Gluten-free Garden Island

KAPAA — Ordering gluten-free pasta sans meat and then asking my server to hold any cheese usually ends one of two ways at a restaurant.

Either the server hands me a scantly populated gluten-free menu, or they provide me with a blank stare and a promise to check with the kitchen.

That’s when I secretly wonder if they know what gluten is, and start imagining the havoc a bit of flour or soy sauce would wreak in my body.

But at Hukilau Lanai in Kapaa, the server not only knew the definition of my culinary nemesis, she told me if I had called ahead, the chef would have whipped up something like a quinoa-stuffed pumpkin.

I looked over the menu after she described a few options for me, and soaked in the restaurant’s ocean view and live music with my dinner companion. Another server dropped some bread on the table and he told me it wasn’t gluten-free before it touched the table.

I settled on spaghetti pasta with local vegetables and a red wine tomato sauce. It was the first thing I saw on the menu and instantly it inspired a craving for homemade, comfort food.

That’s what I got, but with a twist. The base of the dish was an evenly cooked pile of pasta, with a light amount of sauce and diced tomato. Roasted cauliflower, broccoli and peppers were sprinkled throughout; and it was topped with fresh, local sprouts.

A nostrum flower topped the dish. I couldn’t help myself, I ate that first and it tasted like a radish.

Kapaa isn’t the only place on Kauai that I’ve found a gluten-free oasis; there are actually dozens of restaurants on the island that can cater to celiac foodies.

Merriman’s Fish House in Poipu is another restaurant that will whip up something custom if their chefs have enough time in advance.

They work with local ingredients, have a fair amount of organic faire on their menu, and downstairs they serve a gluten-free pizza with a macadamia nut crumble that tastes like cheese.

The server at Merriman’s warned me the thin, crispy crust of their pizza isn’t completely vegan — it has a hint of buttermilk.

Mushrooms and kale top are placed on top of a thin layer of red sauce and then the entire pizza is finished with a heavy scattering of their signature macadamia nut crumble.

For dinner prices, the vegan pizza, as it’s named at Merriman’s, costs right around $17 and Hukilau’s pasta comes with a price tag in the $25 range.

It’s worth every bite, and leaves you feeling satisfied, but still able-bodied enough to wander around The Shops at Kukui’ula after dinner.

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