Image: john chisolm

Where retro Hawai‘i meets a contemporary food consciousness


The sour factor is contained, the sweetness is pleasure but not exhausting, and the bowl is designed to remind us that what we eat is who we are.

In 2004, the açai phenomenon began. First there was the super-berry, multi-level marketing campaign that sold the juice for $40 a bottle (and never stopped charging peoples’ credit cards). Then there was Oprah, whose nutritional “experts” claimed the berry would melt the fat right off our bodies. And following her, of course, was Rachael Ray, who I’m pretty sure paired the juice with a plate of pasta and called it “balanced.” Eventually, we were all pretty tired of the celebrity fruit.

So when a friend of mine recently decided that she’d make it her summer mission to find the best açai bowl on the island, I thought–what’s the point? But every Tuesday we’d meet for coffee, practice our Italian, Hebrew or whatever else we were into at the moment, and then order the café’s signature açai bowl. Most of them were good, a few of them sucked and only one prompted this review.

Eating Across the Board

To be honest, the words “Health Bar” didn’t sound perfectly enticing, and pulling up to the Diamond Head Cove Health Bar’s tiny strip of jam-packed parking was a bit of a bummer. But it only took a second to figure out that the restaurant is much more a collection of like-minded people whose daily goals are to stay active, eat healthy and have a good time than a place where vegans and calorie-obsessed folks listen to each other’s sermons.

People are actually reading books and sipping kava while eating fresh fish wraps. They’re drinking carrot and celery juice while snugly chatting on sofas. There’s talk about surfing and skindiving, and there’s Island music, which ultimately reminds me that, perhaps, once-upon-a-time, this is what living in Hawaii felt like.

The fresh ahi wrap is a stunner for two reasons: it’s enough to feed two, maybe three, and the capers and onions and colorful leaves of lettuce taste like you’re eating something that’s twice the price ($9.25).

Next on the menu is the “Awesome Fresh Fish Salad with Magically Delicious Dressing,” and guess what, it is an awesome fresh fish salad with magically delicious dressing. The fish is made into fresh limu-shoyu poke and sprinkled with Kauai paa salt. It has garlic, onions, capers and mushrooms, and this mix is generously poured over greens bursting with broccoli, butter avocado and Molokai tomatoes.

I can’t go on without mentioning the jumbo hummus wrap stuffed with spinach, grated carrots and a tangy dressing made with Dijon mustard and mirin. Vegetarians will tell you anything to get you to try it, but this carnivore is telling you that it is perhaps the best wrap in town. I was scared of the texture; I was sucked in by the flavor; and I returned the following Friday.

Smoothies and “smoothie boosts” are to be expected at a place called the Health Bar, but an açai bowl topped with granules of bee pollen is not. “Da Mana Cove Bowl” ($8.50) is a double heaping of açai pulp topped with organic granola, blueberries, strawberries, bananas and sprinkled with bee pollen. What sets it apart from so many others is the proportion of açai to the other ingredients. The sour factor is contained, the sweetness is pleasure but not exhausting, and the bowl is designed to remind us that what we eat is who we are.

A Man and His Dogs

You’ll find the Health Bar just around the corner from the entrance to Diamond Head State Park. On the walls inside, you’ll find images of surfers, beaches and all the things you’d expect to find in some hippy joint in Haleiwa Town.

The images that stick out the most are of Marcus Marcos–a local surfing celebrity, actor, entrepreneur and the owner of the Health Bar. He was famous for surfing with his dogs, Pono and Hone, and when Marcos died in December of 2010, Waikiki and the island of Oahu lost someone who returned a piece of Hawaii back to Hawaii. And we’ll miss him for that.

Today, his wife Ann, their staff, local musicians, patrons and healthy food visionaries keep the Health Bar going strong. So why shouldn’t you eat at Diamond Cove Health Bar?

Don’t go if you’re too stuffy to sit on a couch near strangers who might actually have something important to say. Don’t go if you’re not willing to pay with cash. Don’t go if you think local musicians play in cafés and bars for the simple pleasure of paying the bills. This is a place for those who care more about saving something than spending something.

3045 Monsarrat Ave. #5 732-8744

Fighting the Blues with Kava (‘Awa)

According to the Health Bar’s website, kava (also referred to as ‘awa) is an age-old herbal drink that was the beverage of choice for the royal families of the South Pacific. Believed to originate from Melanesia, kava grows abundantly in the sun-drenched islands of Polynesia.

Although consumed for centuries by Pacific Islanders, it was only during Captain Cook’s voyage to the Pacific in 1768-1771 that white men first encountered the plant and its consumption in sacred ceremonies. According to Cook’s account, natives chewed or pounded the root and mixed it with water to produce a brownish, often bitter brew, which they then consumed for its psychoactive properties. A soothing drink with medicinal effects, kava is known to calm nerves or ease stress as well as anxiety while combating fatigue…the natural way.

Its special anti-depressant components fight the “blues” and induce a happy, tranquil state. It’s been used to treat migraine headaches and cramps, but unlike other drugs (or medicinal herbs) it keeps the mind alert as the body relaxes.

Diamond Head Cove Traditional Organic Hawaiian ‘awa ($5)
Diamond Head Cove Special ‘awa Smoothie: ‘awa, bananas, coconut milk and maple ($5.75)
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