Island young people add new flavors to Fair food

Adam Petkus (left) and Evan Hammond offer tasty root beer floats and watermelon.
File photo by Lynn Christoffers

Adam Petkus (left) and Evan Hammond offer tasty root beer floats and watermelon.

When Fairgoers head to the local midway for a bite to eat, they’ll see some familiar young faces behind the counters. Traditional favorites like the West Tisbury Firemen’s Burgers, Cozy’s Subs, BBQ Bill’s Vermont ribs, and MV Clambake’s lobster rolls are still there and other familiar taste treats too. But some young Islanders, all Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduates, have joined the fun, bringing new enthusiasm, ideas, and flavors. Many are emphasizing Island-grown meat and produce, making their booths absolutely local. The happy result for hungry patrons is more and more choices.

Todd deBettencourt of Oak Bluffs saw a corn-on-the-cob booth at a Texas rodeo a few years ago and asked himself, “Why don’t we have that on the Island? It’s great Fair food, it’s healthy.”

In 2010, he and a friend, Islander Rob Baker, who owns the Woodland Grill, launched their corn booth at the Ag Fair. It was popular from the start. Fairgoers buy the straightforward country snacks — farm-fresh corn, butter, salt and pepper — as fast as they can be cooked. The price is right, the flavor delicious. Mr. deBettencourt said Morning Glory Farm raises a patch of corn just for his booth. Workers at the farm harvest the crop in the evening, and he picks it up at dawn the next day and heads to the Fairgrounds.

Last year, the booth was named Best of the Fair, a meaningful honor that the pair appreciated greatly. Mr. deBettencourt, a carpenter with Andrew Flake and a 1988 MVRHS graduate, said he enjoys the change of pace, running the Fair booth even though days are long and the work is demanding.

“It’s nice to see everybody, to catch up with people you haven’t seen all summer,” he said.

The Local Smoke booth is local through and through, from chefs Tim Laursen, 33, and Everett Whiting and fire master Jesse Child, both 30, to the pigs and chickens slow-cooked over an Island oak fire. Ingredients for corn and tomato salad, red potato salad, broccoli slaw, and even Lemon Verbena Lemonade are strictly Island-grown too.

Using two massive 500-gallon welded steel smokers, they roast six pigs and countless chickens each Fair day beginning at midnight. After selling out every evening last year, the local smokers are aiming to have plenty of food available to accommodate the long lines of diners.

“We’re cooking 24 hours a day,” said Mr. Laursen. “It takes a lot of setup and preparation. It’s a unique eating experience.”

Max Moreis’s custom cupcake booth, Create-a-Cake, was a surprise smash hit at last year’s Fair, and the delectable treats are back. A June high school grad, Mr. Moreis will enter the prestigious Culinary Institute of America this fall with a scholarship. Though modest, he received high school honors, including being named Vocational Student of the Year this year.

“I’ve been working in professional kitchens since I was 11,” said Mr. Moreis, explaining that cooking is a natural part of his life.

This week, he takes a break from his duties as breakfast and lunch chef at the popular State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury to bake dozens of cupcakes and mix up a mouth-watering array of creamy fillings and frostings. Everything is freshly made from scratch. Customers can choose cake flavors like chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, orange, or coconut/white chocolate, fillings from white chocolate mousse to orange creme. Mr. Moreis promises surprise flavors and enough cupcakes so he won’t sell out this year.

April Knight will share a traditional favorite family treat with Fairgoers, serving thick slices of her Apple Caramel Cake topped with vanilla ice cream at her new booth. Ms. Knight, who attended the West Tisbury School and graduated from the regional high school in 1995, began baking her late Aunt Simone’s cake recipe professionally this year. A cupcake version has been a hit at the Chilmark Flea Markets, and she thought it was a natural addition to the Ag Fair.

After years of making the toothsome confection with her aunt, Ms. Knight now prepares the cakes with help from her son, Matteus, 12. Younger son, Brayden, 7, is the official taster. Her partner, Isaiah Scheffer, is building the booth.

The cakes are packed with pecans and freshly sliced apples.”There’s a lot of ways to cut corners, but it doesn’t taste right,” she said.

Ms. Knight buys all ingredients on-Island and said local support for her new cake enterprise has been overwhelming. “It reminds me how lucky we are to live here,” she said.

A cold, sweet beverage is just the thing to wash down all that hefty food. When Ken Petkus and his pal John Johnson had the idea to serve root beer floats, Mr. Petkus’s son, Adam, was glad to step up and manage a booth. Along with his friends, Evan Hammond and Mike Shea, all 2005 MVRHS grads, Mr. Petkus offers root beer floats and decadent espresso floats for the morning crowd. The young entrepreneur, who is an actor and musician, was proud to say his watermelon is the best food value at the fair at $1 for a thick slice.

New this fourth year, the booth is running a fun raffle. Entry is free with the purchase of a float. The winner will enjoy a lifetime of free root beer floats every day of the Fair.

Although not new to the food business, having owned and cooked at several top Island restaurants and now chef at the popular Red Cat Kitchen at Ken ‘n’ Beck in Oak Bluffs, Ben deForest opened a Fair booth just last summer. Happy memories of the Fair when he was growing up in West Tisbury inspired him.

“It went great,” he said. “We’ll do it every year for as long as I’m able to come.”

Although he graduated from Newton North High School, Mr. deForest grew up on the Island and attended MVRHS. Some 25 years after his very first restaurant job, he is still excited about creating good food. He is serving some of his most popular selections to hungry Fairgoers. On the menu this year are his specialty Island Fresca, a corn and tomato soup with savory accents; swordfish, beef, or chicken kabobs, and refreshing Strawberry Lemonade.