HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Wednesdays at “Uncle Robert’s”
You can always find something to do on a weekend night on the East side of the Big Island. Rock bands, jazz bands and movies are entertainment staples on Friday and Saturday evenings; some weekends there are stage-plays or theatrical musicals, too; and a few restaurants are destinations in themselves.
But suppose it’s Wednesday night. What is there to do in the middle of the week? Where can you go to listen to good music and eat great food?
The answer is: at the end of Hwy 137 in Puna (follow the signs to Kalapana). It’s there that you’ll find “Uncle Robert’s” – the nickname for a place, a destination, an experience, really, that’s part local culture, part family outing, part stage show, part farmers’ market, part crafts fair, and all fun.
Uncle Robert’s, in Kalapana, is the place to be on Wednesday nights
The eponymous uncle is Robert Kali’iho’omalu, whose ancestral compound has been the site of this extravaganza for the past four years. A few dozen vendors set up their food and craft booths in the late afternoon, and the music – under a large, purpose-built wooden shelter – gets under way around 5 o’clock. One of Uncle’s sons (Junior, by name) heads up the “house band,” but on the night you go, you may well hear other musicians too. And don’t be surprised to see some “aunties” get up and dance in front of the stage, just for the love of hula.
The music’s almost all Hawaiian – meaning local, and not exclusively in that sweet language. But the food defies categories. The last time I was there, I had beef ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, vegan spring-rolls, Korean-style chicken wings, and dairy-free ice cream made from coconut milk. I skipped the friend wontons, pumpkin curry and everything else because I was just too stuffed. And I didn’t even tempt myself by perusing the crafts, for fear I’d do all my Christmas shopping too early!
There’s plenty of room to eat great food, and listen to great music, at Uncle Robert’s
Before you jump in the car, be aware that there will be crowds, and that along the last stretch of road cars will be parked on both sides; so don’t be in a hurry to get there or to leave. There’s a big parking lot on the mauka side, right next to the entrance, for $5/car; but I recommend turning makai and parking on an asphalted stretch of lava, for just $2. (Incidentally, from there you can walk about a quarter-mile to the ocean, and see a newly-formed black sand beach – just don’t try to swim there: it’s too dangerous.)
Also remember: this place is not on the way to anywhere else – it’s a destination in itself, and truly at the end of the road. A few years ago, Madame Pele – that is: lava from Kilauea – closed the highway and smothered a couple of subdivisions. Less than a hundred yards past Uncle Robert’s, there’s no trace any more of Kaimu, a picture-perfect, coconut-fringed black sand beach. And nobody knows when “she” might send more liquid rock down there again. So don’t put off going to Uncle Robert’s any longer. Go next Wednesday!
You won’t go hungry at Uncle Robert’s – and you’ll probably wind up buying something handmade, too.