I am standing in line at Java Kai Hanalei. A sign behind the counter reads, “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy,” and I hope the free puppy this coffee shop on Kauai is handing out today isn’t my dog Lulu.
There’s always a line out the front door of Java Kai, a converted plantation house in the place many like to call the “sleepy surfer town of Hanalei.” Sometimes the line goes out the door and down the two steps into the grass. I arrive, intending to grab a cup of tea and sit at one of the picnic tables on the lawn and write—with my black-and-white heeler mix at my side.
But, then, during the five minutes I stand waiting to order—and Lulu sits patiently outside; good girl, Lulu—I watch as plate after plate comes out of the kitchen. A woman calls out, “Kauai Waffles” and delivers the goods like a sacred offering. Said waffles are piled high with papaya, banana and whipped cream sprinkled with mac nuts.
And I cave. I don’t need to read the menu written on a chalkboard behind the counter of bagels and homemade pie. I’m a sucker for the smell of baked goods and sugar.
Signs out front indicate Java Kai sells “Home-made panini sandwiches. Fresh fruit smoothies. Frozen coffee drinks.” They do a brisk breakfast business. From fresh fruit plates to egg and bacon sandwiches to ham-egg-and-potato skillets, a breakfast burrito, granola and, of course, those waffles.
My mind is easily swayed. I’m told it’s because I am a double-Pisces. But I should have changed my drink order when I discover the chai is made from a powdered mix. Because there are nearly 50 selections of tea here.
There is one person taking orders and another running the cash register. Bags of Hanalei Coffee Roasters coffee and branded t-shirts line two walls. A surfboard painted with a wispy mermaid hangs over the cash register. Tables, all full, line the covered lanai. A man pulls a book and journal out of a Ziploc bag, his large backpack sitting beside him. He sips from a coffee cup that, I swear, is as big as his face. Three young people sit around a table, playing scrabble.
It’s a scene as sweet and quaint as any Norman Rockwell-turned-tropics painting.
Through an old-time wooden windowpane, I watch as Lulu sits, wagging her white-tipped tail and receives pets from visitors. A little girl with her bikini-bottomed behind peeking out below a pink-striped t-shirt exclaims, “I miss my dog.”
I sit outside on the lawn, waiting for my waffles. It’s the time of day when the grass-umbrella-covered picnic tables don’t throw off much shade. There is no angle to the sun. Water from an early morning rain shower puddles on the picnic table and its benches. A maintenance worker walks around scooping up rubbish and dead leaves.
Cotton-ball-style clouds float high above Namolokama, the mountain gracefully backdropping Hanalei. She stands in full relief, her long, thin waterfalls striating all that green like strands of hair. A carpet of taro fields runs from the nearby parking lot to the foot of Namolokama, a field of greens waving in the light tropical breeze. It’s quite the sight. The one possible blemish in this picture-perfect spectacle is a corkscrew cloud that reminds me of a contrail I’ve seen before after a PMRF rocket fire training exercise.
A man in a safari hat, long-sleeved hiking shirt and long pants made of quick-drying fabric walks down the sidewalk. A guy on a beach cruiser pedals by, and I think he looks familiar. A blonde baby wearing nothing but a diaper toddles on the lawn—half-walking, half-crawling—from mom to dad. She wearing a bikini top and wings tattooed across her lower back and he bare-chested, wearing jeans and a smoldering scowl to match his dark sunglasses. Cars pass, headed north to the end of the road. A truck with surfboards stacked in its bed stops to let people cross the road.
There are the sounds of birds and palm fronds chattering in the air. A car alarm is silenced after three long beeps.
Across the street, workers at Bouchons open its restaurant windows, preparing for lunch. Next door, voices and the clattering of dishes emerge from behind a shuttered Bubba's Burgers.
There are more couples. Families. People walking arm in arm. Young. Old. Trim. Fat. Earbuds. Backpacks. Visors. Swimsuit straps sticking out of sundresses. Sunglasses on strings. Yoga mats.
And I am surprised to note only one woman on a cell phone and not a laptop to be seen. Not even an iPad. Sure, the place doesn’t offer WiFi, but really? This is a coffee shop. Maybe that moniker, “sleepy surfer’s town” is true. And maybe it rubs off on visitors.
My waffles are delivered, with maple and coconut syrup and that enticing scent—wafting in the air as tangible and visible as a sweet, sweet smoke. It winds its way to my belly, making my tummy grumble with delight and my mouth water. I’m not the only one. Lulu sits in front of me, eyes on the waffles—lasers stronger than and as effective as any military rocket. I know what this dog wants. And it’s not a pat on the head. There is no wagging tail. Just a drooling mouth.
The sun rises higher, casting shade onto the table now. Lulu finds a spot of cool grass—after her reward, of course, because she has been such a good girl. Other houses-cum-shops surround Java Kai in a cozy family of buildings and retail establishments. There’s Shave Ice Paradise next door, with a sign that says, “Try our mac nut milkshake.” A banner outside Bubba’s reads, “Bubba’s uses only Kauai grown beef.” There’s Niedes Bar & Restaurant, serving Mexican food. The gift shops Sand People and Yellowfish Trading Co. Harvest Market. Hanalei Massage. Yoga Hanalei. A tapas-style, high-end dinner restaurant, Bar Acuda.
A few minutes after 10:00, the shave ice stand opens its wooden shutters, and at 10:22, according to my iPhone, a line starts to form outside Bubba’s. Lunch time? Already?