Smoked trout with a lemon horseradish sauce at Le Grenier. Photos by Susan Safford
Consistent, classic French cuisine
For the last two summers, I have enjoyed a unique vantage point from which to view the Vineyard's oldest chef-owned restaurant. My bedroom overlooked the entrance to Le Grenier on Main Street in downtown Vineyard Haven and my windows were, in fact, at eye level with the second floor dining room. On balmy evenings I would watch as the restaurant's loyal patrons would begin to arrive as early as 5:30 pm, gathering at the foot of the stairs, chattering about what they might order and how nice it was to all be together again.
Owner and chef Jean Dupon.
As so many dining establishments have come and gone over the same period, what is it about Le Grenier that ensures its devoted following? Its menu has remained remarkably unchanged since I first dined there more than 10 years ago, the dining room is largely the same, with chef/owner Jean Dupon firmly at the helm. It has even weathered a tough location - the largely invisible second floor of an older building in a town that doesn't even allow alcoholic beverages to be sold. Le Grenier's menu boasts nearly 30 entrées (plus specials), 13 hors d'oeuvres, soups and salads - an ambitious nightly undertaking, to be sure. Yet night after night, 365 days a year, Jean Dupon opens his doors at 5:30 and serves his signature traditional French food with an emphasis on heartiness and simplicity to a clientele that seems to eschew the trendy alternatives that have sprung up from one end of the Island to the other in favor of this institution under the eaves.
(From left) Heather Zvirbulis, Carly Holder, and Jacqueline Day enjoy a bachelorette party for Ms. Holder at Le Grenier in Vineyard Haven.
For our main courses, I chose the Tournedos Marchand de Vin, filet mignon with a red wine sauce. The tenderloin lived up to its name, moist and buttery-soft, cooked perfectly and served in a hearty brown sauce with mushrooms. Although I prefer filet without sauce, I decided to order it the way the French prepare it. It was rich and satisfying, a pleasing variation to my ordinary simple choice. My friend ordered Le Canard, roasted duck a l'orange. Also cooked just to tenderness, its sauce was sweet but not cloying. Our dinners were accompanied by dauphine potatoes, crisp deep-fat-fried potato balls, so delicious I was grateful we were served only two per entrée, as well as a rich creamed spinach.
Michele Dupon waits tables at her father-in-law's restaurant. This busy woman also teaches first grade at the West Tisbury School.
M. Dupon, a native of Lyon, France, took over Le Grenier after it had been open for just one year. He quickly transformed it into one of the most popular destinations on the Vineyard and has, through a combination of determination, grueling hours and natural artistry, maintained a reputation for consistent, classic French cuisine. Now 63, he has decided for the first time to close on Wednesday and Thursday evenings during the quieter months. His wife, it seems, has finally put her foot down and requested the pleasure of his company. He politely scoffs at the concept of retirement but does admit to a one-hour nap on the floor during peak season. After all, he starts his day at Le Grenier at 6:30 am and locks up at midnight. We will allow himself a rest but certainly not retirement from his post as keeper of French culinary tradition on Martha's Vineyard.
Le Grenier is open seven days a week during summer; closed Wednesdays and Thursdays off-season. Dinner is served from 5:30 until 9 pm off-season; 10 pm in summer. Reservations are recommended year-round. All major credit cards are accepted. Hors'd'oeuvres range from $12 to $16, soups and salads from $6 to $10. Entrées range from $26 to $37. Le Grenier is located on Upper Main Street, Vineyard Haven, above the M.V. Bagel Authority. Phone: 508-693-4906.
Karla Araujo is a freelance writer and tennis instructor.