More than just a presidential vacation spot, Martha’s Vineyard is a culinary haven. Cafes, restaurants, seafood stands and late-night donut shops create regulars out of tourists, and give “Islanders” a year-round supply of unparalleled dining options. Here are a few favorites for first-timers and locals alike:
- The ubiquitous symbol of Martha’s Vineyard – a black dog wearing a red handkerchief around his neck – originates from The Black Dog Tavern, opened in 1971 after Captain Robert Douglas became fed up with the Vineyard’s lack of a year-round restaurant. Today, there is a Black Dog Tavern, Bakery and Café, all bearing the portrait of Captain Douglas’ faithful canine companion. But the history isn’t what stands out here. It’s the breakfast, hearty and delicious and in daunting portions, that fill all three branches every day of the week (the tavern offers a more restaurant-like experience, the bakery is best for a quick bite, and the cafe is a more casual, cafeteria-like affair). Their famous granola (available for sale by the pound) is made fresh daily, tossed in cinnamon and delightfully crunchy. Decadent, bigger-than-your-face pancakes and omelets galore grace the menu, and weighty mugs are constantly refilled with freshly brewed coffee. Buy a Black Dog t-shirt at the bakery, where the island’s most popular souvenir was first sold.
- The water in Menemsha is a little bit colder, the beach a little bit rockier, but it’s still one of the best spots on the Vineyard to watch the sun set. Couple that with Basin Road’s fish markets leading up to the beach, and you have a truly New England scene: cracking lobster tails while watching the sun go down. Locals debate over which seafood store reigns supreme in this historic fishing village, but a couple consistently make the top of the list. Larsen’s Fish Market, opened in 1969 by an offshore fisherman and his wife, serves both raw and cooked-to-order items, like their famous stuffed scallops and creamy lobster bisque. Neighboring rival, known simply as Menemsha Fish Market, has a tank full of lobsters and crabs for the choosing – including an occasional “Lobsterzilla” that’s more for gawking at than eating. Pick one out, have it boiled on the spot, and head to the beach with a borrowed claw cracker and some melted butter.
- Somewhat new to the island, Little House Café isn’t hidden in the sense that it is hard to find. But this unassuming, well, little house offers an international breakfast and lunch cuisine that goes against its sandwich-shop appearance. A Middle Eastern theme runs through their menu, including fresh, perfectly prepared falafel stuffed in a warm pita and smothered in hummus, and a colossal lamb burger with grilled eggplant and tzatziki sauce. The winner, though, is an outstanding fish taco that would lure any Menemsha fisherman away from his boat. Fried cod with cabbage, salsa and avocado tossed in a pink piquant sauce fills a paper thin (but surprisingly sturdy) shell, and you’ll be scraping the plate clean before you know it.
Best Date Night Dinner:
- Patio seating on a warm, breezy night? Check. Twinkling lights woven through trees? Check. A seasonal menu featuring flavorful local produce? Yes, please. The Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs has romance down to a T. On a clear evening, snag a table outside in the garden under the stars, or find dining-room seating inside their restored Victorian home. While the menu does rotate frequently – check the corkboard at the head of Sweet Life’s brick walkway for the week’s specialties – lamb chops have been known to fall cleanly off the bone, scallops are expertly marinated and seared, and a creamy crème brulee will have you falling in love all over again. After a romantic dinner, take a stroll with your sweetheart through the nearby “Campground,” where beautifully ornate Gingerbread Cottages line the streets in pastel colors, as if straight from a fairy tale.
- Eileen Blake’s Pies & Otherwise is not the most conspicuous of pie stands. Down a dirt path off of State Road in Vineyard Haven, this small gazebo at the end of a driveway looks more like an amateur lemonade stand than a venerable dessert shop. But stacks of white boxes filled with all kinds of pies, like their popular Blueberry Peach and a killer Triple Berry, soon give it away, as does the palpable smell of butter and sugar wafting from the nearby house. Started by local pie-making legend Eileen Blake, who passed away in 2008, the operation is now run by her family, who has guarded her pie recipe with their lives. Flaky crusts, juicy filling and a perfect balance between sweet and sour keep the stand in business from March through Thanksgiving (though their pies can be found year-round at the Oak Bluffs’ Reliable Market). But make sure to plan ahead – popular flavors sell out early in the morning.
Erin Kuschner is a food, travel and lifestyle writer living in Los Angeles. She makes it her personal mission to eat as much as humanly possible on her travels.You can follow Erin on twitter @hungryxpat.