Swiss cuisine conjures up very recognizable images of Swiss cheese, fondues, cheese and potato dishes, but their lesser known cafe foods may be a bit more elusive. The Maui Swiss Cafe in Lahaina has been sneaking these flavors onto our American and Hawaiian palates for 17 years! I still remember the first time I tried one of their sandwiches that takes the usual deli ingredients of lettuce, tomato and cured meats and adds a Swiss touch of cream cheese, hard boiled eggs and pickles. I’ve been copying it ever since.
Current owner Rolf Egli (who is from Switzerland) came on board about five years ago when he bought the cafe from the original Swiss owners. Egli started as a customer first, always visiting the cafe when he came to Maui. After taking over he changed the menu a bit, removing the pizza but adding crepes, another Swiss specialty.
“If I am going to do something on the menu I am going to do it right,” Egli said. “I thought the pizza needed a brick oven, which would never fit in my kitchen. So we got the crepe irons instead, and make authentic and fresh crepes from scratch – savory and sweet.”
Egli’s philosophy is “good food, good mood” and he’s incorporated that into the cafe appearance and menu. The cafe strives to bring the European practice of sitting and enjoying your food. Egli is at his counter taking orders at least six days a week, spreading his Swiss version of the aloha spirit.
“Even if you only buy coffee, you can sit here and enjoy it as long as you like,” he said. “We have a little oasis here. We have a local that comes every morning to get his coffee here, for 17 years! I want to give people the feeling that they are welcome.”
The dining room is outdoors and casual. Round tables with pink umbrellas provide plenty of shade from the Lahaina heat. The food is served on paper plates with plastic ware – the epitome of comfortable and easygoing. But the food is tasty, and a nice diversion from the usual plate lunch or burgers and dogs.
The crepes are buttery hot and thin – egg and flour wraps that envelope meats, cheeses and vegetables, with breakfast and lunch options. The sweet crepes incorporate whipped cream, fruits, chocolate and ice cream. There are a lot to choose from. The Maui Special with brie, smoked salmon, tomato and horseradish is delicious. The menu is very vegetarian friendly: the grilled zucchini, asparagus, tomato and melted cheese sandwich and the caprese ciabatta sandwich are great options for veg heads.
At breakfast you can order smoothies, coffee, omelets, crepes and bagels with a variety of fillings. All crepes come with salad and sour cream, even at breakfast. Some newer off-the-menu items include a fresh baked Swiss fruit quiche, mango bread and hazelnut croissants. The cafe opens at 8am and stays open to 8pm. You can also get Roselani ice cream here in waffle cones, bowls, sugar cones and regular cones. Egli says the most popular flavor is Hawaiian coconut custard haupia.
Another service the Maui Swiss Cafe is well known for is providing an air conditioned business computer lab with Internet access and a printer. Folks can come down and check their email and Facebook pages, or even print boarding passes. They rent notebooks by the day or week, and Wi-Fi is available for $6/hour. They also always have a daily special with lunch, drinks and salad for $7.50.
The Swiss Cafe’s Front Street spot can be a little hard to see but Egli has created his own landmark: Fred Flinstone sitting in a grass skirted golf cart beneath a pink umbrella. Just turn in there next to the motorcycle rentals: there are a few parking stalls right in front for customers.
“We are off of Front Street just enough to be a bit more peaceful,” Egli says. “In Europe people will sit down and have a meal at a cafe and it can take hours. They savor the food, and talk and sip drinks. I want to have that touch here. I welcome people to enjoy their food. It’s made from scratch, and I don’t rush it.”