I don’t believe in writing super-negative restaurant reviews — unless the restaurant truly deserves it. Bada Bing in Kihei did, and this review, published in the 2008 edition of Top Maui Restaurants, was truly a pubic service. And, it turned out, a reader favorite.
Since Bada Bing! in Kalama Village closed several years ago, I’ve been told some true horror stories by former employees — the kinds of stories that assuage my guilt for penning such a takedown. If Jim and I saved even one person from spending their dollars there by publishing this review in the 2008 edition of the book, we did right by our readers.
from Top Maui Restaurants 2008
Ambience: 7 out of 25 possible points
Food: 6 out of 25 possible points
Service: 6 out of 25 possible points
Value: 7 out of 25 possible points
Overall: 26 out of 100 possible points
Bada Bing! takes center stage in Kalama Village, and at first it may look like a bargain. Outdoor seating, “home of the $10 bottle of wine” painted on the eaves, and when you take a peek inside you can see lots of old movie posters plastered on the walls and ceilings. The sign promises “New Jersey Italian” complete with East Coast attitude.
Pure marketing. They have (or had) an amazing writer. The menu is filled with funny little stories and upbeat promises . . . unfortunately, nothing is delivered.
The service is disinterested or snotty (depending upon how far they want to take the “Jersey” attitude). The food is worse than bland. It’s downright insulting. And the décor that looked so personable at first glance? Step inside to find air conditioning units that drip on tables, stuffing coming out of mismatched upholstered booths and the smell of mildewed dish towels. This is supposed to remind you of a “dive back home” – but unless you love paying a lot of money for nothing back home, why would you do it on Maui?
(We have nothing against dives done right. We’ll tell you at the end of this review where else to go in Kalama Village for dives that deserve your business, plus other better eating options in this popular shopping center.)
Sit outside on the Bada Bing! lanai for lunch and you could find yourself in the direct path of a trade wind coming up from Kalama Beach across the street. It carries the beach with it, depositing sand in your hair, drink, and plate. If the food were better, we’d get more upset.
All of that could possibly be forgiven if the food was cheap and reasonably good. But it just isn’t. For example, the “Jersey Sub” promises a classic Italian sub. What’s delivered is a slice of ham, a slice of pepperoni, a giant slice of flavorless tomato, and some shredded lettuce on a weak roll so soggy with oil you can’t pick it up before it slips out of your grasp. Once you manage it, your fingers sink into the soft, greasy bread and it all falls apart. Add oily fries sprinkled with stiffly flavored parmesan cheese, and you have a perfectly disgusting meal, all for the criminally high price of $14.
The chicken parmesan (which one waitress promised “would not disappoint”) is delivered on a super-hot fajita pan without a wooden pallet underneath to modulate the heat. We burn our fingers every time. Mozzarella cheese can hide a lot of culinary sins, which is the first red flag. The dish looks like a sweaty cheese blanket laid over globs of . . . what? Lift the cheese, and you’ll find strips of chicken, not cutlets, hulking in their soggy, flavorless breading over a mound of overcooked pasta. Not just overcooked, but actually crispy on the tips of the penne, as if they reheated pasta in a microwave before serving it. The sauce is watery and tastes like they dumped a can of diced tomatoes over the pasta. How much do you pay for this? $17.
And before you get too excited about $10 bottles of wine, don’t. That offer doesn’t stand. Inside the restaurant all the related marketing has been erased or taken down, and the staff informs us that it “cost too much” to continue that promotion.
If you are in Kalama Village, there are several good options that you should try instead. If you are looking for a dive, go to Life’s A Beach. If you have kids in tow and want a dive that won’t hurt their young sensibilities, go to Lulu’s. Pita Paradise is one of our favorite places for lunch – excellent and inexpensive Mediterranean food. Kihei Caffe does good lunches. Alexander’s is the best fish and chips on the island, and Fat Daddy’s just opened with some good down-home Texas barbecue. If you’re committed to Italian, go to Aroma Di Italia in the Foodland Plaza right next door. You’ll be greeted by a clean, welcoming restaurant with prices comparable to Bada Bing!, a friendly staff, and old-fashioned-no-surprises-excellently-prepared-delicious-and-comforting Italian-American cuisine.
Just like we had back in Jersey.
PS: Lest you think that I’m taking credit for or delighting in Bada Bing! closing, please note that Life’s a Beach and Fat Daddy’s remain open in the list above. Maui’s restaurant scene is tough, even for tourist traps and dives.