The return of the wings (and oysters too)
There's something about tasty, inexpensive appetizers on wintry Friday afternoons that draws locals to Offshore Ale Brewery's "wings and oysters" promotion.
"It's the highlight of my winter, I'll tell you that much," says Laura Stone, a West Tisbury resident who frequented the Friday afternoon event last year and celebrated the start of wings and oysters last Friday. "I like it because it's a social, fun, inexpensive thing to do with friends."
Though starting later than last year, most would agree it was better late than never for Offshore Ale to kick off their end-of-week special. Every Friday, from 4 to 6 pm, they offer $1 oysters and 25-cent wings, dubbed "wings and oysters" among the crowd.
"Shortly after Colleen and Phil [McAndrews] purchased the place two years ago, we started looking for an off-season promotion to get people exposed to what we're doing and to the inside of the building," says manager Glen Caldwell, who has been managing the brewery for six years. "As new owners, they wanted to make sure they reached out to the Island community, to give something back."
The promotion was introduced in the spring of 2006. Last winter, it started in the fall and lasted into spring. This year, catering more to the locals, wings and oysters started after the holidays.
"It's our version of the happy hour," says co-owner and last Friday's hostess, Colleen McAndrews. "We were trying to keep this year's [wings and oysters night] in the off-season for the regulars. It's our Happy New Year's 'thanks' to our customers."
The event has become a gathering for all kinds of Islanders. Because of the 4 pm start time, many people come straight from work. It's evident from their dress, from the Carhartt-donned construction workers still wearing their winter hats and the daintily dressed teachers, to the freshly showered 20-somethings ready for a night out. For most patrons, the early-evening event is a pleasing combination of both food and atmosphere.
For some, it's the cozy, familiar environment of the brewery that draws them in. "I like the atmosphere because how many times in the winter time on the Vineyard do you get to see this many people, and listen to good music?" says Adam Petkus, a West Tisbury resident and a junior at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
The music changes weekly, but this past week the gathering heard the sounds of an Irish pub with Mary Wolverton and Greg Harcourt. Mr. Caldwell says that "...the usual suspects, the usual local heroes" will play at upcoming wings and oysters.
In the state of Massachusetts, a "happy hour" is illegal. One of the many aspects of the "Happy Hour" regulation states that an establishment cannot sell drinks at a price less than is regular during the same calendar week. For that reason, it is the food that Offshore offers at a discount, and these late-afternoon events have been a huge success in drawing a hungry crowd. Last year's numbers averaged 600 oysters and between 800 to 1,000 wings sold on a busy Friday night, according to Ms. McAndrews.
How do they shuck 600 oysters in a two-hour period? "It's a huge team effort to make the food come out the way it does. You're looking at five to six guys all doing different things. Two to three guys are shucking at one time," says Mr. Caldwell.
Among the oyster and wing-eaters sitting cozy in one of the large booths this past Friday were Paul Foley, Ed O'Connell, Jim Miller, and Jeff Wooden. The four were relaxing after working at the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
"We were lobbying for them to bring back the wings and oysters," says Mr. Foley. "But we're regulars even when they won't have the wings and oyster special."
"This really has the makings of an Island institution," says Mr. O'Connell.
First-time wings and oysters patron was Hannah McGlynn, a substitute teacher at Project Headway and a sophomore at Boston University. "I worked all day, and this is a nice way to end the workday," she says.
Kurstin Meehan, another first-timer and resident of Edgartown, vowed to come back for both the food and atmosphere, but especially the food. "I'm absolutely in love with buffalo wings," she said, "so how can you pass up 25 cent wings?"
Since its inception, it has been Mr. Caldwell and Mr. McAndrew's mission to offer premium food for the promotion. "When we built this event, Phil's directive to me was to use the highest quality," says Mr. Caldwell. "The promo wing is the same as the one on the regular menu; it's the best wing we can find. For the oysters, I try to find a good deal of good quality. I could buy a cheaper oyster and a cheaper wing, but that's not the thing."
Last Friday, the dollar oysters were Bluepoint oysters from Connecticut, but sometimes the special is for Wellfleet oysters from Massachusetts.
Like warm winter walks on the beach, wings and oysters has become a staple for living on the Island in the winter. "You know everybody here at Offshore, but at the same time you don't," says Mr. Petkus. "There's a special bond because you're here on the Vineyard in the winter."
Offshore Ale is located on Kennebec Avenue in Oak Bluffs. For more information, call 508-693-2626.