Good Taste: New restaurants in Oak Bluffs: MV Chowder and Ken ‘n Beck

Fajitas made with flank steak marinated in lime juice, with red onion, and cilantro, from Kenn N' Beck.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Fajitas made with flank steak marinated in lime juice, with red onion, and cilantro, from Kenn N' Beck.

JB Blau, of Sharky’s, has expanded his restaurant empire with a new Oak Bluffs eatery that is decidedly different from his others. With the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company, Mr. Blau and executive chef Alex Nagi have introduced a concept they have coined “finally dining,” where the food is fine-dining quality but the chowder house atmosphere is relaxed.

“You don’t feel like you’re at Sharky’s,” Mr. Blau explains of his “nautical-chic” new restaurant, located at 9 Oak Bluffs Avenue (across from the Flying Horses), which has most recently been the home of The Ocean Club, Danny Quinn’s, and Balance.

The MV Chowder Co. features a raw bar and fresh local seafood grilled, steamed, sautéed, and fried, as well as pastas, chicken, steaks, and burgers for those who prefer land fare. And of course, the award-winning chowder. Chef Nagi spends his mornings preparing the day’s chowders from scratch. “We want to re-identify chowder on the Vineyard,” Mr. Blau says. The restaurant currently offers four or five varieties everyday including the “gourmet,” which is 40 percent clams in a light broth with vegetables and spices. “It’s all clam and all taste,” Mr. Blau says. It is also unintentionally gluten-free, a truly happy accident for some gluten-allergy sufferers who haven’t enjoyed a cup of chowder in years.

Most everything on the menu, including entrees, is priced under $25 to keep it affordable. “We’re looking for a really strong local base,” Mr. Blau says. Likely because they hope to stay open through the winter, when the prices are promised to drop and the menu will shift to feature hearty soups, Panini, and comfort food.

The MV Chowder Co. serves dinner until 10 pm and will soon serve lunch.

Ken ‘n Beck

The cottage on Kennebec that housed the southwestern restaurant Zapotec for more than two decades has come full-circle, once again under the management of original owners Tom and Carol Ward. The Wards bought the cottage-turned-restaurant in 1983 when they opened Zapotec and ran it for several years. Though they maintained ownership of the building, in 1989 they sold the business. Twenty-two years later, the Wards, along with daughter Anna and Anna’s boyfriend Dunstan Smith, have found themselves once again in the restaurant business.

Anna Ward, 25, has just completed her advanced certification through the wine and spirit education trust. She is busy preparing the bar (a liquor license is expected in the next week), for Southern-style cocktails and a unique wine list.

Dunstan, 28, is the heart and soul of the kitchen. A French-technique trained chef, Mr. Smith has cooked in Boston, Canada, and most recently, State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury, where he was able to introduce one of his food passions to the menu: charcuterie. A semblance of that passion for prepared meats is on the appetizer menu in the form of duck rilletes with pickled shallots and crostini ($12).

The elder Wards spent some time living in Mexico, where Mrs. Ward became a skilled cook in ethnic cuisine. She shares her talents with Ken ‘n Beck by preparing all the salsas and some sauces such as the mole. Mr. Ward maintains his role in the restaurant as resident handyman and occasional kitchen hand. “It’s a family affair,” says Anna.

Instead of filling up on carbs (bread and chips) before dinner, a waitress delivers crisp, refreshing slices of watermelon to get the palette ready.

The menu reflects Mr. Smith’s French training and the Ward’s Mexican experience while emphasizing local, fresh ingredients mixed with an undeniable Southern-influence, creating an eclectic menu that includes main courses such as buttermilk fried chicken with braised greens, cornbread, and gravy ($20); and flank steak fajitas marinated in lime juice, red onion, and cilantro cooked to your liking in temperature, with guacamole (Mr. Smith makes fresh daily), sour cream, and Mrs. Ward’s salsa, ($20).

“We want to fill a niche in Oak Bluffs,” Ms. Ward says, “with comfortable home cooked food.”

Oyster fans shouldn’t miss the corn meal fried oysters served on the half shell with remoulade for $9 and the summer vegetable salad with heirloom beans is refreshing and delicious.

Ken ‘n Beck serves dinner daily and plans to be open until November. Call 508-696-6040 for more information.