Maui Food and Dining

Mama’s Ribs and Rotisserie: This Ain’t Memphis

May 3, 2013, 1:09 PM HST
* Updated May 3, 1:15 PM
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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

The 1/4 chicken with rice and cole slaw. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The 1/4 chicken with rice and cole slaw. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

This isn’t Kansas City, the Carolinas or any part of Texas, either.

Try to get some collards, hushpuppies, or sweet potato pie, and you’ll quickly realize this is Maui.

That stated, Mama’s Ribs and Rotisserie in both Napili and Kihei proudly presents another one of those “pretty good…for Maui” moments.

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Let’s start with the high notes.

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She’s named accurately.

Portion size is more than fair.

The Traditional or Teriyaki Rotisserie Chicken – particularly at lunch time – is great.

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Moist, juicy, and flavorful, it’s not one of those little pheasant-sized runts they sell at the grocery store either, but a full-fledged bird.

As a plated meal with two sides, expect to pay $7.99 or $11.99; just chicken will run you $9.99 to $16.99.

However, be forewarned that come the dinner hours one of two sad trombone moments may occur:

1)  The chicken possesses a drier, “seemingly made a few hours back for the lunch crowd” texture.

2)  They regularly run out, often by 7 p.m.

The pulled pork sandwich and caesar salad. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The pulled pork sandwich and caesar salad. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The friendly man behind the counter – the staff at both locations is consistently warm and cheerful – highly recommended the Pork Sandwich ($8.99 or $9.99, depending upon sides.)

No complaints here. It was exactly as advertised – moist, very pulled pork with some barbecue sauce mixed in, served on a soft bun. The accompanying salad was in good portion and very fresh, as well.

The Baby Back Pork Ribs ($9.99 to $26.99) come with some caveats.

Let’s be frank: these pigs have spent a lot of time being blanched (boiled) and very little – perhaps none – on a grill or in a smoker. Yes, they are tender, but if you’re expecting a dry rub or a smoky nuances: nope. They’re also pretty fatty and most of the flavor comes from the barbecue sauce on top.

Speaking of which, there only seems to be one type of BBQ sauce in the offing, and that’s traditional, as in Kansas City: thick, sweet, and tomato-based. Some other variations (Tennessee whisky, East Carolina vinegar, Louisiana hot) would be swell.

The pot roast. Yep. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The pot roast. Yep. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

As for the pot roast ($11.99  or $15.99)…oh my.

Marlon Blando.

No veggies or discernible spice seemed to have been involved in the preparation. The resulting dull brown meat and canned-ish gravy caused some unwanted elementary school cafeteria flashbacks. Pass.

Mama’s offers a number of sides.

The Portuguese Bean Soup ($3.99/$7.99) is excellent and a meal in itself. Despite its irregularity from a barbecue restaurant standpoint, it may be the best thing on the menu.

The coleslaw has raisins and a lot of black pepper – odd, but not bad – and the mac salad is exactly what you’d expect

At the moment, Mama’s Ribs and Rotisserie would best be considered a takeout joint at either location. It’s not really a place to which to make a journey, but it would fit the bill if you’re looking for something to bring to the beach.

However, there’s no reason it couldn’t be more.

A full rack of ribs. Whether you dine in or take out, in comes in styrofoam. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

A full rack of ribs. Whether you dine in or take out, it comes in a styrofoam box. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Some thoughts should these words make their way to Mama: you’re in a strip mall with a view of a parking lot in both Kihei and Napili. It is what it is.

Food-wise, however, there is room to grow.

Get some brisket on that menu. Yes, you have to slow cook it for at least 24 hours, but if you do it right it would be worth it. Find a way to add some smoke flavor, even if you have to jerry rig with some smoke chips in a tinfoil pouch.

Reconsider items like the lasagna and Asian chicken wrap. You can’t be all things to all people.

More than anything, reflect on the lowly side dish. White rice probably has to be offered in these parts and the green salad option is a good, healthy alternative: keep them both.

However, soul food encompasses a vast array of interesting dishes and flavors. You have a cool opportunity to mix it up with local produce and products. We bet people would dig a Molokai Sweet Potato pie, or maybe candy them instead of yams.

Collards grow well on this island. Dirty up that rice. Make some brisket and put the trimmings into homemade baked beans, and don’t be shy about adding some molasses or mustard either.

Change is good, and visitors from other parts would probably appreciate some more authentic elements. Kihei and Napili are ready for some above-average barbecue, Mama, and you’re in a position to come through.

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)

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