As John Shelton and Dale Reed write in their definitive Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, "Lots of barbecue places don't have (desserts), but when they do, they're so sweet they'll make your teeth ache." That's no accident: The instinctive craving for something smooth and sweet after a greasy, salty meal is hard to fight.
There isn't any grease muddling Ma'ono's excellent fried chicken, but the all-natural meat is salty and the restaurant's best dipping sauce - a Korean-style jumble of red chili paste and hot peppers - is sufficiently spicy to command a cooling post-dinner treat. And there's no better dessert on Ma'Ono's menu than the diverting banana cream pie with cocoa nibs, an impressive partnership of firm crust and plush filling.
Banana pudding is a barbecue joint staple, for reasons even scholars don't understand. Southerners for centuries have been making boozy trifles (with Baptists and Methodists favoring virgin versions of the same for public events), but bananas didn't reach the U.S. until the 1870s. Nabisco in 1920 started printing banana pudding recipes on its Vanilla Wafer boxes, but never suggested that Southerners might have a special fondness for the dessert. Yet the pudding quickly became something of a regional specialty: Southern Living's website features recipes for banana pudding cupcakes, banana pudding cheesecake and peanut butter-banana sandwich banana pudding.
At Ma'ono, though, the bananas make perfect sense. Since transforming from Spring Hill, the West Seattle restaurant is rife with references to chef-owner Mark Fuller's home state of Hawaii. A banana cream pie allows guests to end their meals in properly tropical - and outrageously delicious - fashion.