Right about when daytime temperatures creep out of the 60s, I start craving cooler things to eat. That took a while this year. I can usually stop wearing socks and start eating salad by mid-May, but it wasn’t until late June that I got too warm for warmed-up leftover dinner for my midday meal. Or dinner.
And so July has been a month of salad days. By the way, “salad days” does not just mean “days of eating salad.” The phrase goes back to Shakespeare, and refers to the time when one is young and inexperienced. Though I confess to being inexperienced about some things, I’m definitely not young. And while we’re at it: dog days. Doesn’t it sound like … maybe you’re in the dog house? What do you think “dog days of summer” means? The hot-dog, humid midsummer sultry days?
Sort of. Dog days actually refers to that time when sailors could see the dog star in the sky. Typically right about the end of July and early August. Right about now. Also typically, that time usually brings a slight change in weather — less humidity, a tinge of fall in the air. Until it gets muggy again in August.
But I digress. Salads: At Little House on State Road in Vineyard Haven, I always have a hard time picking from their choices, but usually opt for the Roasted Butternut Squash Salad, with goat cheese, cranberries, and walnuts over spinach and arugula ($14). If you couldn’t decide between the French Lentil or Curried Mango Chicken Salad, you’re in luck: You can get a combo for $16. (Little House, littlehousemv.com; 339 State Rd., Vineyard Haven.)
For what turned out to be a once-a-year-splurge, I took my kids to the Outermost Inn, off Lighthouse Road in Aquinnah. Because pretty much every single thing the four of us ate was great, I’m going to be writing about various things at the Outermost for a while. For now, I’ll focus on a couple of the salads. My daughter, who will eat raw fish at any opportunity, had a yellowfin tuna salad. Not your mother’s tuna salad — generous hunks of tuna sat on a salad of avocado, apple, and radish, and were delicately drizzled with soy ginger vinaigrette. We shared, and I can say it was like inhaling summer — sweet and fresh and cool and tart. My salad was fanciful and just as fresh: lemon mascarpone, grapes, and pistachios with a cranberry vinaigrette.
I wish I could say you could go to Outermost just for the salads, but the meals are prix fixe: For $88, diners get a first course (salads or other small plates, such as the delectable Lobster Toast), a main course, dessert, bread, coffee, tea, and water. Menus change often, so I can’t guarantee you’ll find these exact salads, but count on something winning. (The Outermost Inn, outermostinn.com, 81 Lighthouse Rd., Aquinnah.)
Another salad with a view is right down the street from The Times office at Garde East. One night over drinks, a co-worker and I had snacks (cauliflower tartare) and a salad of Bibb lettuce with Grey Barn Bluebird ($13), which Grey Barn describes as “briny and streaked with colors of the sea, it’s only natural that Bluebird would come from Martha’s Vineyard. This … blue cheese is mostly like a creamy Gorgonzola before it goes full Dolce.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but it translated into loveliness when sprinkled with pancetta, hazelnuts, and a lemon vinaigrette. (Garde East, gardeeast.com, 52 Beach Rd., Vineyard Haven.)
Often when we work late at The Times, and are too lazy to stop at the market and then go home and actually cook (or assemble salads), we head over to Beach Road. I recently ordered their Caesar salad ($14), which looked like no other Ceasar I’d ever encountered: one steep hillside of romaine, with toasted seaweed, a rendition of Caesar dressing, “croutons” made of crispy tiny potato skins, which made a remarkable impact on the salad (and me), and — instead of anchovies — “bottarga,” which is “salted, cured fish roe, often of bluefin tuna.” It was fresh and salty, and I’m going back for one soon. (Beach Road, beachroadmv.com, 79 Beach Rd.; Vineyard Haven.)
Last spring, I had a salad at Beach Road with Boston lettuce, fresh sugar snap peas, and burrata. It inspired me to copy it, and now I make it all the time — to the point where my friends say, “Can you bring that salad?” when they invite me over. Burrata, for those of you successfully avoiding trendy cheese, is an orb of mozzarella filled with cream. No, cheese plus cream is not redundant.
I can get all the ingredients for my salad at the farm stand behind Alley’s, with the bonus that they sell “baby burrata” there, meaning I can avoid the messy task of cutting one giant orb of mozzarella into even sections, and just plop one baby on top of mixed North Tabor Farm greens, Island sugar snap peas, and honey mustard dressing. Add fresh dill if you’re daring. (Alley’s Farm Stand at Alley’s General Store, 1045 State Rd., West Tisbury.)
Enjoy your salad days, and these dog days, before they’re over.