Outside of the cozy takeout-style eatery, there’s a line. It’s 1:45 p.m., 15 minutes before chef and owner Sheldon Simeon closes for the day, but there’s still a strong demand for a bowl of his ‘ono comfort-food grinds.
Tin Roof is nestled between an art gallery and a payday loan store in Dairy Center, a nondescript strip mall off the bustling Dairy Road in Kahului near the airport. Don’t let the location deter you. What Tin Roof lacks in ambiance and abundant seating—I saw people eating in the parking lot, even in their cars—it more than makes up for in food.
Simeon, along with his wife, Janice, opened Tin Roof this April. “It’s like our fifth baby,” says Janice with a laugh. The Hawai‘i-born-and-raised couple (she from Maui, he from Hawaii Island) have four children and, in the past year, they joke they’ve had another. The Simeons poured their savings into the neighborhood eatery, and spent nearly a year transforming the space from its former life, a 20-year-old Japanese bento shop, Koko Ichiban Ya. “A lot of the work that was done [to Tin Roof] was done by friends and family,” says Simeon, adding that Janice made the wood door to the kitchen. “Some would work construction all day, then come up here and do drywall.”
Tin Roof was an immediate hit. It’s partly because of Simeon’s status as a celebrity chef, although, in true local style, the fame hasn’t gone to his head. He’s a two-time James Beard semifinalist and won fan favorite by viewers during season 10 of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in 2012. Simeon has worked and been head chef at several of Maui’s institutional restaurants, including Aloha Mixed Plate, Star Noodle and, most recently, the former Migrant Maui at the Wailea Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa.
But the restaurant’s success is also partly because the takeout joint filled a much-needed void in quality, yet affordable, local food on the island. Unlike Simeon’s previous culinary endeavors, Tin Roof is all his. “It was exactly what I envisioned and hoped for,” says Simeon, “to be integrated into the community. All we wanted to do was open an honest eatery. We wanted a place for locals and visitors alike to come and get a good meal.”
Simeon’s simple, community-rooted concept is reflected throughout Tin Roof, from the comfort-food menu serving rice bowls to the approachable takeout counter and affordable prices—most bowls are $8 or $9. Even the meaning of the eatery’s name evokes Simeon’s humble Hilo roots. “It’s the sound of the rain coming down on the roof and the simple living.”
The small menu at Tin Roof is the result of Simeon’s sharpened culinary experiences and his family’s traditions. His family’s passion for cooking helped ignite his career and Simeon draws from Hawaii's diverse food traditions, including his grandparents’ time working on a sugar plantation, who migrated to Hawaii from the Philippines. They were the inspiration for Tin Roof’s “kau kau tins” (kau kau meaning “to eat” in Hawaiian Pidgin English). The classic kau kau tin was a bottom layer of rice, blanketed by vegetables and meat and topped with kimchi. The kau kau meal was a blending of the different cultures as they enjoyed a brief reprieve from working in the plantation fields.
With the Tin Roof takeout bowls, Simeon honed in on these simple ingredients to create polished dishes. Each bowl is made to order. I watch as Simeon and his crew—many of whom have been with him for years—deftly maneuver in the 580-square-foot space, quickly and efficiently filling bowls for the closing-time crowd. In the four hours each day Tin Roof is open, they make 350 bowls. It’s impressive.
Tin Roof’s No. 1 seller is the mochiko chicken bowl. Because this is Simeon’s dish I’m trying, I know this won’t be any ordinary fried chicken. The chicken is brined overnight in gochujang marinade. It’s then battered and fried, and refried to order. Simeon tops it off with a miso sauce, gochujang and roasted garlic aioli and housemade furikake mochi. The mochiko chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. You can’t go wrong in ordering any of the other bowls; they’re all winners. Simeon says his favorite is the pork belly. “It’s my favorite ingredient to cook with. I’ve eaten it all my life,” he says. “This is a polished bowl of what lechón would be,” he says, with tomatoes on the side and a housemade vinaigrette.
Even the side dishes shine. One of my favorites was the Beet Box, roasted, then fried, beets, topped with kale, mayonnaise and furikake. The kale salad with kimchi, roasted peanuts and Maui onion potato-chip crumbles will make you want to eat kale everyday. “We’re always thinking of better ways to make a dish,” says Janice.
Tin Roof • Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 360 Papa Place, Suite Y, Kahului, Maui, (808) 868-0753, tinroofmaui.com. Be sure to get there early.