Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
When two different people told us Maui’s best burgers are being served at upcountry’s humbly named Liquor Shack and Deli (formerly Liquor Shack and Grinds, near as we can tell), we figured “if a shack is good enough for the B-52s, it’s good enough for us.”
So we gassed up our Chrysler (it seats about 20) and grabbed a wad of that burger money.
Upon first impression, the name fits… sort of.
On the one hand it’s pretty shacky-looking, but delicatessen? Where are the cold cuts, rye bread and pickles, Meshugener?
No matter. To get this party started, we went for the biggest, boldest, dare we say fanciest offering on the +++BURGER+++ list, the Bacon Mushroom Cheeseburger ($7.59).
It arrives with a large (third pound?) hand-formed patty, topped with cheddar, two slices of bacon and some freshish – as in not from a can, yet simultaneously long in the tooth – mushrooms.
It’s a happy thing the soft bun is also huge, as the main star shares the stage with raw onion, tomato slices, romaine lettuce and an absolute deluge of mayo, ketchup and mustard.
All told, it’s pretty good but super sloppy, and we found it difficult to make out any distinct non-condiment flavor, let alone taste the meat.
Enter the Cheeseburger ($5.59), hold everything but the bun, the burger and the cheese.
Now we’re talking.
Although it came with mayo anyway, the food was freshly prepared and the hamburger meat itself had a suggestion of onion – the lack of actual onion in the patty implies the addition of onion powder or French onion soup mix – and nice sear flavor from the flat top.
Doneness is not an option – both were cooked well – and like so many other things, what makes for a “best burger” is wildly subjective. We’d probably reserve such accolades for a lightly seasoned fresh ground brisket patty grilled to medium rare, but to each his own.
Regardless, this is a solid offering for what it is.
And what it is is a fresh $6 burger made by a “liquor shack.” Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Similarly, don’t hit up the Shack hoping for ambiance.
In fact, don’t even try to linger as the strict policy seems to be “get the hell out of here and wait in your car.”
It’s a small space, but the post-ordering insistence that you reunite pronto with the vehicle in which you arrived started to feel a little personal. Is it something we said?
Regardless, don’t try to fight it. Surely there’s a text you forgot to answer or some daydreaming you can attend to.
Talk amongst yourselves and food is soon brought out to your car window by the sweet woman who took your order earlier, alas, sans rollerskates.
On our next visit, we decided to try the Fried Chicken ($9.99).
We received two legs and the thigh of what we can only imagine was once a very obese bird we dubbed Fatty McFlab.
A white meat option would be nice, but the light crisp batter reveals a sinner with a heart (or coating, to be exact) of gold.
It’s beautifully prepared, never-hit-the-gym-a-day-in-its life fried chicken and big, my friends, is beautiful.
You can’t help but love it, and soon the rationalization begins. A little fatty chicken never killed anybody. Well, not immediately anyway.
The sides are a bigger gamble than playing ‘any seven’ at the craps table.
The green beans are an inadvisable choice. Straight outta the can-ton and still cold, only hobos will find this delectable.
The mayo-laden mac salad comes with peas and carrots. If you didn’t get enough lubrication from the chicken, this will do the trick.
The salted cabbage?
They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but apparently briny steamed cabbage is hoping to gain that reputation too.
The salt level may be a bit much for some, but if your ticker can take it, this would be our recommendation of the three.
Speaking of trifectas, on our third and final visit, we went for the Kalbi and BBQ Chicken Combo Plate ($10.99) with kimchi and potato salad.
The kalbi was tender and well-marinated, with excellent flavor.
The chicken was a little less fulfilling. Thin-pounded thighs are heavily seasoned with garlic powder and cooked to well done: do not attempt without some kind of beverage at hand.
The sides were hit and miss, yet again.
The kimchi is VERY garlicky – whoa – with good heat. So long as you’re not the main attraction at a kissing booth later, kimchi is definitely the way to go at the Shack.
The potato salad is of the “big chunks of baked skin-on potato swimming in carrot-flecked Lake Mayo ” variety. Not our bag.
Although not (in our humble opinion) a destination dining attraction, if you’re in the Makawao area and suddenly bowled over by a hankering for a freshly made burger, plate lunch or heaping helping of mayonnaise, no doubt the Liquor Shack and Deli can scratch that itch.
Bagel with a schmear, however?
Not so much.
The Liquor Shack and Deli is located at 1143 Makawao Ave in Makawao.
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