Believe it or not, there are elk on Maui. I know that’s an odd way to begin a food blog entry, but there’s a very good reason for that: You can eat them. Granted, you have to drive halfway up a mountain to do it, but it’s worth the trip. Unless you’re one of the elk.
Ulupalakua Ranch (say that three times real fast) is not exactly the type of place you just swing by for a bite, unless perhaps you have a helicopter. [Note to self: Buy helicopter, move to Maui.] Getting to this place takes time, research, a potentially voided rental car contract, and the better part of a tank of gas. Ulupalakua Ranch is nestled on the side of Haleakala, Maui’s eastern most mountain peak. Fun fact: That last sentence represents 100% of my knowledge of Hawaiian geography.
After a somewhat tiring but breathtakingly scenic drive, my blushing bride and I found ourselves standing outside the ranch store. The only thing we’d had to eat for the past several hours was a half a package of dried pineapple and some samples of lavender tea, so we were good and ready for some real food, dammit. We walked to the back corner of the store and found a modestly-sized menu board with a number of tasty options. As you’d expect from an eatery located on a ranch, most of the menu choices had hooves at one point – no complaints here. For the more empathetic types out there, Ulupalakua Ranch also offers salads and garden burgers.
” Most of the menu choices had hooves at one point “
I considered the elk burger for a while (apparently it’s excellent), but I was feeling more hungry than adventurous so I ordered the beef burger with Swiss and bacon. Baaacconnnnn. My wife was braver than I was and decided on a lamb burger with cheddar and barbecue sauce. Hmm, not too sure about that, but I guess we’ll see. Lamb is one of those things that’s either just amazing or absolutely horrifyingly awful, depending on the quality and freshness of the cut. The closer it is to prancing and bleating, the better.
While we waited for our food we browsed the rest of the store. It contained a charming and eclectic mix of Hawaiian knick-knacks and cowboy gear, as well as a decent collection of locally produced food items. We grabbed a couple bags of Maui onion potato chips (that were made in Texas *cough*) and headed out to the patio.
Our burgers came straight off of the grill a few minutes later, perched atop impossibly fresh toasted buns and accompanied by a standard collection of toppings. The beef burger, although straightforward and otherwise unremarkable, was one of the juiciest and most flavorful I have experienced in a very long time. I guess it helps when your beef comes from the other side of your own property instead of the globe.
As for the lamb burger… Ok, honestly I was a bit apprehensive to give it a try but hey! It wasn’t bad at all. In fact it was downright superb, and I was quite pleasantly surprised. My wife began thwacking me on the head with a plastic utensil as I stole another large bite of her sandwich, saying something about “Hey, go get your own!” I was too engrossed in the excellent flavor to really notice, so I just pretended not to hear. (It works when I’m being beckoned outside for yard work, so why not right?)
Ulupalakua Ranch earns an honest and enjoyable 11.3 out of 15 gallons of rental car gas. It’s a bit too far off the beaten path to really make it worth the effort, but if you’re already on that side of Maui definitely pay this place a visit. If you’re crazy enough to attempt the drive to Hana, this also makes a very nice stop along the way.
Kula, HI 96790
Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.