Well, I’m not the world’s most passionate girl, but I do feel very enthusiastically about the way a Sunday morning should be spent. Some people go to church, I eat breakfast. The easiness of a Sunday morning, the internationally recognized day of rest, warrants a big, homestyle meal. There’s just something about a Sunday that makes it okay to eat a deep fried waffle. With a hunk of fried chicken. And half a watermelon. And two more plates worth of southern style brunch.
So I’m happy to welcome Lola’s Southern Seafood back to its old home at the Island Inn in Oak Bluffs, where owner Kathy Lola Domitrovich and her husband, Paul, are serving dinner five nights a week and brunch on Sundays.
The past two summers, the restaurant was Hooked, owned by Christian and Greer Thornton of Atria. So where has Lola been all this time? In Florida, soaking up the rays and working as a restaurant consultant. “We really thought this time we were going to retire,” Ms. Domitrovich said.
But when the Thorntons decided not to return for a third season, the Domitroviches, who still owned the property, opted to bring back the old Lola’s. “We still have a lot of spirit,” Ms. Domitrovich said, on coming out of retirement. “When I’m not Lola, I’m kind of bored.”
Ms. Domitrovich brought back a little of Florida back with her, in executive chef Chad Ford and sous chef Mark VanSchaick. Both men have cooked on islands in the Caribbean, and they bring a tropical flare to Lola’s Cajun-inspired menu.
“I was so tired of the same old tuna, swordfish, ribs, and chicken,” Ms. Domitrovich said. “This year, I’m going to put my money into good chefs and let them fly.” She told Mr. Ford and Mr. VanSchaick to “make it young, make it hip, twist it up, but people are still going to look for the Lola’s experience.”
And people have come looking. Out of the woodwork, actually, to see if the rumors of Lola’s reopening are true. “They’re just flipping out,” Ms. Domitrovich said of her customers. “It’s like we created this monster that we can only run.”
Watching the customers come in to brunch on a Sunday morning is like witnessing a family reunion. “Thank God you’re back,” I heard on more than one occasion, as the old friends hug Ms. Domitrovich and shake Mr. Domitrovich’s hand. “We don’t have a restaurant,” Ms. Domitrovich said. “It’s more like coming to someone’s house.”
The social media response to the reopening has been overwhelming as well. The restaurant’s Facebook wall hosts comment such as: “The Vineyard is not the Vineyard without Lola’s,” “I was there from day one and will always be there,” and “Lola’s is back…YEAHHH!”
There are a few changes since Lola’s was last open in 2011. Mainly, the interior design, altered under Hooked’s ownership, and Mediterranean before that. The dining room is airy, light, and clean. “It looks very different,” Ms. Domitrovich said, “but it’s fabulous for weddings. I’m booking more weddings than I ever did.”
Still, Ms. Domitrovich wanted to add a bit of color, some New Orleans flare, to the place. The mural that once greeted Lola’s customers is still there, but currently hidden. “If we do expose it, we want to uncloak it with a big Lola thunder,” Ms. Domitrovich said.
In the meantime, she’s decorated the bar and dancefloor with New Orleans style art and old instruments. She started with two of Mr. Domitrovich’s old accordions. Soon, friends were digging up old guitars, trumpets, and flutes from their basements and closets. “It’s starting to look more like Lola’s,” she said.
The front dining area and the back bar will feature two distinct menus. Ms. Domitrovich says the back will harbor a more casual, local pub vibe, while the front will be more formal. Ms. Domitrovich plans to add an outdoor raw bar too, to complement the outdoor games area carried over from Hooked.
Old Lola’s standbys such as the mussels and grilled calamari will still be on the menu, but Ms. Domitrovich already has some new favorites. One creation is Mr. Ford’s stuffed lobster recipe from the Dominican Republic. He takes everything out except the claw meat, tempura fries it, tosses it in a “bangbang” sauce with a mango corn salsa, then reintroduces it to the lobster on a bed of rice with pecans and bok-choy.
Mr. Ford is also serving up a dish from Key West: yellow snapper, complete with head and bones, sitting up on a plate. “The meat just flakes off,” said Ms. Domitrovich. “It’s a really beautiful dish, so exciting looking.”
And of course, the elaborate all-you-can-eat brunch has returned for Sundays from 10:30 am to 1 pm. “Sunday brunch is right back to where it was. It’s such a local summer thing,” she said. When the brunch resumed on Mother’s Day Weekend, Ms. Domitrovich welcomed back customers that had been coming to eat there every Sunday for 20 years.
Lola’s also hosted the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s prom last weekend. Ms. Domitrovich was surprised to see some familiar faces all grown up. “The kids I employed here or who got married here 20 years ago have their own kids now. Those kids are starting to work for me,” Ms. Domitrovich said. “It’s come full circle. It’s very comforting to see.”
Overall, Ms. Domitrovich is happy with her decision to return from Florida. “It’s cold, I still have my coat on, but it’s nice to see all my old friends.”
It seems fitting to welcome Lola’s back this week, as it also marks the return of the Good Taste column in the MV Times. I’m psyched to take on this project. I’d also like to apologize for all the references to the song “Lola.” Ms. Domitrovich bears no resemblance to the cross-dressing love interest of Kink’s fame. They asked me to make the column young and hip, so of course I revolved my lede around a song from 1970. But the song simply would not stop playing on my broken internal record player. And who am I to turn down The Kinks on vinyl?
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