Coming home to Home Port

Dinner and a Menemsha sunset capture the best of the Vineyard.

It was the mid-’80s when I first went to the Home Port in Menemsha. Back then, I was a poor graduate student on a tight budget. My boyfriend and I would go up to the screened backdoor of the kitchen, and for six bucks, they’d hand us a paper plate with bluefish and corn on the cob.

We’d take our food, and the beer we’d brought, and sit on the restaurant’s terrace, and with the other backdoor patrons, watch the sun set over Lobsterville. It felt luxurious to me, and one of the experiences that made me ultimately want to move to Martha’s Vineyard full-time. I wanted that in my life on a regular basis: eating just-caught fish, outdoors with a group of good friends, on a sunset-infused evening.

Well, we all know things change, and that “off the beaten track” secret of bluefish out the backdoor has now become a “thing” — the same way that getting a secret midnight cinnamon doughnut out the backdoor of Old Stone Bakery has become a thing.

On the one hand, it’s hard to lose one’s secret treasures. On the other hand, it’s nice to know everyone’s enjoying late-night doughnuts and fresh bluefish.

Recently, my son Ian, raised on the Island as a little kid, was visiting from grad school, along with a school friend. I thought about where to go to eat that might express “Martha’s Vineyard” to his friend Kate, and make him proud he was from here. I decided on the Home Port.

It was early evening, and they got seated while I drove around (and around, and around) looking for parking. That’s perhaps the one caveat here: Go really early if you’re within that Menemsha sunset time. Worst case is you have to sit on the terrace and have some oysters from their raw bar before your table is ready.

The sun, starting to set over Lobsterville, painted the pine-paneled walls of the Home Port, and cast the groups of diners in golden light. All around us were family reunions, it seemed — a table of 12, another of 16, another of 18. Generations of families, with grampas, and parents, and babies. At three, we might have been the smallest group, and only two generations, but it still felt like a reunion.

The Home Port has been in operation since 1930, and I loved the old-timey feeling of some of the menu items — the selection of “Dips” as appetizers included Spinach Artichoke ($12), Caramelized Onion Melt ($12), and Lobster-Crab au Gratin ($16). You could also start with Steamers ($16), Shrimp Cocktail ($15), or Fried Oysters (“Vintage Recipe” — $18), or — in a nod to culinary progress, Lobster Roll Sliders ($15) or Tuna Tartare ($18). If I thought I’d have room for dinner and appetizers both, I would have ordered the oysters, or Sautéed Mussels (with white wine, garlic, fennel, and herbs for $16).

Ian and I are pushovers for burrata salads, so we each ordered one (with arugula, mini heirloom tomatoes, and pickled onion) with our entrées, and they were lovely — fresh and green and creamy, like a mouthful of summer.

 

The menu is more extensive — and less fried — than I remembered. Ian’s friend Kate is from Southern California, by way of Ithaca, N.Y., so pretty much everything seafood — various lobster dishes ($38 – $70), Fried Clams ($28), and the daily fish special (sea bass) — looked interesting and novel to her. Ian reliably orders either swordfish or scallops, and in fact went for the scallops. I couldn’t resist those either — pan-seared sea scallops over mashed Yukon gold potatoes, sauteed veggies, with lemon butter and scallions ($38). Kate chose the Lump Crab Cake that sat like a small rugged mountain range on a bed of mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables, with lemon caper aioli ($36). Had any of us wanted meat, there were plenty of options and several creative “Surf and Turf” choices (such as Steak and Crab Cake), or simply steak (I’m sure it’s good, but it seems downright sacreligious to not order seafood at the Home Port).

We all ate every speck of food on our plates, which unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) left no room for dessert, so we decided to see if a drive down-Island might make for some dessert opportunities.

The sun had set over the Sound by the time we walked out. People mingled on the terrace with their friends, their beer, their fish — and I was glad I’d come home to the Home Port.

 

The Home Port, 512 North Rd., Menemsha. Backdoor options for dining (11:30 am to 9 pm), and raw bar on the terrace. Dining room is open nightly in summer from 5 to 9 pm; best to call: 508-645-2679. Remember that Chilmark is the Island’s only dry town, so BYOB. homeportmv.com.