If you just happen to be on the Big Island of Hawaii and are looking for a special restaurant to sample Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, you won’t find any place better on the island than Merriman’s. The chef and owner, Peter Merriman, started this movement 25 years ago, which now flourishes in many other restaurants in Hawaii. Serving fresh local produce and fish, Merriman’s is sure to delight the whole family.
My husband and I were recently on the Big Island of Hawaii for a vacation, where we’ve been multiple times. Most often it’s been for him to do the Ironman World Championship race and I get to tag along for support, but this time, it was pure vacation and pure bliss.
I have been wanting to try an island restaurant called Merriman’s for years, but something has always interfered and I end up canceling our reservation. This time I swore it was going to be different. Plus, we were going to meet a friend of ours who lives on the island for dinner, so there would be no excuse. My big concern now was if my expectations were too high and I would end up being disappointed after all the anticipation. Well, luckily the answer was a resounding NO!
Why was I so intent on dining at Merriman’s? Well, I love to support local, farm-to-table restaurants at home and on vacation and Merriman’s is at the heart of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. Chef Peter Merriman is proud to be known as the original “locavore” and the pioneer of this movement that he started 25 years ago. Oddly, he found there really was little local product on the islands and had to get farmers, ranchers, and fisherman to start producing.
The philosophy of the restaurant is:
- To support local farmers, ranchers, and the local economy while offering fresh, authentic regional cuisine at its peak flavor.
- To support local farmers who choose sustainable agriculture methods that nourish the earth, so it is rich and fertile for future generations.
- To offer the finest local interpretations of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, using at least 90% locally sourced ingredients.
- To promote Hawaii regional cuisine among residents and visitors alike; furthering the understanding of how locally grown food positively affects our families, our community, and our economy.
- To give back to our local communities by donating to multiple non-profit organizations within their communities through charity dinners, gift certificate donations, fundraisers and participation in local charity events.
So, back to the restaurant and the food. When you walk in, you find a spacious room with an open air kitchen. The grounds also feature an outdoor patio area and gardens. The restaurant showcases food prepared simply, but that reflect the myriad flavors of Hawaii’s culture and includes many gluten free options.
The appetizers include many fish dishes and fresh salads, including the ever-popular Hawaii Ahi Poke, which is a traditional Hawaiian food prepared with raw Ahi tuna, generally mixed with avocado, onion, and often chopped macadamia nuts. I chose a Kale and Butter Lettuce salad with roasted beets and island goat cheese and my husband opted for the Hand Made Ricotta Cheese Cavatelli Pasta, with what else but a basil and macadamia nut pesto!
For entrees, both my husband and our friend chose fish; the local catches of the day, of course. As my husband says, “How can I be in Hawaii and NOT eat fish? That’s just crazy.” Our friends decided to share the Opakapaka and the Monchong. Being a vegetarian, I was so pleased to find Waipo Taro and Fresh Lone Palm Chickpea Falafels on the menu. But, if you are a meat eater, you will not be disappointed with several options. We also had to try one of the side dishes, the Pan Roasted Hamakua Mushrooms, which were crispy little delicious bites.
Even though we were all quite full and satisfied, we did opt to “just have a look” at the dessert menu. Bad decision as I could have picked any one and I’m sure been pleased. Several great choices included their Original Hawaiian Chocolate Purse and Pineapple and Toasted Macadamia Nut Bread Pudding. We chose to share the Carmelized Coconut Creme Brûlée. I have to say I’m not a fan of creme brûlée in general, but quite enjoyed this rendition and happily ate my fair share. Of course, we also had to have their organic, French pressed Kona coffee with our dessert!
Merriman’s is also open for lunch with a very different menu, so I now have an excuse, if I needed one, to return. With many sandwich options, including a pork sandwich and fish tacos, it would be a perfect time to bring the kids.
In terms of cost, if you don’t know already, Hawaii is typically expensive, so eating out follows suit. But, I really didn’t find it any more expensive than other nice restaurants on the island, with salads under $15 and entrees generally around $40. Lunch sandwiches can be found for well under $20. I would definitely recommend reservations, which can be booked on Open Table, especially for dinner.
If you’re not going to the Big Island, but find yourself on Oahu, Maui, or Kauai, you can still check out a Merriman’s restaurant. All of the restaurants share a common mission statement to “Do the Right Thing!” The staff is taught to respect the aina (land) and the people who produce the food, to take pride in their work, and to take responsibility for making sure every customer has a memorable dining experience. Now, top this philosophy with great food and can you wonder why I was so anxious to dine at Merriman’s?