Heeia Kea Pier: Locally-Sourced and Styled

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay: Locally sourced, and still local-style, at Heeia Kea Pier.

Photo: Courtesy Mark Noguchi

Off a sleepy, shore-hugging loop of Kamehameha Highway, a little after Kaneohe turns into country, lies Heeia Kea Pier. Maybe you remember it from small-kid time—this peaceful Kaneohe Bay spot has been a favorite haunt of the bamboo pole and bread-bait crowd for a generation. They’re still here. Little boats still bob gently in the electric-blue water. The beach is still lined with coconut palms and hau. Some guy, who may have been here since 1979, strums an ukulele and sings. And at the far end of the pier, out on the water, you’ll still find Heeia Kea Pier General Store and Deli.

Photo: David Croxford

Inside the deli, though, there’s someone new cooking up a storm: chef and proprietor Mark Noguchi, who (with partners from Vertical Junkies, the team behind locavore pizza joint V-Lounge), recently took over the deli’s operation. His impressive résumé includes a three-year stint at the Culinary Institute of America and a last stop at Town restaurant in Kaimuki, but don’t visit Heeia looking for foams and reductions, or even pine nuts. Noguchi (“Gooch” to his friends) is a shorts-and-slippahs kind of guy, and the deli’s 2011 incarnation is still a shorts-and-slippahs kind of place. It just happens to be built on fresh ingredients, local sourcing, seasonal menus and sustainable practices—at plate-lunch prices.

Food-wise, that means the day’s brief menu might include whole-fried papio that was swimming yesterday in Kaneohe Bay; juicy hamburgers made with grass-fed, hormone-free Kuahiwi Ranch beef; stir-fries of local vegetables; and sweet ice cakes (including the nostalgia-inducing Green River flavor) for the small fry. The health-minded can have brown rice, but old-fashioned, crinkle-cut fries are also in the works. “We’re trying to serve people more responsibly,” says Noguchi, but he isn’t a hard-liner either.

Photo: Courtesy Mark Noguchi

“The last thing I want to do is shake my finger and say, ‘This is good because it’s sustainable, organic and good for the earth,’” he says. “It is, but, no! First, it’s good because it’s yummy.”

It’s an approach that has already won a loyal following and made Noguchi a firm part of the pier’s community—which, to him, is as important as the food itself. “Some people are already calling it Gooch’s place,” he says, with a faraway look in his eye. In an era of short-lived eateries, it might even be Gooch’s place for another generation: his lease runs for 35 years.