Opened in May, Makai Island Kitchen and Groggery on the Santa Cruz Wharf features what owner Peter Drobac describes as Hawaiian food and beyond, with flavors that draw on influences from Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine.
Housed in the same space that was previously occupied by Splash, Makai is open seven days a week from 11am-9pm. The food, décor, and music are all themed toward a tiki bar kind of atmosphere with an upscale Pan-Asian menu. Drobac talked to GT about the food and drinks, as well as his inspiration.
Where does your passion for Makai come from?
PETER DROBAC: My father and mother lived in Hawaii before I was born. Our family loves the ocean, and we wanted to do something different, so we combined those things with our love of Hawaiian food with a perfect oceanside location. What we love about Hawaiian food is it adopts flavors from all over the world, especially Asia.
What are some of the highlights on the menu?
Our most popular menu item is our barbeque pork sliders. The pork is smoked in-house, and the barbeque sauce is housemade. They are served on soft Hawaiian rolls with pineapple coleslaw and a side of macaroni salad. We also do a poke bowl with sushi grade ahi, rice, cucumber, jalapeño, onion, a dynamite Sriracha sauce, and furikake (a Japanese seasoning blend). And our Makai burger is super popular, too. It’s served with pineapple jalapeño chutney and kewpie mayonnaise, which is a Japanese mayo made with egg yolks only and no added salts or sugars. It gives the burger a rich feel and taste. I’ve never seen anyone else in Santa Cruz serve it.
What is your cocktail menu like?
We do classic tiki drinks along with some of our own creations. A classic tiki cocktail is the 1944 Mai Tai, created in that year by Victor Bergeron, and we do a classic preparation to honor that. It’s not the standard Mai Tai—there’s no pineapple juice, and it’s very balanced and complex. People love it. We also have a whole group of original cocktails created by our bartenders. My favorite is the Mermaid’s Kiss, which is a rare tropical drink made with bourbon. It has lemon, lime, and pineapple juice, orange bitters, and a touch of grenadine. It’s served on the rocks, and is bright in both color and flavor.
49A Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz. 831-466-9766, makaisantacruz.com.