Santa Monica, CA 90401
By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA | Reporter
Growing up on the Big Island, Chef Makani Gerardi would watch her father hunt and fish to provide food for the family. When her parents split, she was determined to keep the culinary standard of her Hawaiian home at a high level, honing the skill set that she possesses today, and the ability to create the masterful burgers served at Pono Burger in Santa Monica.
For Makani, the art of the hamburger is not about being the fastest or about making the biggest grease stain on your shirt, it is a spiritual journey—something she had learned from her time as a private chef and traveling around the world.
“I realized that everything that I had seen in the private chef world and in the culinary world was very high brow,” Makani told the Palisadian-Post. “And the thing that I love about burgers is that its very approachable. When you look across this room you see everybody. All walks of life, every gender, every age.”
The room she was describing was a World War II Quonset hut, a rustic structure carefully placed from east to west to avoid letting in traffic noise from Broadway.
When you finish marveling at the novelty of the environment, you can start to make the impossible decision of which menu item to choose. We ordered something from every corner of the kitchen.
First on the table were the Tempura Blue Lake Green Beans with a spicy yuzu sauce. The delicate crunch of the tempura mimicked that of a French fry but with more of a kick, getting our palates ready for what was yet to come.
Living up to the hype, the Paniolo burger was set before us. The organic beef patty was hugged by English Oak smoked cheddar, Niman Ranch bacon, a Kona coffee bourbon barbecue sauce and to finish showing off, beer battered onion rings.
The common conundrum of trying to figure out how to take a bite out of a large burger was non-existent as your taste buds take command of your motor skills and demand to taste the beefy creation.
Immediately after the clean taste of the organic beef lets you know you won’t be regretting this food choice later, the flavors of the onion rings and barbecue sauce come hula dancing in.
We had no choice but to order something else, curious to see what else Makani had hidden up her sleeve—she was hiding an ace.
The Spicy Kuawa Crunch took the crown as most creative item on the menu. The culinary masterpiece fit a patty, homemade coleslaw, a spicy guava rum sauce and purple potato chips between two buns and called itself a burger. The chips gave just the right amount of crunch to the soft ingredients, resulting in a balanced sandwich.
Adding more stability to the table, we drank a strand 24th St. Pale Ale, a beer that was obvious in its qualification to be paired with such cuisine.
Aside from having just devoured two burgers, we were just getting started.
We took on a Farmer’s Market Salad to clean our palates before wishing we had started our day with Makani’s Breakfast Sandwich, a light bite hosting scrambled eggs, Niman Ranch bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, baby kale and a drizzle of white truffle oil.
If you haven’t caught on by now, Makani has sifted through every ingredient possible, looking for not only the right kind, but the best ingredients to knock a person who just ate three hamburgers out of their seat.
And just in case a customer is on the fence, Makani seals the deal with award-winning milkshakes made out of salted caramel sauce with Niman Ranch housemade bacon bits.
After moving to the mainland, Makani moved next door to Palisadian Andrea Heindel, who eventually became director of sales and marketing for all things Pono Burger. She has now made it possible for burger enthusiasts to rent out the Quonset huts for private events.
“When you love something and you believe in it, then it’s easy to talk about it and it’s easy to, if you want to say, ‘sell it’ or have people come here because you want to share this good food with other people,” Heindel said.
The duo are now working toward opening a new restaurant in Venice, with details being kept under wraps for now but, judging by the culinary style of Makani thus far, the new space will not disappoint.