For a small island, Martha’s Vineyard has a surprisingly wide variety of food and drink options, from upscale restaurants to simple clam shacks, farmer’s markets, and seafood fresh from the ocean. Whether you’re looking for the quintessential New England lobster or just strolling the beach and wondering what edibles might be found along the water’s edge, the Vineyard has some of the best seafood on earth. Mix in an abundance of fine dining establishments and an ever-growing demand for Island-grown and sustainable ingredients, and Martha’s Vineyard is coming into its own as a culinary destination. We’ve put together the following list (in no particular order) of nine must-try foods and one cocktail sure to entice newcomers and Vineyarders alike.
Wok-fired lobster at Atria
One of the most visually impressive plates on the Vineyard is this lobster, served at Edgartown’s Atria restaurant. The whole lobster is dipped in milk and then in seasoned flour before being fried in hot oil. Once cooked, the lobster is split down the middle, the claws are cracked, and it’s served with mashed potatoes, a lemon beurre blanc, and fresh greens. Because of the quick cooking process, the lobster meat remains tender and moist, with a delicate sweetness. The light batter mostly stays on the shell, but does add an occasional bit of fried crispy goodness. Taking the place of traditional drawn butter and lemon wedges, the lemon beurre blanc complements the lobster without overpowering its delicate flavor. This entrée manages to combine everything that is fun about eating whole lobster (tearing it apart) with the best parts of fried food (the crunchy bits). As you dismantle the beast, the juices flow out and combine with the creamy, salty mashed potatoes and beurre blanc, creating a second layer of flavors. The bed of peppery greens helps cut through the rich sauce and contrasts nicely with the sweet lobster meat. This is not a dainty dish, and while it might not be the best choice for a first date, it’s an experience we highly recommend.
Zinfandel chili jam
New Lane Sundries in West Tisbury makes more than two dozen types of jams, jellies, and mustards, but we keep coming back to the zinfandel chili jam. Rich and savory, it also packs a subtle heat. Along with the red wine flavor, you’ll find hints of garlic and onion, as well as a healthy dose of vinegar. We find that it pairs beautifully with a mild, runny cheese such as Camembert or Brie. The creaminess of the cheese provides a counterpoint to the spicy, sweet, and acidic jam. When served on a crostini with your favorite cheese, it makes for a can’t-miss appetizer.
Charcuterie plate at State Road restaurant
What West Tisbury’s State Road chooses to serve on this plate may change often, but one constant remains: chicken liver mousse from the Good Farm in Vineyard Haven. It has a smooth and creamy texture, with enough salt to really make the meaty flavor pop. The mousse lets you know that it’s made from liver but doesn’t hit you over the head with an excessively strong mineral taste. Served with pickled vegetables, mustard, and various types of meat and sausage, it’s sure to satisfy the meat lovers out there.
Elderberry mojito at the Sweet Life Café
This Oak Bluffs restaurant is much lauded for its superb food, discriminating wine list, and excellent outdoor seating, but it also serves up some fabulous cocktails. Unlike most drinks made with elderberry liqueur (St-Germain), this elderberry mojito isn’t overly sweet or flowery. It has just a breath of elderflower blossoms mingling with refreshing mint and tangy lime, and is best enjoyed on the Sweet Life’s outdoor patio.
This type of sea snail is easily found on Vineyard beaches, often clinging to rocks in the intertidal zone. They tend to grow in stacks, hence their Latin name of Crepidula fornicata. Also known as “boat shells” and “sweet meats,” they are edible. To get at the meat, starting at the narrow end of the shell, slide your fingernail underneath the foot (the part that looks like a suction cup), then grasp and pull toward the wider end, freeing the belly from the shell. A quick wash in the ocean to remove any sand, and it is ready to eat. The muscle portion is surprisingly sweet, with a firm and chewy texture; tasting like the ocean, the yellow and black “guts” have an intense, briny flavor similar to raw quahaugs. They’re typically eaten raw, preferably while still standing ankle-deep in the ocean, but we have heard of people using them in recipes as a clam substitute. Initially they may seem intimidating, but if you like quahaugs, you owe it to yourself to try them.
Salad at Détente
One could easily walk down Winter Street without noticing Détente, tucked away in the back of Edgartown’s Nevin Square. This would be a grave error, as its salad of Goldbud peaches, warm Taleggio cheese, and arugula is not to be missed. The smell alone is enough to make you hungry, with the warm cheese and pungent white truffle oil combining to make a wonderfully enticing aroma. The dish has many different notes to it – the salty tang of the Taleggio, the sweetness of the peaches, and the spicy greens – all coming together in an intriguing, delectable way.
Chicken and waffle at Biscuits
Known for its Southern-style cuisine, Biscuits diner serves breakfast and lunch right across from the Oak Bluffs harbor. This dish combines expertly fried chicken atop a sweet, golden-brown waffle. The chicken boasts a crunchy exterior with moist, savory meat. The waffle, sprinkled with powdered sugar, has a soft interior, almost like vanilla cake. While it may sound a bit strange, there’s good reason why chicken and waffles have become a soul-food staple.
Oysters at Offshore Ale Company
If you do an Internet search for “best oysters,” you’ll get all sorts of opinions. From Denmark to Prince Edward Island all the way down to Louisiana, everyone thinks their oysters are “the best.” They are all wrong. The best oysters in the world are grown and harvested here on Martha’s Vineyard, in Katama Bay. Jack Blake started Sweet Neck Farm in 1996 and has put Vineyard oyster farming on the map. Sweet Necks are indeed sweet but they also have the briny flavor of the sea. Unlike oysters harvested from tidal flats and shallows, which can taste muddy, Sweet Necks are extremely “clean,” with no off tastes or aroma. Medium-sized, with a deep cup and firm consistency, we’d put them up against any oysters in the world. Beer and oysters have long been great companions, so we usually enjoy our Sweet Necks at Offshore Ale Company in Oak Bluffs. Freshly brewed beer is even better when paired with oysters harvested only a few miles down the road.
Steak tartare at Park Corner Bistro
This neighborhood hangout in Post Office Square in Oak Bluffs has an ever-changing small-bites menu. One of our favorites is the steak tartare, made with chopped steak, chunks of onion and pickle, as well as a healthy dose of truffle oil. The richness of the beef is offset by a pleasing acidity. Topped with an egg yolk and garnished with Parmesan and chopped parsley, the tartare is served with crusty slices of toasted bread. With the different ingredients blending together and the multiple textures keeping things interesting, it’s a great afternoon snack to share over a couple of cold beers or Park Corner’s Holy Water cocktails.
Burnt sugar ice cream
Imagine the most delicious crème brûlée, in ice cream form. Made in Vineyard Haven by Karen Colombo, Favorite Brand Ice Cream comes in multiple flavors, but our favorite is burnt sugar. It has a wonderfully complex caramel flavor, without being too sweet, and seems to go with almost anything. Sold only on Martha’s Vineyard, it’s available at Cronig’s Market (in Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury), Fiddlehead Farm (in West Tisbury), Black Sheep (in Edgartown), and Waterside Market (in Vineyard Haven).
Husband-and-wife Islanders Ezra Agnew and Kelley DeBettencourt run HungryNative.com, a Vineyard-centric website devoted to food. Kelley, a Vineyard Haven native, handles the photography, and Ezra, who grew up in West Tisbury, supplies the words. Hungry Native covers a wide range of topics, including restaurant reviews, recipes, and food-related events.
Three favorite seafood recipes
In addition to restaurant dining, the Hungry Native team enjoys cooking at home, especially with ingredients from Island waters. Here are three go-to seafood recipes; two will serve you well throughout the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby, and the third will come in handy when scallop season starts.
The following recipes were originally published with this article: