Stillwell’s Bakery and Cafe: Almost Famous
By Vanessa Wolf
Stillwell’s Bakery and Cafe in Wailuku came preceded by a veritable parade of acclaim.
Their website boasts, “We are well known for our famous Chinese Chicken Salad.” and “Stillwell’s Cream Horns are a favorite for visitors and locals alike and boxes of them are often seen leaving Maui as a special gift.”
Legendary salads and pastries worthy of paying for a checked bag?
We commenced our consumption in the early morning light, with the Local Boy ($8.25).
Two eggs cooked exactly as we ordered, two meats (Spam, bacon, Portuguese sausage or ham) and two scoops of furikake-topped rice.
We didn’t think so.
Want pancakes at 11 a.m.?
Tough luck, Rip Van Winkle. Breakfast has been over for an hour by then, and these rules are made to be followed.
Try to playfully coerce some hotcakes out of them and prepared to meet with a verbal smackdown.
This is how we came to be eating a Crab Cake Sandwich ($10.75 plus $.50 for a torpedo roll) for “breakfast.”
Stillwell’s bakes all of their bread themselves, and nowhere is this more pleasantly apparent than with their torpedo rolls. Essentially a baguette in a miniaturized size, this gluten party is not to be missed.
Speaking of wheat, the crab cake itself has a notable amount of breadcrumb filler.
Although the crab cake is predominantly comprised of breadcrumbs, it’s more than just a giant amalgam of fried breadcrumbs. With some scrutiny, you can see bits of crab and what we reckon are tiny flakes of green onion.
Then it’s rolled in more bread crumbs and pan fried.
Arguably this an infraction of the cardinal law of seafood patties – always keep the meat to filler ratio uneven in favor of meat – but utilized in a sandwich we’ll give this breadcrumb bonanza a pass.
Topped with lettuce, tomato and a schmear of tartar sauce, it’s not the best we’ve ever had, but also not the worst. Would we pay $12-ish for it again?
That depends. Is this a “solar flares have rendered the world foodless, hopeless and largely cannibalistic” scenario or just your average Wednesday afternoon? If the latter, then no.
The accompanying Caesar salad was comprised of crisp, fresh romaine topped with dressing and shreds of Parmesan cheese. All in all, a perfectly acceptable way in which to work toward your daily recommended allotment of calories.
But let’s say you want more to life than “perfectly acceptable,” “average Joe” and “skinny jeans.”
Enter the BLT on Croissant ($10.25 + $.50 for the croissant).
We don’t know what came over us, but this seemed like a good idea at the time.
And it was… At least as far as our taste buds were concerned.
But for our bikini body, however?
This combination is diabolical.
Four slices of bacon adorn a solid, yet buttery croissant. A little more dense and heavy than its Paris equivalent, it’s still quite good.
Also inside this rich, crusty exterior is mayo, lettuce, and some notably mealy, lackluster tomatoes. It’s a spendy BLT already, but in for a dime, in for a dollar. We’d pay another $.50 for some upgraded local tomato slices.
Regardless, if all this decadence isn’t bad enough for you, it appears they’ve added a layer of Swiss cheese.
We could almost hear our heart grinding to a fatty, clogged place of no pulse bliss. If the Surgeon General knew about this sandwich, he’d give it a warning label.
Hoping not to be called into the light, our next visit found us ordering up some Chow Fun ($7.75).
Although plentiful in portion size, it delivered notably little on the flavor front.
Copious rice noodles are pan fried up with thinly sliced ham lunch meat, green onion and fresh mung bean sprouts… somehow resulting in next to no flavor. The dish is in desperate need of some more onions, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, hot peppers, cabbage… anything.
On the upside, a couple small packets of soy sauce are provided, administering a much-needed boost of sodium.
If you’re looking for a large and filling plate where flavor is an afterthought, this could be your jam.
In other news, service is unpredictable. Some employees are cheery and helpful and others, well, not so much.
We discovered this when we found we could no longer resist the lure of the famous Chinese Chicken Salad ($6.50 half/$9.75 full).
Pro tip: DO NOT TRY TO ALTER THE MENU.
And by “alter” we mean things like asking for your salad to be tossed with dressing. Because they won’t do that.
Fearful that they maybe thought we were referring to the Urban Dictionary meaning of the term, we switched gears and requested another paper plate upon which to execute our own tossing.
We were tersely informed that use of a second plate comes with a charge.
Ouch. Way to make us feel like an unreasonable prima donna.
Tossing complications aside, the salad featured more of the fresh romaine found in the side Caesar. It was then topped with a few shreds of carrot and red cabbage, cucumber slices, chicken, crumbled wonton pieces and sesame seeds.
The dressing is heavy with sesame oil – not our favorite thing – but it’s a solid choice for those who aren’t so into bread or in the market for something light.
We won’t split hairs about varying approaches to Chinese chicken salad and what it apparently takes to be famous these days, except to say we found this one fairly akin to something selected from a smattering of “grab and go” salads at the airport. On the upside, the chicken meat tasted like it came from a roasted bird rather than a deli counter, which is a nice touch.
As for the baked goods, well, the vast case of offerings look downright incredible, thus leading us to the conclusion that Stillwell’s is a bakery first and a cafe distant second.
If you’re in the area and craving a sandwich, it’s a reasonable option.
Otherwise, maybe just focus on the pastry case.
Stillwell’s Bakery and Cafe is located at 1740 Kaahumanu Avenue in Wailuku.
They are open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. but don’t forget: breakfast ends sharply at 10 a.m.