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Onetime Maui residents bring a Pacific expertise to restaurant in bookstore

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 12:35 a.m.

When Eddie Myers and Alyson Crispin were asked to be the chefs at the Hartwood Restaurant 10 years ago, Myers told owners Don and Molly Montgomery he needed four things from them.

The first stipulation was that the restaurant would give away food at times to serve as the majority of its advertising. The second condition involved Myers' attire.

"I don't wear whites, just surf shorts and aloha shirts," says Myers, who worked as a chef in Maui for 18 years before coming to Pittsburgh. "The third thing was that the menu had to be small and printed daily to weekly, depending on what is available."

The fourth condition?

"I don't do pasta," he says. "Everyone does it, and I don't want to be a pasta house. I want us to be known for serving some of the best entrees in Pittsburgh."

Hartwood Restaurant has enjoyed critical acclaim, especially for its seafood creations, ever since it opened in 2000, due in large part to the expertise of Myers, 52, and Crispin, 54. The couple met in Maui while working at the five-star Mama's Fish House, and brought their blend of Pacific Rim and Polynesian cuisine to the 180-seat restaurant on Harts Run Road in Indiana Township. In addition to the Montgomerys, Hartwood is owned by Jeff and Kate Fenton and Steve and Robin McCarthy.

Beginning as a charming bookstore and coffee shop, the Hartwood has morphed into an elegant yet comfortable place, with secluded tables interspersed among the bookshelves. A more formal dining area, the Garden Room, features large round tables covered with white tablecloths, and a balcony used for special occasions. An outside patio seats 100 additional diners, in season.

Even on the coldest days, Myers can be found in the expansive kitchen wearing his signature plaid shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.

"Our cooking philosophy is to prepare the freshest products available throughout the year," says Myers, who was born in Long Beach, Calif., and moved to Maui when he was 24. "We order fish every other day from all over the place, including the Honolulu Fish Company. We pick through and cut all lettuces, make all our sauces and dressings from scratch, and cut our meats and fish for the day."

The menu incorporates just 12 entrees, including nine fresh seafood dishes. A recent menu featured Atlantic swordfish with lemon caper dill aioli, seared Maryland sea scallops with spicy panang coconut curry, Alaskan salmon poached with coconut rum and brown sugar, and crab-stuffed salmon with mild to spicy lobster cream sauce. Myers also included a Korean kalbi-style rack of lamb with mango mint chutney and a filet mignon with bearnaise sauce.

"I change the menu as much as I can so we won't become bored with what we're preparing," Myers says. "Alyson and I keep our hands on every item on the menu, from Alyson overseeing the pantry and pastry items, to me with the appetizers and entrees."

Appetizers include Shanghai pork potstickers and jalapeno poppers, and the menu features scrumptious salads, such as roasted butternut squash salad, spinach and wonbok salad and a winter apple salad.

Crispin, a Colorado native, began cooking with her parents as a child. She traveled to Maui for her 22nd birthday and ended up staying there 22 years. Crispin and Myers moved to Pittsburgh when her great-aunt left her a house, and they wanted their children to experience four seasons.

"The two things that make food fun are the combining of flavors and the presentation," Crispin says. "When you see your plate of food for the first time, an opinion is instantly formed as to whether you are going to enjoy eating it or not. Food is my art and craft. I cook as if everything I make is for my family."

Myers got into cooking almost by accident. His dad played major-league baseball with Willie Mays, he says, and Myers thought he was born to play baseball. But a cooking class in eighth grade changed his mind, and he ended up taking many more food classes in high school.

"When I moved to Maui, the only places to work were either the pineapple plantations or the hotels and restaurants," Myers says. "I chose the restaurant business. I followed my executive chef to two places until I found a job working with Pacific Rim foods at Mama's Fish House. We served 200 lunches and 500 dinners a day, going through 200 pounds of fresh fish every day."

The pace at Hartwood isn't quite that frenetic, serving between 120 and 150 dinners a night, and Myers enjoys the freedom of creating "anything and everything."

"This is a great place to work," Myers says, "and the owners are quite awesome. But my dream is one day going back to Maui and retiring with Alyson, playing tons of golf, camping, and swimming in the blue ocean."

Pan Fried Hawaiian Mahi Mahi

For most home cooks, says Chef Eddie Myers, the tendency is to overcook fish. He chose to share his popular Pan Fried Hawaiian Mahi Mahi dish because mahi is "pretty resilient and stays flaky."

Serve this dish with with basmati rice and steamed vegetables.

• 2 portions (7 ounces each) mahi mahi

• 1/2 cup flour

• 2 tablespoons blended oil (80 percent canola, 20 percent olive)

• 1 sweet onion, sliced julienne style

• 2 green onions, sliced thin

• 4-5 tablespoons spicy garlic chile water (mix 1 tablespoon garlic chile sauce or paste with 1 cup of water)

• 2 tablespoons soy sauce

• 1 ripe avocado, cut in half and sliced thin

Dust the top of the mahi mahi with flour and shake off the excess.

Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat until hot, then place the mahi mahi flour side down in the pan with the sweet onions.

Saute until halfway done, for about 4 minutes, and flip the mahi mahi.

When the onions become soft and the fish is almost done, deglaze the pan with chile water and soy sauce and reduce until it thickens.

Plate the fish, topping it with the carmelized onions and avocado slices.

Makes 2 servings.

Additional Information:

Hartwood Restaurant

Cuisine: Pacific Rim, Polynesian

Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Dinner: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturdays. Whispers Pub open 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.

Entree price range: $16-$33

Notes: Reservations suggested. Handicapped accessible. Major credit cards accepted. About six wine tastings a year. Live bluegrass and acoustic music from 7-9 p.m. Wednesdays. Proceeds from the sale of books in the bookstore go to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Address: 3400 Harts Run Road, Indiana Township

Details: 412-767-3500 or Web site

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