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On any workweek afternoon, Downtown Honolulu and its adjacent Chinatown Arts District are probably the most densely-populated zip codes in Hawaii, and at lunchtime that population wants to eat. There are dozens of restaurants to serve the lunch crowd. From dollar menu fast food to ambitious upstart gastropub, downtowners have a wide variety of options to choose from. Among those options, none are serving their clientele quite like Kate Wagner at Not Just Desserts.
Yes, Chef Kate’s restaurant on Marin Lane is open for lunch most days, but her kitchen does considerably more than cater to the quotidian demands of the downtown lunch crowd. In addition to operating as a restaurant, Not Just Desserts also manages to be a full-service catering company and a familiar and popular fixture with her coveted baked pies, cakes, and other confections at a handful of Oahu farmers markets.
The food at the restaurant is free of artificial flavors and preservatives, refined sugars, and it can be accurately described as farm-to-table. Her ingredients are sourced locally, and her menu can be tailored to accommodate most sorts of dietary restrictions, gluten-free or what-have-you. I’m partial to her baked chicken.
“A lot of my customers haven’t had bread in years,” Kate says. Until they found Not Just Desserts, that is. “I like to think of what I make as ‘clean food.’”
Kate herself is a ball of energy, diminutive but somehow larger than life. She is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, a cancer survivor, and a tireless advocate of nutrition education. She’s been a part of a Hawaii Foodbank program that teaches nutritional guidance to 140 underprivileged kids.
Chef Kate’s culinary roots are in dinner service. She attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City. She’s opened 17 restaurants all over the United States. Those roots come through in her lunch offerings, which are many and suited to even sugar-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. I’m partial to her baked chicken. People line up for her hand-made fudge and chocolate. It’s always somebody’s birthday in the office, and those delicacies are a go-to for office parties all over Honolulu.
Not Just Desserts is in a bit of an out-of-the-way location, the only storefront on Marin Lane, a block makai (water-side) of King Street. It’s the kind of spot that most people would miss if they weren’t told about it. It’s not the kind of place you’d read about in a typical publication aimed at visitors: that’s owner Kate in the kitchen, preparing and serving the food herself. She’s also loading the catering van, setting up her tables at a farmers market, or preparing to do it all again tomorrow. Oh, and Not Just Desserts also does a monthly fine dining night.
Kate does it all with an easy, contagious smile. Not Just Desserts is open for lunch from 9am to 3pm Monday through Friday. “Or until we sell out,” says Kate. Feel free to call for hours. You can also find Not Just Desserts at these local farmers makets: Kailua, Thursdays from 5pm-7pm, HMSA Keeaumoku, Fridays, KCC Farmers Market, Saturdays, Mililani, Sundays 8am-11am
110 Marin Lane, Honolulu 96817