Without a doubt, Charles Ingalls (“Pa” of Little House on the Prairie) was a hard working man, but even he would have to tip his dusty hat to the owners of the Little House Café.
Just two months ago, Jenik Khelalfa Munafo, Hocine Khelalfa, and Merrick and Steven Carreiro were hashing out the details of their proposed venture with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. In six weeks time, they transformed an antique shop into a cheerful, bustling café. Janik was quick to credit the help of friends and family who volunteered their time and skills to help make their vision a reality. Her father, Paul Munafo, not only worked on the building’s renovation, but also attended Commission meetings. Now that’s dedication.
Last winter, as the foursome briefly conspired to lease Louis’ Tisbury Café in Vineyard Haven, another opportunity presented itself. Across the street, at 339 State Road, the small traditional cape that housed Tisbury Antiques was on the market. They made an offer and the project was set into motion. A deluge of obstacles and setbacks later, the two couples are eagerly embarking a true labor of love.
The café opens each morning at 7 am with Janik’s fresh baked goods like pecan scones, blueberry muffins, and chocolate chip cookies. Merrick Carreiro, former chef of Café Moxie, is back in the kitchen cooking up sensational German apple pancakes ($6), egg sandwiches on ciabatta ($4.50 to $7.75 depending on how you like to load it up), homemade granola with yogurt ($6) and an outstanding grilled brie sandwich with apricot jam ($4.50).
Lunch offerings include mango chutney chicken salad with grapes and pecans — the perfect marriage of sweet and savory with just a kiss of curry ($9). Another standout is the Muffuletta ($8). The thick crusty bread from Rickard’s Bakery, provides an ideal sponge to absorbs the robust flavor of olive tapenade. Arugula adds crispy spice; goat cheese creamy tartness. Pile on mortadella and peppered salami and the flavor is off the charts.
Hocine Khelalfa is master of the falafel ($7.50) and shawarma ($9). Shawarma is similar to a gyro. At Little House, they use chicken, which is marinated in something heavenly, sliced into thin strips, and loaded into a soft pita blanket with diced cucumber, red onion, tomato, red pepper, and homemade aioli. Magnificent.
The fish tacos ($9) are a fork and knife endeavor. Fresh flaky cod is battered and fried to delicate perfection and packed into soft corn tortillas with shredded lettuce, homemade salsa, and slices of soft, ripe avocado.
If you’re ordering take-out, may I suggest sending an extremely stoic individual or at least one with a weak olfactory response to retrieve the goods. The scent of exotic spices that will permeate your car is utterly intoxicating.
Or avoid that torturous drive by dining in the cozy sunlit front room of the café. The service is informal and welcoming. Orders are placed at the counter and tables are self-bussed. The dining room retains architectural details — a beamed ceiling, built-in shelves and a fireplace — that give it a warm, homey feel. Tables and chairs are substantial, suggesting a comfortable extended stay.
Little House is a year-round restaurant currently open from 7 am until 2 pm every day. Rumor has it that this delightful newcomer may begin serving dinner in the off-season. For now, we’ll just keep our fingers crossed.