The Kona Tap Room: Eat, Drink and Be Happy
If you haven’t been to the Hilton Waikoloa Village lately, you’re missing out on West Hawaiʻi’s fresh new gastropub, The Kona Tap Room.
The idea behind a gastropub is incorporating good food into a traditional drinking establishment. The first use of the term “gastropub” traces back to 1991 in London, England. British pubs weren’t known for their culinary creations—they were traditionally drinking houses with little attention given to the quality of food.
Today, the traditional pub grub now includes more palatable choices, such as chili and burgers.
Chef James Niesen, Executive Chef Hans Lentz and Chef Dane Tanabe of the Hilton Waikoloa have stepped it up even further and developed a delicious gourmet menu for the Kona Tap Room, the property’s newest dining experience.
“Creating the menu was a joint effort with Chef Hans and Chef Dane,” said Chef James. “It was a collaboration, getting everyone together and choosing what we would serve on the menu. My favorite is the Pulled Short Rib Sliders. It’s a house-made short rib with a sunny-side-up quail egg on top and a sriracha aioli.”
Executive Chef Lentz was born and raised in Germany, and is no stranger to good beer and food. He explains how the chefs all gathered to sample different foods and pair them with the beer offerings.
“The inspiration behind the menu was a gastropub vibe with all the different beers,” said Chef Hans. “We want to get people sitting around the table enjoying the beer and enjoying the food. We had food tastings with the beers. Food with beer has to be a dominant taste. I’m German, and when we serve beer in the brew hauses, the food has to be dominant. You cannot eat this food with a glass of wine— it just would not match. But with beer, it has a body. Beer has a very strong independence, so the food has to live up to the beer.”
Chef Hans gave the responsibility of highlighting local products on their menu to Chef James and Chef Dane. This delegation proved exceptional with the addition of one of the stand-out menu items, the Poke Nachos made with wonton chips and sprinkled with furikake.
Chef James began his restaurant career in the front of the house, bartending and serving. He became intrigued with the culinary aspect of his work and started cooking at home. He decided he wanted to make a change to the back of the house and began his journey to becoming a chef. He graduated from the American Culinary Federation in Denver, Colorado, and honed his culinary skills in various locations around the country.
“I was was always fascinated with the back of the house—the culinary aspect, so I started cooking at home a lot,” he said. “I continued to grow my culinary skills with the different places I’ve worked and I feel I’ve really found a home here at the Hilton in the Kona Tap Room.
The chefs agree that the goal of the Kona Tap Room is to create a gastropub environment where people can eat, drink, and enjoy themselves.
“The beer is the main attraction,” said Chef Hans. “We have 18 or 19 different types of beer on tap. Tap beer is so much better than beer from a bottle or can. The second reason to come here is the location. It’s such a beautiful place—and the food is the casual bystander that closes the deal. It’s a reason to stay. We want people to drink a little bit, eat a little bit, then drink a little bit more, then eat a little more. If we can do this, then we’ve achieved what we wanted. So basically our goal is to have people drink beer, be happy and have food.”