Eat Local Comfort Food in a Historic Setting
Rising star chef Mark Noguchi has opened a lunch café called Mission Social Hall and Café.
Photos: Lavonne Leong
I’ve known Mark Noguchi since he was a kolohe schoolboy with more energy than he knew what to do with. Then I ran into him a long time later, after he’d blown through a few lives, dancing with a hālau in Hilo, and sharpening his knife skills in New York with the Culinary Institute of America. At the time, he was working hard in the kitchen of Town in Kaimukī, but I could already tell that A) he was going somewhere, and B) his heart was in the right place.
In 2009, at a personal crossroads, Noguchi partnered with the then-owners of V Lounge to reinvent He‘eia Kea Pier Deli as a local food joint that was truly local, with as much food sourced from the ahupua‘a as possible and prices within reach of the people who fished at the pier. Within a year, the Pier was popping up in national magazines as a foodie travel destination.
Then he reinvented himself again, as half of Pili Hawai‘i, a food company that did catering and plenty more besides, this time with life partner Amanda Corby. Pili became the force behind some of the island’s most talked-about culinary experiences, and Noguchi has become one of the faces of Hawai‘i’s new food movement, rocking the house at TEDxHonolulu and appearing in or on the Food Network, the Cooking Channel, Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine. Last year, Hawai‘i Business magazine named him one of its 20 for the next 20, a list of community leaders who are taking Hawai‘i into its next iteration. A lot has happened in the last six years.
Now, Pili has a Mission—the Mission Social Hall and Café, on the green, tranquil grounds of the Mission Houses Museum at the edge of downtown Honolulu. Mission opened last month and already feels like it’s settled in. “Comfort food with a nod to history,” says the tagline for its short but sweet menu.
The café serves a lunch roster that’s sourced as locally as possible, loosely and creatively inspired by the ingredients of Hawai‘i’s missionary era. Right now, that means kūlolo and haupia next to “haole” brownies (blondies); a lū‘au stew (Noguchi’s signature dish, which always sells out) alongside a classic Victorian-era chicken curry salad sandwich. Noguchi’s attention to detail shows in the little things: the still-crunchy seeded croutons in the minestrone, the locally sourced toppings for the lū‘au, always with a vegan option.
On the third Wednesday of every month, Mission Social Hall hosts its Family Pau Hana, an evening best described as happy hour for families. For parents, there’s beer and wine and a full menu of family-friendly Pili specialties, and for kids, there’s plenty of green space to play and dance to Uncle Wayne and the Howling Dog Band. It’s BYOB: Bring your own (picnic) blanket.
Why a family pau hana? In the last couple of years, Noguchi and Corby have gained a marriage license and a baby girl, and now there’s another one on the way. “Family supersedes everything,” he says. Pili has evolved again, and it’s taking us with them.
$6 for small dishes, Mission Social Hall and Café, Mission Houses Museum, 553 S. King St., 447-3910, Tuesday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.