By Vanessa Wolf
You know how people get all nostalgic about Maui in the 1960s?
If you’d like to find out what all the fuss is about, beat a path to Jack’s Inn in Kahului and get a taste of life in the islands 50 years ago… well, at least the décor.
In the corner of a building shared with the Glidden Professional Paint Center, you might not realize the small breakfast and lunch-only restaurant even exists.
Granted, the knowledge is unlikely to fundamentally change your life, but if you’re looking for a rock solid burger at near-1960s prices, you can probably get down with the Jack’s Inn experience.
The mostly a la carte menu focuses pretty myopically on local dishes and the kind of stuff your – or someone’s – grandmother used to make.
The Hot Roast Pork ($6.25 for a mini, $8.25 for regular) comes with either rice or what tastes like instant mashed potatoes. Pick the rice.
The hot vegetable du jour turned out to be canned corn.
Like we said: Grandma.
The Tuna Melt ($3.50) will send you into full flashbacks of your kindergarten years.
Not only are we pretty certain Jack’s Inn somehow got their hands on our deceased grandmother’s eclectic plastic dish collection, but the flavors are straight out of your childhood.
Tuna, mayo, and American cheese arrive on buttery grilled bread. It’s straightforward, simple, greasy familiarity.
If you require a clean grill and no trace of the food cooked before yours, well, signs indicate you’ll be disappointed.
Vegetarians may want to stick to items that don’t spend time on the flat top.
Speaking of which, the Mac Salad ($2.25) kicks it up a notch from the usual. Tiny bits of onion, celery and carrot mingle with hard-boiled eggs and a hearty helping of mayonnaise. Although admittedly not exactly haute cuisine, we found Jack’s version to be way above average.
The Super Dry Mein ($5.80 for a mini, $7.65 for a regular portion) is a reliable standby.
Noodles are tossed with a sprinkling of Spam, loads of roasted pork, scallions and some scrambled egg. It’s oily, porky and satisfying comfort food.
Breakfast is served all day.
One egg with the meat of your choice – including unexpected options like a hot dog or lunch meat – will run you $5.15, two go for $5.70 and three for $6.15.
You can up the starch ante for $1 and receive a heaping helping of fried rice.
Eggs arrive exactly as ordered and the fried rice is happily chockablock with Spam and eggs.
Jack’s Inn has a Cheers kind of vibe, in that everybody there seems to know everybody else.
For the uninitiated, here’s how to look like less of a newb.
1. You seat yourself, but it’s not quite that simple.
The reality is that often one section is barred with invisible ropes. Sit there, and expect treatment roughly akin to trying to muscle past the bouncer at SkyBar in LA, except even the beautiful people will be removed from the off-limits booths at Jack’s.
2. Raise your eyebrows and vaguely wave at anyone who happens to be standing, and you’ll learn whether today’s service is occurring in the front or the back of the restaurant.
3. Settle into some diner bench goodness and note the war-torn menus on the table. There is also a special’s list on the wall.
Some days it’s packed and you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate your options and the meaning of life.
Outside of McDonald’s, Jack’s Inn’s Cheeseburger ($3.50) may be the cheapest in town, but it’s a heck of a lot better than its fast food competition.
The hand-formed patty arrives on a buttered, grilled bun. If they can butter and grill it at Jack’s, rest assured they do.
It also comes with crisp iceberg lettuce and a generous helping of mayo.
It’s just a cheeseburger, but it’s a mighty fine one all the same.
The BLT ($3.95) delivered no surprises, which is a good thing. Toasted white bread, lettuce, tomato, bacon and mayo: we appreciate that Jack doesn’t skimp on the pig.
The ambiance is antiquated – see: black and white photos of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe on the walls – and the place could use a scrub down.
Let’s get real: it’s grimy.
Grimy like if something fell on the floor you probably would forgo the Five Second Rule.
Adjust your expectations accordingly or maybe take that burger to go.
Nonetheless, once you’re done enjoying your meal and the accompanying time warp, feel free to sit at the table for the rest of your life. However, if you’d like to carry on with your day, head up to the cashier, as no one will bring a bill. Ever.
Oh, and cash only, amigos.
The interbank (now MasterCard) system wasn’t created until 1966.
Jack’s Inn is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line – Vanessa(@mauinow.com)