia’s banana bread is, but it is so ultra moist it’s almost like biting into a moist sponge cake rather than a loaf of bread which sometimes can turn dense in a heartbeat. And just knowing how fresh the banana bread was when we received our loaves, it was almost like you could taste the love baked into each loaf of bread that Julia makes. Even many days later when I was enjoying slices of banana bread back at home, it was still moist and delicious, just like it tasted that very first day we bought the banana bread.
After having finally returned to our hotel room that afternoon, after traversing the entire length of Kalehiki Highway, I couldn’t quite believe what we had experienced, really, all in the name of trying to find Julia’s Banana Bread. The passion fruit lemonade was fantastic, and honestly, I wish we had bought another cup of it, and the banana bread was probably the freshest, most flavorful and moistest banana bread I’ve ever had. However, the experience of getting to Julia’s is one that I’ll never forget, and now that I’ve done it, as good as Julia’s banana bread was, it’s an experience I don’t think I’d ever want to try again. I can say now that I’ve driven the Death Highway and survived, but really, there’s no reason to push my luck again next time I find myself on Maui.