Got Elk? Hunting Down Ulupalakua’s Elk Burgers

August 21, 2012, 4:55 PM HST · Updated August 23, 4:38 PM
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Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon. She offers her blunt assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.

By Vanessa Wolf

Elk Burger Ulupalakua Ranch

The elk burger. Yes, it’s really rare…but you want it that way. Trust us on that one. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Tired of deer?

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Well, prepare to get some satisfaction, because there is a source of fresh elk burgers on this island.

One of the best things about Maui is how a person can drive an hour in any direction and find yourself in a locale that feels like another state…or even another country. The Ulupalakua Ranch, Maui’s second largest cattle ranch, sits on 20,000 acres of land 2000 feet above sea level.  The air is cooler up there and the view is divine. And the elk burger? Well, we’ll get to that.

The Ulupalakua Ranch Store is homey and charming – reminiscent of a Cracker Barrel, only the real deal. In addition to the variety of knick-knacks and local products available for purchase, there is a little deli and grill in the back. There, one can purchase made-to-order sandwiches and burgers, a soup of the day, side salads and even raw, grown-within-a-few-mile-radius steaks, which they will throw on the grill for you if you ask. Vegetarian? They offer a Gardenburger and the daily specials are often veggie-friendly, as well.

Ulupalakua Ranch burger

The Maui Cattle Company Beef Burger. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

First up: the Maui Cattle Company Beef Burger ($8.95), a six-ounce patty that somehow seemed much bigger. It was served on a lovely, fresh bun that was slightly sweet and topped with tomato, lettuce, Maui onions, and cheddar cheese. The tomato slice was red and attractive, but slightly mealy. It may have been the only fresh component of the burger not sourced in the immediate area.

The hamburger itself was incredibly fresh. It had been ordered medium rare, and actually came that way…a happy surprise. The only issue was that it seemed to have no seasoning whatsoever. Tastes vary, but considering the generally accommodating air of the Ulupalakua Ranch Store employees, perhaps a request for a dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper before grilling would be obliged. Certainly it would highlight the flavors immensely.

Ulupalakua Ranch Grill

The grill master. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

You don’t come all that way and not try the elk burger ($9.95). Sourced from Maui-raised, grass fed herds, the six-ounce patty shares the exact presentation as the beef burger. If you opt for cheese, go with something with a mild flavor like Swiss or Provolone: elk meat is very subtle. Similarly, it is extremely lean. Order your burger as rare as you can take it, as well-done elk can double as a hockey puck.

The elk patty was presented on the same, sweet, extremely fresh bun: described only as a “white bun” on the menu. The raw onion was a bit overpowering considering the mild, fresh flavor of the meat and was quickly removed. The patty was cooked to absolute perfection: warm and red and quite rare…but thankfully not blue.

Again, unfortunately, the meat could have been elevated by the tiniest addition of some salt. Still, it was juicy, unbelievably fresh, and well worth the stop.

Ulupalakua Ranch elk burger

The elk burger. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The next time you’re visiting the winery (across the street), headed to/from Haleakala, or taking the back road to Hana – and between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., because that’s the only time the grill is open – you now know where to get your elk fix.

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.

Dying to know how a certain dish is made so you can recreate it at home? Send in a request, and we will try to pry the secret out of the chef…and even take a run at cooking it up ourselves. Mahalo. [email protected]

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