Taste the night away

And how to embrace an evening of beautiful chaos.

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It was sunny, it was swanky, it was tasty — it was the 33rd annual Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll on Thursday, June 14. Hundreds of Islanders and visitors put on their best dress for this highly anticipated annual event put on by the Preservation Trust.

This event has layers. I’ve identified four.

First and foremost, it’s about the food and drink. People pay $175 per ticket, and they’ll taste their way through that big white tent until they get their money’s worth. Walking into the Taste can be overwhelming. There are so many people. But the way to ease into an event like this is to let the food and drink do the talking.

Proud Pour is a Cambridge-based wine business, and it’s the first vendor that caught my eye in the sea of culinary chaos. It was founder Brian Thurber’s first time at the Taste. Every bottle of Proud Pour benefits various local shellfish organizations, including the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, which also had a booth at this year’s Taste. They had a line of shuckers doing the Lord’s work — supplying us with fresh Island oysters at rapid speed.

Garde East had a booth serving bites of black bass sashimi. The perfect bite is one that’s as beautiful as it is delicious. If anyone knows how to put together a spread of good-looking, good-tasting food, it’s Garde East.

The Wharf offered a yummy surf-and-turf bruschetta. Bites of French bread were topped with roast beef, lobster meat, and horseradish cream. My vegetarian diet restricted me from trying this particular piece, but the constant crowd of lingering tasters spoke for itself.

The Black Dog Bakery had the sweetest display of desserts. Perfect squares of carrot cake, lemon cake, coconut chocolate cake, ginger cookies, chocolate truffles, and biscotti covered the table like a blanket of sugary goodness. Black Dog baker Laura Beckman knows what the people want.

The Atlantic’s new head chef, Mauricio Librado, had a spread of porchetta sandwiches with mushrooms, pickled onions, and harissa sauce. “It’s all about the food,” Librado said. “It’s great to be a part of this.”

The Giordanos stood behind their Little Rock Farm booth serving up watermelon and vegetable gazpacho. MV Smokehouse had a display of smoked bluefish spread, and striped bass with aioli.

The second layer of the Taste is the dress — which could arguably be No. 1 on this list, but we’ll keep it where it is for now. Martha’s Vineyard is a notably casual place. Indistinct lines seem to differentiate between work clothes, beach clothes, and bar clothes. But not at the Taste. The Taste is yours. Wear what you want. Put on heels. Wear that fancy floor-length dress you bought with no idea why you bought it. Bust out those bow ties in bold colors with a jacket to match. It’s a night for Vineyarders to play dress-up — we don’t get to do that very often.

Third, it’s about the music. The Sultans of Swing arm the stage with a line of entertainers. Seriously, there were about a dozen musicians onstage at all times. And nonmusicians. Members of the crowd always seem to find themselves up on stage for a song or two. But who can blame them, with the Sultans playing a steady stream of all those classic songs we know, love, and hate. They played Katy Perry. They played Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.” They played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

And for the final layer of the Taste — the heads. Who’s there? I always think about the local-locals — the people who grew up here. The Taste must feel like a high school or grade school reunion in every sense of the concept. It’s a night where you bump into all the people you grew up with. Or in my case, all the people you’ve met over the past couple of years of Island living. It’s a reunion, a celebration, and something that’s special to the Vineyard.

I think it’s fair to say traditions like this mark the official start of the season. With the Taste behind us, summer is dead ahead. Buckle up.