Vineyarders turned out in their summer finest fashion to sample from the approximately 100 vendors housed in tents on the lawn of the Daniel Fisher House Thursday night for the 30th annual Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll. The popular event benefits the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, which owns and maintains twenty historic landmark properties on the Island.
Tickets to the annual fundraiser famously sell out (at $150 each), and this year was no exception. The 900 available disappeared in a mere 12 hours. The proceeds from the Taste are used to restore and maintain the Trust properties, and the event serves as the most important annual fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, as well as the unofficial kickoff to summer. This year, the highly anticipated event once again attracted flocks of visitors and Islanders dressed in their finest (and for some, their most eccentric) cocktail attire to downtown Edgartown.
Guests enjoyed samples of the best of the Vineyard and beyond, including appetizers, desserts, wine, spirits, and beer from local and regional caterers, restaurateurs, pastry chefs, chocolatiers, breweries, wineries, and beverage distributors. The seemingly neverending offering of food and drink showcased the wide ranging talents of Island chefs and business owners, and offered attendees the opportunity to interact with local culinary stars.
The Right Fork Diner served halibut, scallop, and shrimp ceviche, attractively presented in disposable wooden spoons. Owner Jamie Langley said that the restaurant had been participating in the event for eight or nine years and in previous years had even brought a smoker to prepare food.
L’Etoile, which celebrated thirty years at the Taste and thirty years in business, prepared a delectable Yukon gold potato blini with black American caviar and crème fraîche for the occasion, also handsomely presented on a silver spoon and served with a taste of the appropriately named E’toile Champagne.
Doug Smith from Lucky Hank’s served a version of his beloved deviled eggs, made special for the occasion with lobster and fresh herbs. Ryan Agnew of Atria noted that his restaurant’s contribution — a crispy pork belly slider with fresh slaw, sliced jalapeno and a sticky plum sauce, was the “perfect mix of the upstairs [dining room] and downstairs [brick cellar] together in one form.”
Little Rock Farm participated in the event for the first time in its 20-year history, serving a watermelon ceviche inspired by their popular vegetable gazpacho, which is regularly available at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market and grocery stores on-Island. The gluten-free watermelon version featured cucumber, cranberries, and sherry vinegar. Mother-daughter duo Debra and Erica Koines described the summer soup perfectly as “sweet with a little kick.”
The always popular display of Katama oysters provided by the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group were consumed almost as fast as they could be shucked. Director Rick Karney said the group had been participating in the event for at least 15 years. When they first began attending, cultured oysters were a new product, and the group used the event as a platform to gain visibility. Mr. Karney said that their station at the Taste that first year was tucked away in one of the back tents. “Now we’re front and center and just trying to keep up with the demand,” he said.
Other popular bites under the tents included: fried Indian cheese balls by Annie Foley catering; curry potato nori with Menemsha big eye tuna, soy pearls and lime by Jan Buhrman of Kitchen Porch; lettuce cups with grilled hanger steak and bleu cheese by chef Caleb Lara at the Lighthouse Grill; prime rib with potatoes and a horseradish cream sauce by the Wharf; chowder from the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company; and many more.
Food wasn’t the only highlight of the evening; beverages were equally popular. Several wine and beer vendors were on hand, including local brewers Offshore Ale, who came with a fleet of their brews, including their East Chop Golden Ale, Beach Road Brown Ale, Menemsha Creek Pale Ale and Lazy Frog IPA.
Sharky’s mixed up a popular tequila watermelon cocktail, conveniently distributed at the first stop inside the tent. Fisher’s Island Lemonade, a vodka and whisky infused lemonade, and Spiked Seltzer, an alcoholic carbonated water, provided guests with new beverage alternatives. For the non-alcohol drinker, chef and Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company co-owner Alex Nagi distributed his new organic soda, which is currently being offered at various locations on-Island, including as a cocktail mixer at Chowder Company.
Chef Meave McAuliffe of Behind the Bookstore cafe in Edgartown complemented her food with an Irish coffee with Jameson’s and topped with a coffee caviar. Stop & Shop, Espresso Love, and Chilmark Coffee were also on hand to keep guests caffeinated and on their toes, as many eventually took to the dance floor to the live music of the Sultans of Swing.
Matt Gamache of Fairhaven, who was attending his third Taste, commented on how well attended this year’s event was: “This is insane.” When asked what his favorite part of the evening was he said, “people watching,” given the varied outfits and behaviors of the crowd. “I hadn’t had a day off in three months and my friend called me to come out here for this one. We golfed this morning and then came here; it was a pretty perfect day. It’s always a good time, the best food.” As for tips for next year, Mr. Gamache suggested, “They need a bigger tent.”
Including the guests and vendors (four people represented each vendor) there were close to 1,500 people at the event, said Chris Scott, executive director of the Preservation Trust.
“Thirty years is a great run for a non-profitable event — it’s remarkable. We have been very fortunate,” Mr. Scott said. “We have received huge support from the restaurants and the beverage representatives. We are very proud of it. The quality is super, and we want to maintain it. It is a popular event, but it really can’t grow — it is not fair to the restaurants to ask them to serve more and more. We want people to enjoy themselves and have a good time and that includes the people who are generous with their food and their beverage and the guests that we have. We are very grateful to everyone for the support.”
On Saturday, the second part of the weekend continued with the Taste of the Vineyard Patrons’ Dinner and Gala Auction, catered by V. Jaime Hamlin and Sons. The night featured a cocktail hour and sit-down dinner, along with a live auction and silent auction. According to Mr. Scott, the total raised at Saturday’s auction was $368,000, “comparable to our best year of the event.” Last year’s live auction raised $274,600 and the silent auction yielded $31,400 for the the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust.
Popular auction items this year included: a Ray Ellis painting that generated $115,000; a Margot Datz portrait that sold for $44,000; a “Magical Mystery Trip” with Trip Barnes that sold for $20,000. A cruise to Nantucket aboard a private yacht sold for $15,000; and a VIP experience for a Taylor Swift concert at Gillette Stadium generated $11,500.
For more information on the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, call 508-627-4440 or visit mvpreservation.org.