I needed lettuce. It was the deciding factor behind my third visit to eleventhe new cocktail and whiskey bar inside Foodland Ala Moana Farms. I had already been twice for this mission; I didn’t need to go back. But given Eleven opened in December just before the spike in COVID-19 cases, I had abandoned plans to come with friends, opting for quick solo visits instead — and I discovered that I like to drink cocktails alone. Also, there was the lettuce.
Minimalist and modern, Foodland’s latest foray outside of its traditional supermarket core sits just beyond the cash registers of the chain’s flagship store. It’s across from the popular R. Field Wine Co. bar, where you can park your cart and order a glass of wine with charcuterie. Eleven is not that kind of place. Aside from the faint lettering that reads “Small Plates & Artisan Cocktails,” nothing tells you there’s a bar behind the opaque glass walls. Inside, Japanese light fixtures drop from high ceilings, and the windows behind the bar overlook Pi’ikoi Street. Over 90 whiskeys line the shelves, including some awarded, from the United States, Scotland, Japan, India and other countries. Eleven offers them in nine concoctions ranging from neat to Manhattans and the most Instagrammed choice: applewood smoked, a bell jar raised beside the table to release smoky tendrils swirling around the drink.
But I’m here for the cocktails. There are 13, enough to satisfy a range of preferences. A colleague who experimented with pickling at home full-time for a week loved the Pickled Garden Vinegar ($13), made with Svöl aquavit; for me it’s a bit too bitter with the plants of the house shrub. Another who prefers martinis nodded her approval of Islay in London ($15), a good balance of Tanqueray No. 10 gin and 10-year-old Laphroaig single malt whiskey. Perched at the bar, I realize after six cocktails in three visits that my own preferences, which are smoky and citrusy, vary enormously with my mood. On good-humored days, I’m fond of the Hemingway Daiquiri ($13), whose fresh citrus welcomes first and balances the Kōloa rum and maraschino liqueur. On aimless days, I might start with a Kaka’ako Mule ($11), whose ginger beer invites indulgence but is best sipped for its notes of fresh cantaloupe and pineapple and its nice bite of serrano chile. . A day of focused efficiency might call for the balanced Negroni Bianco with gin and herbs ($15), which leads to the cocktail I’m curious to try next, Tonight or Never ($16), which combines gin and cognac with apricot liqueur. Foodland’s corporate mixologist Matt Rosskopf says it’s heavy on alcohol; with a name that translates to ‘tonight or never’, you’d expect nothing less.
The most fashionable of its cocktails is the esotericly named 400 Rabbits. At $19 for a 1.5 ounce casting, it’s also the most expensive and complicated to make. Small batches take two to three days and contain Tequila Fortaleza, yellow chartreuse, cocoa liquor, fresh orange and lime juice, clarified goat’s milk, and rooibos tea. Rosskopf named it after an Aztec legend in which the 400 rabbits born to the goddess of alcohol represent 400 ways to get drunk. That’s why the cocktail is all the rage – different drinkers taste different things. “All I taste is chocolate,” says a colleague, puzzled. For me, it opens with citrus and spice, like a tequila-tempered holiday candy, and ends on a sweet chocolate note. It is a delicious dessert cocktail.
As for food, there are snacks and toast at the bar. Full stop. It’s a way for Foodland to distinguish between two bars in the same store: At R. Field Wine Bar, you can order pūpū, sandwiches and hot dishes from a menu or bring and eat n any prepared meal from the rest of the store; At Eleven, you can eat popcorn, chips, nuts, or loaded toast (whatever other decision you make in this lifetime, take the bacon popcorn). I ate six of the seven toasts and the reality is better than it looks. Five that I would order again, including the butter-poached shrimp on brioche ($12), a light dish of tender bay shrimp with celery, lime, tobiko roe and pea tendrils on a smear of sour cream ‘tarragon; the salmon generously topped with sake on pumpernickel ($12) with cilantro cream cheese and all the seasoning; and Za’atar Roasted Beets over Rye ($9) with chunks of feta, toasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of honey. The only toast I wouldn’t repeat is from the waiters recommended on all three visits: Ho Farms Tomato on Ciabatta ($11) with Tomato Jam, Bacon and Tabasco-Worcestershire Aioli; it is only the sum of its parts.
Against the wave of cocktail bars that have opened in Honolulu since last summer, Eleven is easy to place. It’s not fancy; and the food is not prepared by chefs from Michelin star restaurants (hi, Podmore and Bar Maze), or themed (it’s you, Heyday and EP Bar). It skates in a space between mundane and accessible, the direction Foodland has chosen to compete in a new world order that pits it against Costco, Whole Foods Market, Walmart, and Target. And Eleven, named after the much smaller Foodland that closed in Ala Moana Center in 2014 – it was 11 in the chainand store – is, of course, Hawaii’s only cocktail bar in a supermarket. Which is so handy when you need lettuce.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd, (808) 949-5044, eleven.hnl.com, @eleven.hnl