Tommy Bahama: You (Mostly) Get What You Pay For
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
What would you pay for a massive serving of baby back pork ribs with a sweet and spicy blackberry brandy barbecue sauce?
What if we also gave you a serving of intensely buttery whipped chive potatoes with that?
Before you answer: what if we were to throw in some outstanding Asian slaw and strangely shaped loaf of bread accompanied by butter which, for some unkonwn reason, is flavored like pumpkin pie?
Not so fast!
Do you like goat cheese?
What if we roll it in macadamia nuts and fry – that’s, right – fry it for you?
Well, hold onto your hat, because that’s not all. Right now, as part of an introductory offer, that cheese is accompanied by mango salsa AND flatbread.
Have you ever looked at a chicken leg and thought, “this would make one hell of a lollipop”?
Well, you’re in for a treat, because we’ve actually done that for you, AND we’ve done it Jamaican style, Mon.
That’s right: ribs, potatoes, fried cheese from a goat and chicken legs fashioned into lollipops.
What would you expect to pay for all of this?
Well, then you’d be right on the money, minus tax and tip of course.
At Tommy Bahama, the prices aren’t low, low, low, but if you order smart and/or time it right, you can walk away with enough leftover ribs to feed a small village and/or a sense that (for the most part) you got what you paid for.
The Grilled Baby Back Pork Ribs ($39) arrived in a portion size that would please Jabba the Hutt.
The dish was lauded by the server as the “best ribs in the world.”
Clearly he’s never been to Austin, but they were a solid and flavorful offering and provided leftovers for several days.
The Classic Caesar ($9) is in every way a classic Caesar. The romaine leaves are served “cut it up yourself” style with thinly sliced Parmesan, ample dressing and some croutons.
Still, greenery is one area you might feel the pinch of “This costs how much?”
The Grilled Steak Tenderloin Salad ($22.50) was apathetic.
The tomato slices were rather under-ripe and “flown in from Mexico”-esque. There are also some grilled potatoes and six large bites of pre-cut meat: kind of like your mom was in back and doesn’t quite trust you with a knife.
The greens arrive dressed in sweet tamarind vinaigrette and are topped with fried shiitakes.
The fried shiitakes are hands down the best thing on the plate. We don’t know who came up with this idea, but we dig it.
The Roasted Jerk Chicken ($26.50) is big on flavor but surprisingly tiny on portion. Is that a chicken or a pheasant thigh?
The char on the skin is a little scary – doesn’t black mean ‘carcinogen’? – but the excellent jerk flavor penetrates into the tender and perfectly cooked flesh.
Speaking of which, the Chicken Lollipops ($12) have an equally excellent flavor and none of the coal black skin.
The accompanying jerk remoulade is toothy with heavy portions of oregano and thyme. Skip.
You don’t need it anyway.
The “lollipops” are well-seasoned with a little kick. It’s the best thing since Chupa Chups.
Despite being located in a (let’s face it) upscale strip mall, the Tommy Bahamas ambience isn’t half bad with lots of shiny wood and trade breezes.
Service comes in waves. It always seems to be some kind of shift change or perhaps they just have a “tag team” service policy.
Go with some patience, and you’ll be fine.
The Ahi Tuna Tacos ($15.50) were not what we expected.
Breaded ahi, fried within an inch of its life, fights against being labeled fish jerky as its slathered in slaw galore.
The omnipresent slaw is good stuff and the highlight of this dish. That’s probably not the intent.
The injustice sufferd by the ahi in the previous dish is rectified in the Ahi Poke Napoleon ($19).
Oft seen in the islands, the familiar terrine-style presentation has a bottom layer of guacamole topped with chopped ahi, crema fresca and a giant parsley sprig.
The über greasy flatbread accompaniment aims to cancel out the dish’s healthy intentions, so just ignore it and savor the super fresh flavors.
The Macadamia Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese ($14.50) is just that. Fried cheese served atop mango salsa aside more greasy flatbread: plan to report this one to your Weight Watchers group as an “epic fail” and don’t look back.
Now you could expect to spend more than $60 buying each of these items separately, but if you get to Tommy Bahama’s between 2 and 5 p.m. it’s happy hour, and you can enjoy them for less than half than you would any other time of day. That’s right. Savor all the appetizers described above for the low, low price of $29.
Act fast, while supplies last.
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)