The Unvegan

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Following Our Driver to Trader Jack’s

Prime real estate.

When we first arrived in the Cook Islands, we asked our airport driver where we should go to get a good meal. Hoping to get some sort of local insight, he recommended Trader Jack’s to us. His sentiments agreed with the brief food research we had done before coming to Rarotonga – Trader Jack’s was a must-eat. It took us until day two to get there, but when we got there we found it nicely situated on the shore of the Pacific with a beautiful view of the mountains in the background. And after half a day of hiking those mountains with Pa, it seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

I guess the view from our table was decent.

Trader Jack’s is not simply a restaurant, though. It also has a bar and a pizza parlor, so when we arrived at 5:30, we grabbed a drink at the bar while waiting for the restaurant section to open at 6:00.

When it opened, our beer waitress told us we should get in as quickly as we can to ensure we got a good table. Good tables here meant by the window, which wasn’t actually a window but an open, glassless space overlooking the ocean. Sure, you could see the ocean from other tables, but these were prime and we snagged the last one.

The menu at Trader Jack’s was chock-full of seafood, but after a sandwich of fresh tuna on Pa’s trek, I was eager to see how Trader Jack’s could handle chicken. I ordered the Roast Chicken, but we started out by sharing an appetizer of cheesy pizza bread.

Quick, how do you say “opa!” in Cook Islands Maori?

And let me be the first to tell you that the pizza bread was amazing. The cheese on top was melted down and nicely browned and had a flavor similar to how I remember saganaki (that Greek cheese that restaurants like to set on fire). Perhaps this was only due to the taste of the browning, but whatever the reason, it was awesome. Under the cheese was a nice layer of herbs and garlic, which were good, but did not overpower the taste of the cheese. Finally, under that layer was delicious, crispy flatbread. It was a great start to the meal.

Yeah, that’s pretty much a whole chicken.

But the real king of the meal came with my main course. My roast chicken was served on mash, with creamed rukau, stuffing and herb gravy. Okay, so the menu lied a little bit and stuffing was nowhere to be seen, but they more than made up for it with the size of the chicken and the deliciousness of the mash. And the rukau, for those of you wondering, turned out to be spinach. I avoided this and went to work on the meat and potatoes.

As mentioned before, the chicken was huge, but it also had some great flavor from the gravy. The mash, though, was the highlight. I don’t know the last time I’ve eaten such creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, but I do know that before this meal it had been way too long.

Trader Jack’s was so good, in fact, that it was the only restaurant that merited a return visit during our all-too-short vacation. Sure, the real reason for the return was to meet up with some new friends, but if the food wasn’t good we certainly were ready to drop the friends like a bad habit and try a new place. Good thing this wasn’t the case. And all I will say from that return visit is that if you order pizza and don’t like mayonnaise, be sure to tell your server or you may end up with your weekly intake of condiments on your pizza. It will be pretty, but not so easy to scrape off. But I digress…Trader Jack’s is awesome.