Located across from the King Kamehameha hotel’s parking lot (validated by Quinn’s), sits a funky blue painted wood-framed, single-story building fronted with a few parking spaces that are normally filled with the biggest, jacked up, 4-wheel drive vehicles on island. Looking like a vision right out of old Tijuana, all that’s missing is the perfunctory sombreros and 20 ft long hanging taxidermied spearfish. The stuffed marlin is actually inside somewhere on a wall, probably close to the dark bar on your left as you enter the doorway. The usual suspects are normally seated at the counter, hugging their barstools as though some authority might actually force them to relinquish control of their hallowed seat.
Whenever I visit Quinn’s, I immediately think about “The Curse of Lono” – and if you haven’t read that book by Hunter S. Thompson, you must look for it at used book stores because it may be out of print.
I have heard the stories of how “old Kona” was back in the 50’s and 60’s in the village. Famous movie stars escaped here because they could party, relax, and not be disturbed by the omnipresent paparazzi. The joke was that every ‘has-been’ moved to Kona and disappeared into the vast rural landscape of South Kona. I’ve been told that back in the day, the town was full of divorced female realtors, ready to party, and men flocked to the likes of Huggo’s, Quinn’s, Red Pants and the old steak house to take full advantage.
A handful of former hotspots have survived the decades of progress, and Quinn’s is on the agenda for today.
Take a gander at the specials, handwritten on a board at the entry. There’s another specials board back in the patio in case you forget. The waitresses are recognizable to oldtimers, and do not write any orders down, probably because they can recite the menu in their sleep. The patio is a cool departure from the dark and claustrophobic bar entry, with natural plantings growing out of lava rock and surrounding walls. In this quiet oasis, meals are consistently good and freshly caught fish from the deep blue Kona ocean is the standard menu item.
A ordered basket of INFAMOUS onion rings ($6.75) are plopped in the middle of the table to share while we decide on our lunch choices. Sweet onions, drenched in beer batter are deep fried to a tender crisp, and served with ranch dressing.
Fresh Ono Fish & Chips ($11.75) are what this place is famous for – DO NOT order the mahimahi (frozen-grrr) – a travesty to serve frozen fish in Kona!! When the Ono are running, they are running to Quinns! You will not be disappointed with this choice. Tina noted that there was more fish than batter, a good thing. Terri relayed that although deep-fried, they must have drained it properly on paper towels in the kitchen because the batter remained light and crispy.
Lightly seasoned fries, substantial green salad or coleslaw are accompanying options. Like any great fish-n-chip joint, Quinn’s provides a bottle of the necessary malt vinegar on each table. Terri, always the planner, brought one along just in case!
To mix things up, Mei substituted some of the ono for shrimp! The Fish-n-Shrimp Combo for $11.95 appeared just as tasty as it’s mothership and was evident in it’s portions – 2 large shrimp and 3 big pieces of ono, along with cocktail sauce and Mei’s salad choice.
Forewarned that our lunch stop would land at Quinn’s, Carolyn planned ahead and brought along a jar of locally prepared Calamondin Jam, which bore a vague resemblance to orange marmalade. And good thing – 3 orders of this restaurant’s acclaimed Monte Cristo Sandwich deserved more than the usual jelly packets habitating our table’s rather jam-packed “full-of-condiments” lazy susan.
The Monte Cristo ($9.95) did not disappoint with layers of ham, turkey and swiss cheese stacked in between slices of white bread, dredged in an egg/panko batter and gingerly deep fried. I’ve enjoyed this a few times before and it remains consistent – just as the Ono Fish-n-Chips! Carolyn’s jam complemented the savory melt wonderfully. This sandwich also benefits from a more tangy jelly or jam (such as guava) to offset the sweetness of the accompanying powdered sugar. Because of the richness of this offering, I took half of it home for dinner, whereupon it was immediately devoured by my famished spouse. The origin of the Monte Cristo sandwich remains hotly debated on various websites, but I recognize that it closely resembles a ‘croque monsieur’ that I enjoyed in a Paris café years ago. Another site notes that a cloned and improved version started showing up on menus in truck stop cafes of the 1950’s.
But here we are, lounging in the patio bedecked for an upcoming Halloween celebration. Fuzzy cobwebs and plastic spiders, along with a skull sitting atop a fountain with water spewing from it’s bony aperture warn of upcoming events in crazy Kona town.
Terri brought dessert in the way of a large portion of leftover chocolate birthday cake from a recent celebration for her hubby. After all the deep-fried chow, there were no takers on board and the rich sugar fix was left for the waitstaff to enjoy. All in all, our total bill amounted to $16.50 each including tax and tip.
A visit to the lua behind a wooden partition surprises me in it’s cleanliness. Leftover blue paint from the exterior of Quinn’s appears on the bathroom walls to extend that “almost-by-the-sea” aura. An orange life preserver from the S. S. Independence (a gift from an intoxicated tourista?) adorns a wall and clashes with a hand painted mural of what appears to be an Indonesian village scene. I think it’s supposed to resemble old Kona, but the depiction of the smokin’ Hualalai in the background looks rather frightening!
I parked next door at the Kona Seaside Hotel, just uphill of Quinn’s, ignoring the very visible “YOU WILL BE TOWED” warnings, and sighed with relief that my car was still there. Some played it safe and parked across the street at the King Kam, with validated ticket in hand. Of course, if you can squeeze in, there is parking right out front!
Passing the bar on the way out afforded some great photo opportunities of signcraft on the wall. I would not dare to take a picture of the bar regulars – besides, you would most likely see the same people sitting there for weeks at a time…
Quinn’s – Almost by the Sea: a must stop for lunch or dinner in Kona. The locals eat here and so do the cops. That should tell you something!
Quinn’s Almost by the Sea: 75-655A Palani Rd, Phone 808-329-3822
Open daily 11AM – 11PM