When Mary Kenworth met her husband Jackson – a chef – more than 20 years ago, she had no intention of getting involved in the restaurant business. Now, with 15 years of proprietary experience behind them, they are an unstoppable team. After giving the property at 688 State Road in West Tisbury an extreme makeover, the former owners of The Sweet Life Café and Slice of Life opened their latest venture, State Road Restaurant,in June of 2009.
For decades, this has been one highly sought after address. Talented chefs have fallen in line to present their haute cuisine in a slapdash constructed roadside diner and eager foodies have eaten it up. But this is different. The idyllic location, halfway between the East Chop and Gay Head lighthouses, was given a new lease on life following the fire in November of 2007 that destroyed the former building. Architect Chuck Sullivan, contractor Josh Flanders, John Hoff at Oakleaf Landscape, and designer Michael Smith (who worked on State Road Restaurant and the Obama’s White House simultaneously) all helped turn this vision into a reality, with the help of several financial backers.
Surrounded by stone walls and gardens where flowers, herbs, and vegetables are well tended, the post-and-beam farmhouse is elegant yet understated with bare wood table tops and naked bulbs dangling from oversized wrought iron chandeliers. The stone fireplace, wall sconces, ample windows, and antique adornments give the three dining rooms a relaxed feeling although there’s nothing sleepy about this place. From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, the restaurant is buzzing with action morning, noon, and night. Now, shifting into their off-season schedule, fans can enjoy the new fall menus at brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm and dinner Wednesday through Sunday beginning at 5:30.
The Kenworth’s high standards and expectations are demonstrated in the seamless service of their long-standing staff, many of whom worked at the couple’s prior establishments.
The culinary dream team is led by chef Jackson Kenworth and chef Austin Racine, former owner of Cafe Moxie in Vineyard Haven. Not only are their combined talents extraordinary, but these are two of the most even-tempered men in the business.
Their collaborative dinner menu is an abundance of fall flavors in creative arrangements. Appetizers, priced between $10 and $15, include succulent sea scallops, pan roasted and served with sweet Morning Glory Farm acorn squash puree and a crisp, tart salad of shaved green apple and fennel. The dish is finished with a nutty brown butter vinaigrette.
Several dishes, like shrimp and grits with Creole sauce, cheddar, and pickled green tomato salad are offered as small or large plates, a brilliant idea that I hope catches on.
Pasta changes nightly, but if the house-made fettuccine with duck confit, roasted tomatoes, Swiss chard, and shaved parmesan was there every night, I might be too. Other entree options, priced between $19 and $42, include Northeast Family Farm roasted pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta, seared to crisp, juicy perfection, served with corn pudding, wilted spinach, and shallots.
Pastry chef Rose Sarja is responsible for delicious ways to end your meal such as mini pumpkin limpopos. These buttery brioche doughnut bites are served with coffee gelée, a superb dipping sauce, and milk chocolate panna cotta, a silky smooth Italian custard. While the dessert menu is impressive on its own, the array of layer cakes, bundt cakes, cookies, sticky buns, muffins, and more that fill the bar-turned-pastry case in the morning is staggering. Individual sour cream coffee cakes, topped with a bit of sweet streusel, are moist and dense with just the right amount of sweetness to complement the strong but smooth house coffee.
Many of my recent interviews with Island chefs have had a similar refrain: we try to use Island products whenever possible. But the Kenworth’s are remarkably committed to this end.
“Our real focus is to find the shortest distance from the source of our ingredients to the kitchen,” Ms. Kenworth explained. And she’s not just whistling Dixie. Tomatoes, beets, radishes, carrots, and herbs are just some of the produce that’s grown right on the restaurant’s property.
“We’ve never served a chicken at State Road that wasn’t raised on the Vineyard,” she added. The Kenworth’s have been working closely with Island Grown Initiative (IGI), a community nonprofit dedicated to increasing both the supply and demand of locally grown food. IGI’s Mobile Poultry Processing Unit travels to Island farms with an experienced crew providing safe, humane processing solutions. Because of the work of IGI, the free-range chickens that State Road buys from Cleveland Farm and The Good Farm have never left the Island for processing. Likewise, IGI has enabled restaurants to buy fish directly from commercial fishermen on the Island ensuring the freshest product possible.
On Sunday, October 24, State Road Restaurant will host a Fall Dinner Fundraiser to benefit Island Grown Schools, a program of IGI that has installed gardens at all seven Island public schools, three preschools, and an intergenerational garden with teens and low-income seniors from Island Elderly Housing. IGS works with students, teachers, and food service staff to help them become more connected with local farms and farmers, and engaging them in growing food for themselves, their families, and the community. The dinner will feature a seasonal Island menu. Cost is $100. For more information and reservations, call 508-693-8582 or visit stateroadmv.com.