Good Taste

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The Local Smoke smoker is the perfect machine for cooking barbeque slow and low, and initiating good times. — Tim Laursen

The Fourth of July is arguably the biggest barbeque day of the year in America. For those fortunate enough to have the holiday, or maybe even a long weekend off, there’s a pretty standard way to pass the day that includes praying for sunshine, lounging on a beach or boat, fireworks, and of course, throwing meat on a grill. In every group of family or friends, there’s usually a designated grillmaster that aces it every time. Otherwise, it’s some dopey dad in a Kiss the Cook apron, who serves up charred burgers with raw centers every time. This article is for that guy. Because some of the best pitmasters on the Island are about to drop their BBQ knowledge. And if even that fails, one of them offers takeout.

A pig pile at Smoke 'N Bones: Memphis ribs, 1/2 chicken, pulled pork, cornbread, and beans
A pig pile at Smoke ‘N Bones: Memphis ribs, 1/2 chicken, pulled pork, cornbread, and beans

“Slow and low, that is the tempo,” insisted my good friends The Beastie Boys. They may have been talking about the beat behind their rhymes, but the same applies to good barbeque. Really great smoked barbeque can take hours to perfect. According to Tim Laursen of Local Smoke, it’s all about “patience, good fire control, and understanding the heat source.”

Local Smoke, which debuted their local BBQ creations at the Ag Fair in 2010, is comprised of  Mr. Laursen, a sculptor/musician, and farmer/stonemason Everett Whiting. Mr. Whiting’s family has been holding roasts for generations, but Laursen said, “it’s sort of a vacation for us to become pitmasters.”

Local Smoke raises their own pigs and they use chicken from Whippoorwill Farm, Cleveland Farm, or The Good Farm. They are also big fans of local lamb, and beef ribs. “People should try beef ribs,” Mr. Laursen said. “They’re nicely marbleized and have giant bones.”

Mssrs. Laursen and Whiting use an old-fashioned smoker to maintain the correct temperature, slow cooking the meat for hours, sometimes half a day. The smoker, which has a firebox built in, runs the smoke through chambers to cool it to the ideal temp of 190 to 240 degrees. They use a paprika-based dry rub of 15 spices before the meat hits the fire, then baste it. “I’ve experimented with injecting beer and moisture,” Laursen said. “I’ve also been working on a vinegar based sauce — I love that tangy after-splash.” But overall, Laursen said, the idea is to keep it simple: “The flavor the dry oak wood imparts is unique in itself.”

While an old-fashioned slow cooker is awesome, it’s not essential to good BBQ. A charcoal fire will do the trick. Here are Laursen’s tips for the home chef cooking pork butt, shoulder, or ribs:

“Let the charcoal get grey before you cook. Identify the hottest part of the fire, move the heat to one side, move your meat to the other side, and put the lid on. You also want to keep a tin foil tray underneath with water for moisture. Cook it low and slow. Don’t touch it, don’t poke it with a knife or cut it open. Once you put it on, let it be, so it develops a nice crust. We’re talking surface temps of 600 to 900 degrees: charcoal burns hot, so it’s about keeping the meat from burning while it cooks slowly. Be patient. Leave them for the first hour, hour and a half, before turning.”

Chicken and ribs get their glaze on the grill at Smoke 'N Bones.
Chicken and ribs get their glaze on the grill at Smoke ‘N Bones.

Okay, so let’s say something goes horribly wrong. The freight vessel delivering all the  charcoal to the Island gets commandeered by pirates. Or, your drunken slob of a friend topples into the grill, knocking all of the meat into the fire. What do you do? You do what Islanders do every day they want good barbeque: call up Smoke ‘N Bones.

Owner Stewart Robinson says 40 to 60 percent of the business at his Oak Bluffs restaurant comes from takeout, so don’t be ashamed. They also run a huge catering business. All their meat is treated to a dry rub, marinated, and smoked for four to seven hours at a low heat. “We’re one of the only spots in New England that does a real Southern style barbeque.” Mr. Robinson said. His chef is straight out of North Carolina, so you know it’s true.

Mr. Robinson added, “We use only the best cuts of meat, we don’t fool around here.”

Offerings include all the staples, such as baby backs, pulled pork and chicken, and brisket. One of the most popular sides is “Stewart’s World Famous Onion Rings,” which aren’t at all greasy. There’s also a great kids menu.

As far as grilling at home goes, Mr. Robinson noted that “everyone has their own style.” Everyone has their own favorites too. Edgartown Meat and Fish Market prepares great marinated meats and kabobs that are as simple as picking up and placing on a grill. Soigne is a good place to snag sides. Black Sheep does cured and smoked meats in addition to awesome cheeses. Reliable Market and Shiretown Meats have butcheries. It’s always optimal to check farm stands for local meat too. I got some killer ribs from Blackwater Farm last week. There are as many options on the Island as there are people.

Mr. Laursen told me that he recently visited Prospect Park in Brooklyn, while scores of families were out barbecuing. There were Armenians, Russians, African Americans, South Americans, all with meat sizzling away on a grill. Each smoke cloud smelled a little different, each style unique, but it was all based on the same idea.

“Barbeque is an equalizer,” Mr. Laursen said. “It’s simple, and timeless. It brings everyone together. It’s a complicated world, everyone’s lives are different, but when they’re standing next to a barbeque, it’s pretty universal what you’re supposed to do: relax, enjoy company, knowing there will be food. That’s what summer’s all about.” Now what could be more American than that?

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Guests can try a four-beer sampler before choosing their favorite for a pint or growler. — Michael Cummo

According to the legend of Bad Martha Beer, when Bartholomew Gosnold first arrived on the Vineyard in 1602, he had a very thirsty crew. Gosnold set out looking for ingredients to brew his mates some beer. Finding none, he drifted to sleep on the beach. He awoke in the night to a rather sexy mermaid, beckoning him. Unable to resist the temptation, Gosnold followed, and soon found himself in a field of lush grape leaves. Any other European might have delighted in the possibility of making some great wine, but Gosnold, the good Englishman that he was, used the grape leaves as the secret ingredient in a wonderful batch of beer. Once the ale sufficiently clouded his mind, Gosnold was unsure if he’d ever seen the mermaid at all.

Bartender Hannah Morrow worked the taps at Saturday's grand opening.
Bartender Hannah Morrow worked the taps at Saturday’s grand opening.

That, of course, is only lore, admits Jonathan Blum, Bad Martha Beer co-founder and writer of the legend. But like all legends, there’s an air of truth about it. Mr. Blum says Gosnold reportedly brought the first batch of barley to arrive in the United States right to Martha’s Vineyard. Because water was impure in the 17th century, many people enjoyed beer instead.

“We thought it would be great to bring some of that sentiment back to the Island,” Mr. Blum said. So he and his “brother from another mother” Peter Rosbeck started Bad Martha beer in 2013, using Martha’s Vineyard grape leaves and other local ingredients in every batch. The new headquarters of the company, Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery, opened in Edgartown last Saturday.

“The one thing that was missing was an experience of the brand,” Mr. Blum said about his decision to open the Edgartown brewing and tasting facility. Now, Island crowds can visit the post-and-beam barn designed by Patrick Ahearn on Upper Main Street, in front of Donaroma’s Nursery, which contributed to the gardens and flowered trellises in the barn’s outdoor patio area.

Bad Martha also features an outdoor patio.
Bad Martha also features an outdoor patio.

Inside, the tasting room offers free samples to anyone 21 and over. When patrons pick their poison, they can buy either a pint to enjoy at the bar, or a growler to take home. Head brewer Jim Carleton has come up with about 20 unique recipes that will rotate through the tasting facility seasonally, with local flavors including Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate, Chilmark Coffee, Martha’s Vineyard Honey, native blueberries, and beach plums. “We call it a farmer’s brewery because we really want to support the local community, local farmers, businesses, and charity,” Mr. Blum said. Mr. Blum and Mr. Rosbeck have been huge supporters of the Island Food Pantry, and eventually they hope to source their hops from Island farms like Morning Glory, Island Alpaca, and The FARM Institute.

The stylish taps at Bad Martha.
Even the taps are stylish.

“Because people will be outside enjoying these beers on the patio in the summer, we did tend towards the lighter side,” Mr. Carleton said. “But we do have darker and hoppier beers like stouts and IPAs too.” Mr. Carleton, a chemical engineer by schooling, first developed an interest in the brewing process while hanging around Sweetwater Brewery, pursuing his PhD in Georgia. Eventually, that interest led to volunteering “while I probably should have been working on my thesis,” he said. He eventually decided to cash in for his masters and go work at Ipswich Brewery, then Boston Beer Works, climbing higher in rank all the time. His wife Maria, also a head brewer by trade, is joining him in the Bad Martha brewery. He said what he likes best about Bad Martha is the relatively small size of the facility, which allows for experimentation with small batches of high-end ingredients.

“I think Jim is a beer genius,” Mr. Blum said. “He ordered all the equipment, designed the brewhouse, hired a terrific staff, but most importantly he’s made some delicious beers for us.” Mr. Carleton is working out the details of offering organized tours, but in the meantime he is happy to show “anybody and everybody” around for an impromptu tour.

Guests can also grab pub snacks, including a Scottish Bakehouse pretzel with a mustard beer sauce, and beer brownies from Eileen Blake’s Pies and Otherwise. Occasionally, Bad Martha might offer a raw bar and live music. The vibe is meant to be casual, relaxed — a place where folks can let go of inhibitions and (within the confines of the law and human decency) be a little bad.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I’m among a cultish following of Offshore AleCo. fans, and I couldn’t help but wonder what another brewery on the Island meant for my trusty old watering hole. Would the beer drinkers of the Island be pitted against each other in a battle of the brews? Turns out, most people are excited about the opportunities of having another brewery on the Island. “We already have one terrific brewery in Offshore Ale,” Mr. Blum said. “We thought there was an opportunity to develop another, and hopefully we’ll end up working together on bringing events like beer festivals to the Island.” Martha’s Vineyard Beer Fest? Now that’s an elephant I’d like to hear more about.

Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery, Upper Main Street, Edgartown. For more information, visit badmarthabeer.com.

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“I wanted to create a space that nourished people with food, but also soothed their soul," said Natalie Grewar of her new coffee shop and creperie. — Michael Cummo

At this point in my life, I’m comfortable enough with my nerdiness to confess that when I was in college, I sort of liked writing papers. While my friends worked on group projects, or rehearsed presentations, I was scribing 15-page papers on the delay between perception and reality in “Heart of Darkness,” or the role of the coyote as a trickster figure in both Native American literature and Looney Toons. Fascinating, right?

Nat's Nook has cozy indoor seating and free WiFi.
Nat’s Nook has cozy indoor seating and free WiFi.

But it wasn’t the actual coursework I enjoyed. It was the coffee. For hours at a time, I would post up in the corner of some cozy little coffee shop downtown with my laptop and a dark roast coffee. When I’d worked up a sufficient caffeine buzz, I’d clear my head amongst the wordless chatter and whir of espresso machines, and I’d type up literary analyses that only an undergraduate English major could admire. There was a strange comfort in it. I never thought I’d miss it, but when I graduated, I did.

Until this week, when I walked into Nat’s Nook, the new coffee shop and creperie in Vineyard Haven. Not only did a crepe sound delicious, but the aroma of coffee and the warm atmosphere made me want to hang out in the corner — or better yet the outdoor courtyard — and read a book (there’s a book exchange). Maybe I’d even write an article ahead of deadline (free WiFi).

Nat's Nook: now open in Vineyard Haven.
Nat’s Nook: now open in Vineyard Haven.

Turns out that’s exactly the vibe owner Natalie Grewal was going for. “I wanted to encourage people to sit and not feel rushed out,” she said. “I wanted to create a space that nourished people with food, but also soothed their soul.”

Originally from British Columbia, Ms. Grewal first fell in love with the idea of a coffee shop while working at Garcia’s (now 7a Foods) as a college student seven summers ago. “I just loved it, the people, the regulars, and the atmosphere,” she said.

When the Vineyard Haven space, just off Main Street, went up for sale, Ms. Grewal decided to realize her dream of opening her own coffee shop. It needed some work, and was a little off the beaten path, but with some help from her fiancé, she has truly made the space her own.

“It’s part of the charm,” Ms. Grewal said of the setback location.

Nat's Nook owner Natalie Grewal has been busy cooking up crepes in Vineyard Haven.
Nat’s Nook owner Natalie Grewal has been busy cooking up crepes in Vineyard Haven.

But to draw customers off Main Street, down the alley that leads to the Nook, Ms. Grewal knew she would have to do something special. “I always wanted to do a coffee shop, but crepes came about as a way to differentiate from everything else in Vineyard Haven,” she said.

The idea wasn’t as half-baked as it might sound. Ms. Grewal has been practicing the art of the crepe at home for years, and the result is a fluffy yet crisp enclosure for any meal of the day. Eggs? Sure. Meat? Done. Nutella? Obviously. She even does gluten-free crepes, if that’s your thing.

She says the crepe menu is a mix of ingredients she loves. “The Greek is my favorite, or the avocado, tomato, goat cheese. I wanted to do a mix of meat and veggie, something for everybody. I wanted to draw both locals and people who are only here for a day.”

In addition to crepes, there’s fresh baked goods, an iced tea bar, and all sorts of coffee. The coffee! Here’s the thing about the coffee. (You might have guessed I’m a coffee snob. You might also have guessed that I’ve had several cups of coffee just now). The coffee at Nat’s Nook is from Rao’s.

That might not mean anything to you, but Rao’s Coffee Roasting Company is based out of Amherst, also home to my alma mater, UMass. I can’t tell you how many regurgitations of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” I BS’d there. It was a place with a wonderful, hip yet homey vibe, and a killer Sicilian Roast.

“I’ve always really loved their coffee, it’s really strong, which I love,” Ms. Grewal told me, and I wholeheartedly agreed. Just seeing the little blue and yellow Rao’s cups on her counter filled me with nostalgia for a place where I used to feel at home.

“Because I’m not from here, and home is so far away, I’m always searching for places where I feel like I’m at home,” Ms. Grewal said. “There’s always something missing when I go to places on the Island, sometimes there’s great coffee, but the atmosphere isn’t my favorite. I just wanted to create a space that where you can feel at home and feel good.”

Mission accomplished, Natalie. At least for one other post-college washashore.

Nat’s Nook is now open at 38 Main St, Vineyard Haven from 7 am to 5 pm. 508-338-2340. natsnookmv.com.

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Scott Jones and Kell Hicklin, owners of Lambert's Cove, with a few new members of their family. — Kelsey Perrett

Imagine waking up on a summer morning to the clucks of chickens and the bleats of baby goats, walking through sunlit gardens to the chicken coop, collecting freshly laid eggs, and delivering them to the kitchen, where they are prepared into an omelet, with fresh herbs and veggies, just for you. It’s not some dream of your great Aunt Mabel’s farm in West Virginia, it’s now a reality at the recently renamed Lambert’s Cove Inn, Farm, and Restaurant in West Tisbury.

Nathan Gould, harvesting herbs from one of the Harborview's 11 gardens.
Nathan Gould, harvesting herbs from one of the Harborview’s 11 gardens.

Capitalizing on the farm-to-table dining trent, Lambert’s Cove Inn proprietors Scott Jones and Kell Hicklin have taken advantage of their spacious seven and a half West Tisbury acres, and converted as much as possible into farm and garden space. Their property now includes an herb garden, several greens and vegetable beds, a coop of 50 chickens, and two (unbelievably cute and friendly) baby goats, Eva and Zsa Zsa, who are expected to start producing milk for cheese next year.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while,” Mr. Jones said of the endeavor. “We’ve just been looking for someone to help us.” When they hired chef James McDonough, formerly of the Beach Plum Inn, to take over the kitchen last season, the pieces fell into place. Mr. McDonough brought in Chris Riger as a farm and garden manager, and got planting. “We let the kitchen dictate what we planted, based on James’s menu for each season,” Mr. Jones said.

Now, the chickens are producing 35 to 40 eggs daily. Herbs and spinach have popped up, and other produce such as micro-greens, tomatoes, and berries are growing swiftly. Kitchen waste is composted and cycled back into the gardens. A greenhouse is in the works to get a head start for next season. “Anything you see on the menu that can be grown here is being grown here,” Mr. Jones said. “What we can’t produce, we buy from local farms.”

Lambert's Cove's two baby goats will start producing milk and cheese next year.
Lambert’s Cove’s two baby goats will start producing milk and cheese next year.

“It’s been incredible having fresh eggs, the baby spinach, the herbs,” Mr. McDonough said. “I can’t wait for the strawberries.” And the best part is: “it’s just getting going.”

In other farm-to-table news, 7a Foods has moved their farm from Aquinnah, closer to their sandwich shop and bakery in West Tisbury. “We’re starting from square one,” chef and owner Daniel Sauer said. “I’m still assessing the space and the soil, and it will probably be a while before we get anything in the ground.” That doesn’t mean 7a won’t be offering fresh and local foods this summer. Right now they are offering an Island Grown Salad featuring lettuce and cherry tomatoes from Thimble Farm, bok-choy from North Tabor, hard-boiled eggs from The Grey Barn, and radishes and herbs from Morning Glory. One dollar of every salad sold benefits Island Grown Schools.

Chef Chris Fischer has been bringing products from the five acres of Beetlebung Farm to the table at The Beach Plum Inn and Restaurant for years. The most recent harvest to make it to the menu is wild asparagus. Mr. Fischer has also started offering weekly recipe baskets: featuring Beetlebung Farm’s latest produce and other local ingredients with preparation instructions designed by the chef himself. Next week, it’s Beetlebung Farm leg of lamb marinated in Mermaid Farm yogurt, chickpea and herb salad, collard greens, and a spinach salad. So, if you don’t feel like putting pants on, you can bring the farm to your home table. The recipe serves four, though, so for the sake of your company, please reconsider those pants.

Mary Kenworth, owner of State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury, says their 3,000 square feet of gardens are delivering herbs and greens already. “Last night, I had the swordfish with our Swiss chard and romesco sauce,” Ms. Kenworth said. “It was delicious.” Her kitchen staff oversees the planting and harvesting of the three gardens on the West Tisbury property, but “it really is a team effort.” Using food from their own garden “speaks to our mission,” she said. “That’s using what’s most local, travels the least distance, requires the least processing, and tastes the freshest. It doesn’t get any fresher than than coming up from our own soil.”

At the Scottish Bakehouse in Vineyard Haven, garden manager Zephir Plume is working hard to keep their garden producing for the long haul. Ms. Plume says she has been harvesting Russian red baby kale for the last month, and turnips will turn up this week. The chefs at the Bakehouse are preparing the kale underneath a pesto chicken with mozzarella and tomato salad. “A lot of what we grow is ingredients they either use regularly in the kitchen, or that can be canned,” she said. “I know our chef is very excited about the cherry peppers. We have about 200 plants, and she has very big plans for them.” Also look out for rhubarb, strawberries, and blueberries later this season.

Henry’s Bar and Water Street at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown are reaping the bounty from the 11 raised garden beds started last season by Harbor View’s Executive Chef Nathan Gould and Jennie Slossberg of Garden Angels. Several types of edible flowers and herbs are growing, along with fennel, four types of heirloom tomatoes, a few breeds of chile peppers, parsnips, carrots, spring peas, and a full bed of strawberries.

Chef Gould says right now, he is primarily taking advantage of the “fun clipping greens,” the flowers, herbs, and other garnishes that add flare to a salad. He is looking forward to “having summer in full effect” when the tomatoes and strawberries flourish. Mr. Gould says the tomatoes make a delicious jam to serve with a cheese plate, while strawberries, which coincide with striped bass season, pair well with a crudo or sashimi with smoked salt and olive oil. “It’s exciting for any chef to try their hand in gardening,” he said. “It provides day-to-day inspiration, and allows for creativity in the menu, based on what’s growing.”

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The Oak Bluffs Harbor is stirring to life after Memorial Day weekend with new restaurants and menu additions. — Kelsey Perrett

Last week, I helped edit a cool time-lapse video by Dick Iacovello, showing the Oak Bluffs harbor fill in with boats bound for Memorial Day fun. The traffic wasn’t quite heavy enough to indicate true summertime, but it was evident that something was starting to happen, the first notions of summer in Oak Bluffs bubbling up from some still very cold water. In the evening shots of the video, some friendly little lights beamed Gatsby-like across the water, reminding me that the restaurants lining the harbor had opened up, in the words of my Editor in Chief, “like tasty little clams.” So on Saturday night, I went to visit these old food-flames and find out what’s new.

Coop de Ville

The most noticeable addition to the harborfront this year is the conversion of Dinghy Dogs to a colorful food window called The Shuck Shack, owned by its neighbors at Coop de Ville. The raw bar and snack shack will have eight outdoor seats, and — take note ladies — will be run by a “handsome man named Jack,” according to manager Susie Radcliffe.

Ms. Radcliffe says specials this summer at Coop’s will include $1 littlenecks all summer, Monday lobster rolls, Tuesday “lobster fests,” and Thursday “dockside clambakes.” Coop de Ville will amp up their impressive selection of more than 100 beers with promotional events and 8 to 12 beers on tap at all times.

They are also proud to announce the new “Shuck Shack Extra Pale Ale,” made specially for Coop’s by Offshore Ale Co. Coop’s is also a hotspot for viewing the World Cup, which starts June 12. They will air coverage on three different screens, so soccer (fútbol) fans can watch in the open air. “We love being right on the water, in the sunshine where the boats dock,” Ms. Radcliffe said. “It’s a beautiful view.”

Lobsterville

The Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA, on tap at Lobsterville.
The Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA, on tap at Lobsterville.

“We’re starting off slow,” said manager Leslie Graham of the Lobsterville Bar and Grille, but she promises to add exciting new menu items throughout the summer. One of the newest additions is swordfish bites with a pineapple mango salsa. A tenderloin bruschetta on a tower of garlic toast is also planned, as well as a grilled artichoke and romaine salad, and lobster or crabmeat stuffed avocados on salad. Lobsterville will stay true to its name this summer, with its signature lobster-stuffed meals including grilled cheese, mac and cheese, and burgers. “We try to use anything fresh we can,” said Ms. Graham of the ingredients used in the summer menu.

On tap, Ms. Graham favors a “really nice” Allagash White Ale, a “very refreshing” Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, Sam Adams Summer, and the Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA, because “it has a really cool tap handle with a skull and crossbones.” Ms. Graham also hopes to book Island Thunder for musical performances this summer. “It’s just always buzzing,” she said of the harbor. “The water, the boats, the people, the sunsets — it’s a fun atmosphere with lots of activity.”

Nancy’s Restaurant and Snack Bar

Nancy’s, on the corner of the harbor, will stick with their menu of “standard seafood” this summer, said manager Steve Ansara, but there are a few new items hitting the harbor. For lunch, additions include a steak tip sandwich with arugula, braised onions, and tomato garlic aioli; and a pulled smoked chicken sandwich with roasted poblano slaw, onion strings, and Hoisin BBQ sauce. They have also returned the fish tacos, which Mr. Ansara called “a huge hit.”

For dinner, Nancy’s is introducing a seafood pasta with truffle cream sauce, a veggie risotto, steak tips, and a half roasted chicken with New England style gravy. Down at the snack bar, they will serve up all the old favorites plus new housemade chicken wings. The entire restaurant will feature Bad Martha’s Brewery beer this summer. On tap now: the Vineyard Summer Ale and the Island IPA. “It’s just the epicenter of Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Ansara said of the harbor. “There are two or three different styles of dining at Nancy’s depending on what you’re in the mood for, and they’re all great for people watching.”

There are a few other restaurants on the harbor readying for summer, including Fishbones Cafe, which was recently purchased by Lookout Tavern owner Michael Santoro. The crew at Fishbones isn’t ready to announce their opening quite yet, but they promise it is coming “very, very soon.” Stay tuned for Harbor Happenings, Part 2.

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"King" Paul Domitrovich and Kathy "Lola" Domitrovich, proud owners (once again) of Lola's Southern Seafood. — Kelsey Perrett

Well, I’m not the world’s most passionate girl, but I do feel very enthusiastically about the way a Sunday morning should be spent. Some people go to church, I eat breakfast. The easiness of a Sunday morning, the internationally recognized day of rest, warrants a big, homestyle meal. There’s just something about a Sunday that makes it okay to eat a deep fried waffle. With a hunk of fried chicken. And half a watermelon. And two more plates worth of southern style brunch.

The staff at Lola's named this crispy Yellowtail Snapper with mango corn salsa "Pharrell" because he looked so happy sitting up on his plate.
The staff at Lola’s named this crispy Yellowtail Snapper with mango corn salsa “Pharrell” because he looked so happy sitting up on his plate.

So I’m happy to welcome Lola’s Southern Seafood back to its old home at the Island Inn in Oak Bluffs, where owner Kathy Lola Domitrovich and her husband, Paul, are serving dinner five nights a week and brunch on Sundays.

The past two summers, the restaurant was Hooked, owned by Christian and Greer Thornton of Atria. So where has Lola been all this time? In Florida, soaking up the rays and working as a restaurant consultant. “We really thought this time we were going to retire,” Ms. Domitrovich said.

But when the Thorntons decided not to return for a third season, the Domitroviches, who still owned the property, opted to bring back the old Lola’s. “We still have a lot of spirit,” Ms. Domitrovich said, on coming out of retirement. “When I’m not Lola, I’m kind of bored.”

The buffet style brunch at Lola's has everything from scrambled eggs and bacon to jambalaya and collard greens.
The buffet style brunch at Lola’s has everything from scrambled eggs and bacon to jambalaya and collard greens.

Ms. Domitrovich brought back a little of Florida back with her, in executive chef Chad Ford and sous chef Mark VanSchaick. Both men have cooked on islands in the Caribbean, and they bring a tropical flare to Lola’s Cajun-inspired menu.

“I was so tired of the same old tuna, swordfish, ribs, and chicken,” Ms. Domitrovich said. “This year, I’m going to put my money into good chefs and let them fly.” She told Mr. Ford and Mr. VanSchaick to “make it young, make it hip, twist it up, but people are still going to look for the Lola’s experience.”

And people have come looking. Out of the woodwork, actually, to see if the rumors of Lola’s reopening are true. “They’re just flipping out,” Ms. Domitrovich said of her customers. “It’s like we created this monster that we can only run.”

The new chefs at Lola's: Executive Chef Chad Ford and Sous Chef Mark VanSchaick.
The new chefs at Lola’s: Executive Chef Chad Ford and Sous Chef Mark VanSchaick.

Watching the customers come in to brunch on a Sunday morning is like witnessing a family reunion. “Thank God you’re back,” I heard on more than one occasion, as the old friends hug Ms. Domitrovich and shake Mr. Domitrovich’s hand. “We don’t have a restaurant,” Ms. Domitrovich said. “It’s more like coming to someone’s house.”

The social media response to the reopening has been overwhelming as well. The restaurant’s Facebook wall hosts comment such as: “The Vineyard is not the Vineyard without Lola’s,” “I was there from day one and will always be there,” and “Lola’s is back…YEAHHH!”

There are a few changes since Lola’s was last open in 2011. Mainly, the interior design, altered under Hooked’s ownership, and Mediterranean before that. The dining room is airy, light, and clean. “It looks very different,” Ms. Domitrovich said, “but it’s fabulous for weddings. I’m booking more weddings than I ever did.”

Still, Ms. Domitrovich wanted to add a bit of color, some New Orleans flare, to the place. The mural that once greeted Lola’s customers is still there, but currently hidden. “If we do expose it, we want to uncloak it with a big Lola thunder,” Ms. Domitrovich said.

In the meantime, she’s decorated the bar and dancefloor with New Orleans style art and old instruments. She started with two of Mr. Domitrovich’s old accordions. Soon, friends were digging up old guitars, trumpets, and flutes from their basements and closets. “It’s starting to look more like Lola’s,” she said.

The front dining area and the back bar will feature two distinct menus. Ms. Domitrovich says the back will harbor a more casual, local pub vibe, while the front will be more formal. Ms. Domitrovich plans to add an outdoor raw bar too, to complement the outdoor games area carried over from Hooked.

Old Lola’s standbys such as the mussels and grilled calamari will still be on the menu, but Ms. Domitrovich already has some new favorites. One creation is Mr. Ford’s stuffed lobster recipe from the Dominican Republic. He takes everything out except the claw meat, tempura fries it, tosses it in a “bangbang” sauce with a mango corn salsa, then reintroduces it to the lobster on a bed of rice with pecans and bok-choy.

Mr. Ford is also serving up a dish from Key West: yellow snapper, complete with head and bones, sitting up on a plate. “The meat just flakes off,” said Ms. Domitrovich. “It’s a really beautiful dish, so exciting looking.”

And of course, the elaborate all-you-can-eat brunch has returned for Sundays from 10:30 am to 1 pm. “Sunday brunch is right back to where it was. It’s such a local summer thing,” she said. When the brunch resumed on Mother’s Day Weekend, Ms. Domitrovich welcomed back customers that had been coming to eat there every Sunday for 20 years.

Lola’s also hosted the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s prom last weekend. Ms. Domitrovich was surprised to see some familiar faces all grown up. “The kids I employed here or who got married here 20 years ago have their own kids now. Those kids are starting to work for me,” Ms. Domitrovich said. “It’s come full circle. It’s very comforting to see.”

Overall, Ms. Domitrovich is happy with her decision to return from Florida. “It’s cold, I still have my coat on, but it’s nice to see all my old friends.”

It seems fitting to welcome Lola’s back this week, as it also marks the return of the Good Taste column in the MV Times. I’m psyched to take on this project. I’d also like to apologize for all the references to the song “Lola.” Ms. Domitrovich bears no resemblance to the cross-dressing love interest of Kink’s fame. They asked me to make the column young and hip, so of course I revolved my lede around a song from 1970. But the song simply would not stop playing on my broken internal record player. And who am I to turn down The Kinks on vinyl?

Send me your dining news and questions to kelsey@mvtimes.com.

For more information on Lola’s Southern Seafood, call 508-693-6093, visit lolasmv.com, or search Lola’s Martha’s Vineyard on Facebook.

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Islanders are ready for the summer spots to open, such as Faith's Seafood Shack in Aquinnah. — Photo by Kaylea Moore

Kaylea-MooreIt’s finally spring, though the weather doesn’t quite feel like it. For me, this time of year is about scrambling to finish the projects and accomplish the things I had planned to do over the winter. The sunshine filled days that last until seven o’clock get me excited about the summer and motivate me to stop procrastinating and finish spring cleaning. They also get me excited about my favorite restaurants opening for the season.

A Dirty Banana from Donovan's Reef at Nancy's in Oak Bluffs is a sign of summer.
A Dirty Banana from Donovan’s Reef at Nancy’s in Oak Bluffs is a sign of summer.

April 1 is right around the corner, and so are the openings of many seasonal establishments, such as The Lampost in Oak Bluffs, with its inaugural April Fool’s Day opening. Expect to see a facelift to the façade of the Circuit Avenue institution, with the addition of patio seating and windows.

Atlantic Fish and Chop House in Edgartown will reopen on Wednesday, April 2, with the addition of a new street-side outdoor cafe section, as well as a completely private dining room that seats 12.

Chesca’s Restaurant in Edgartown celebrates its 20th season this year and opens its doors on Thursday, April 10. Be on the lookout for celebratory specials.

Coop deVille will open on April 18, and Petey says he’ll be stocking at least 100 beers this summer. And The Red Cat Kitchen at Ken ‘n’ Beck in Oak Bluffs opens Tuesday, April 15.

One of my favorite spring traditions is eating my first slice of Gio’s pizza of the season, which will happen on Thursday, April 24, when Giordano’s takeout opens.

What places are you excited about? Here’s what some Islanders had to say:

Duck confit salad from State Road Restaurant, which opens for the season on March 27.
Duck confit salad from State Road Restaurant, which opens for the season on March 27.

“I’m really excited about most recently State Road Restaurant reopening this Thursday [March 27], and then after that The Lookout [opens April 3]. That’s a sign of the summer. The Lookout is always good because of the location, seafood, and sushi. I’m also excited for The Port Hunter to open [opens May 15]. I’m really excited about local food being served, it’s a sign of spring and summer,” says Sarah Soushek of Vineyard Haven.

“A place that I am really excited about this summer is definitely l’etoile [opens April 24]. Their desserts are really good, they’re not overdone, and the prices are right. I like the bar menu too,” says Denis Toomey of Edgartown. “I also like The Lookout, sushi is always good, and I like eating outside on the deck, seeing the boats coming in. It’s always nice to get seafood right on the water down-Island. The outdoor seating and quickness of The Net Result is always pretty good. You walk in and order, and in three minutes it comes out. I like how much they give you on the fish and chips. They give you two big solid pieces of fish, and also the fries are pretty good. Also The Port Hunter rocks.”

“I can’t wait for Faith’s Seafood Shack to open: sushi, fro yo, and really good coffee. I also long for 7a [opens April 1]. I want to sit in the sun with my coffee, see my friends, and eat my Liz Lemon sandwich. Cannot wait,” says Aretha Brown of Chilmark.

“I’m excited about being on the harbor in Oak Bluffs and just being outside more, because it’s been very cold and I’ve been hibernating,” says Elyse Madeiras of Oak Bluffs. “I like to go to Donovan’s [Reef] to visit him. I love being on the beach with friends. We always manage to go to Norton Point to cookout. The best is when everyone starts to go fishing, and we grill on the porch at my house, and quahogs, quahogs, quahogs. Quahogs for days, that’s my candy. I do miss The Lookout a lot, but definitely look forward to spending time on the harbor in Oak Bluffs, people watching and seeing everybody outside.”

Word on the street is that there will be a few surprises this summer with new restaurants opening and changes in ownership. Stay tuned for updates.

It's almost time for a Lookout Lemonade.
It’s almost time for a Lookout Lemonade.

Noteworthy

Chef Chris Fischer of Beach Plum Inn & Food, Chef Dan Sauer of 7a Foods, and Bennett Coffey and Kyleen Keenan of Not Your Sugar Mamas are being recognized by StarChefs.com as coastal New England rising stars. They will be honored at the Rising Stars Gala on Tuesday, April 15, at the Providence Biltmore Hotel, where they will showcase their signature dishes. Tickets start at $95. For more information, visit starchefs.com.

Last call

Sadly, this will be my last article for Good Taste. It’s been a fun ride. Thank you to all who have been so encouraging, helpful, and supportive. Keep cooking, and be sure to support Island restaurants and local food.

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Too cold to grill outside? Some grill in their wood stoves. — Photo By Kaylea Moore

Kaylea-MooreIt is March on Martha’s Vineyard, the awkward month that yields snow yet is the gateway to spring, the month that plays host to daylight savings and the vernal equinox. This time of year confuses me: one day I’m scraping the snow off of my car and the next I’m driving with my sunroof open. This confusion extends to other aspects of Island living. Constant questions flow through my head, such as what time does the library open? Is the dump closed on Tuesday? Arbitrary hours of operation continuously haunt me while I try to open locked doors and peer into dark establishments wondering why they are closed on Monday. Some restaurants have taken a brief hiatus; while others such as Copper Wok in Vineyard Haven will have its grand opening this weekend (check out their Facebook page for opening party information).

March is full of random holidays and national days that celebrate things like potato chips, clams on the half shell, and peanut butter lovers’. March is also national frozen food month, so be on the lookout for coupons for your favorite frozen treats. But above all, March is the month to make your own fun. Why not find an excuse to celebrate and host a party. I love throwing dinner parties, and I think that they are way more fun when there is a theme involved.

Here is some inspiration to make the month of March a little more exciting.

Keep celebrating Fat Tuesday this weekend with a Mardi Gras party. Bring the French Quarter to your house with purple, green, and gold beads and feathery masks. Create a menu full of Cajun and Creole flavors featuring dishes like gumbo or étouffée, beignets, po’boys, muffuletta, and a king cake (don’t forget the baby). Sip on Sazeracs or Hurricanes and play some zydeco and your favorite brass band music.

Make your friends do some of the work by throwing a potluck party. It’s always fun to choose a country or region and have guests bring a dish they’ve created inspired by that location. Another fun way to host a potluck party is through a cooking contest. During past holidays my family would decide on a dish and have everyone take their best go at it. For the pizza competition, my father’s shrimp pesto pizza still reigns supreme.

Last year, on a ski trip I went on, there was some serious competition in the kitchen. The first night was a meatball contest, where people brought meatballs already made and everyone voted on which they liked best. Another night was devoted to the game “Stir Crazy” where two teams battled it out in the kitchens to create an Asian inspired appetizer, entrée, and side dish with pre-selected ingredients and no recipes. For your own “Iron Chef” or “Chopped” experience, have guests bring random ingredients and collaboratively make a meal together or divide into teams and throw down.

Expand your wine knowledge by having a wine tasting party. Invite guests to bring a bottle of red or white wine, depending on which varietals you want to try. Put bottles into brown paper lunch bags and fasten using a rubber band or twine. Judge the wine based on its characteristics, and try to determine its value, region, and varietal.

Plan your next party around a game night featuring poker, Monopoly, or good old-fashioned charades and create no-mess finger foods that are easy to pop in your mouth between turns (you don’t want sticky cards). Or whip up some Super Bowl inspired snacks to watch during a March Madness game.

Keep dinner parties simple by creating one pot meals such as pasta, risotto, or jambalaya or throw something in the slow cooker like pulled pork. I love serving dishes that are interactive, that guests can participate in creating such as personal pizzas or tacos and chili that can be doctored with toppings of choice. The same topping bar idea holds true for dessert, where build-your-own ice cream sundaes are always a crowd pleaser (make sure to have chocolate chip cookies or brownies on hand).

It’s always fun to celebrate a food or ingredient and make it the center of attention at a dinner party. I have attended parties that have celebrated crabs, oysters, lobster, scallops, and bacon. Choose something that is in season or that is fun to cook with and create a menu that highlights the ingredient in each dish that you serve.

Themes can focus on food or on cooking methods. Recently, a friend fired up his wood stove for some winter grilling of New York strip steaks. It was a fun conversation piece and warm spot for people to congregate. Try your hand at an outdoor smoker or just in time for St. Patrick’s Day fix your friends a boiled dinner to serve with green beer.

Parties don’t have to be limited to evenings. One of my favorite parties to host when living in Boston was a Sunday brunch. I would do most of the cooking the night before and serve items such as stratas or frittatas, muffins, roasted vegetables, prosciutto, fruit, mimosas, and bloody Marys. Most of my friends lived walking distance from my house and it was always a fun way to start off the day.

We shouldn’t need excuses to get together during the winter and spend time with friends. Get out of the house, plan a party, attend a party, or check out a restaurant you haven’t been to. Make haste, summer will be here before we know it.

On that note, Dairy Queen in Edgartown opens Tuesday, March 11.

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Josh Aronie, chef, framed by the door of The Food Truck in front of the Chilmark Store. — Photo By Kaylea Moore

The Food Truck, operated by Josh Aronie, formerly of the Menemsha Café in Chilmark and Café Moxie in Vineyard Haven, celebrates its one-month anniversary this week. Parked in front of the Chilmark General Store, you can’t miss this mobile hotspot on State Road in Chilmark, serving food from 10:30 am to 2 pm, Mondays through Fridays.

Most of the menu items are $10 and under, and they change daily. Past offerings have included chili, chicken tacos, meatloaf sandwich, pulled pork, chili dogs, lemon rosemary French fries, and soups such as mushroom, kale, and carrot ginger. Don’t miss out on the fresh baked cookies and coffee from the Chilmark Coffee Company.

This past Monday I visited the truck, enjoyed a falafel salad, and asked Mr. Aronie a few questions.

The Food Truck is open rain, snow, or shine. "We've been open throughout everything," Josh Aronie said.
The Food Truck is open rain, snow, or shine. “We’ve been open throughout everything,” Josh Aronie said.

What has been your most memorable day so far?

I think it was the day that we had to close the windows half way because the snow and rain were coming in, snowflakes sizes of golf balls were coming in through the window. It was probably one of the most memorable. We’ve been open throughout everything. We are a little like the post office only we are getting it done.

How late in the season will you be open and what are your plans after you close?

Right now this is pretty much just until the middle of April, and then I haven’t really made my decision on what I’m doing going beyond that.

How do you come up with items you are going to serve? Does it change daily?

We always have the breakfast burrito [made with local eggs], the falafel [served as a wrap or salad], and the chicken sandwich, and then we try to put in one or two fluctuating sandwiches or specials. Today we have the veg wrap and American chop suey. With the American chop suey we kept getting requests for it so we thought, let’s just do it, we’ll see how it goes. We know that some of the guys up here that work in the town like it. It’s actually sold pretty well today. And the veg wrap always sells well. We just go by the feel of people.

How is cooking in a food truck different than your experience cooking in a restaurant kitchen?

It’s kind of nice because it is tight and limited and you can’t do as much, so you kind of get to focus a little more, but it’s definitely limiting at times. We are far from our home base, so when we are out of food, we are out of food, we don’t have an option.

Have you run out before?

We’ve run out of a few things here and there, but we usually try to over pack. There have been days when we didn’t expect to do as many people as we did, and it’s really hard to predict how many people will show up.

A falafel salad, a regular offering at The Food Truck.
A falafel salad, a regular offering at The Food Truck.

What is the most popular item on the menu?

The chicken sandwich is definitely the number one seller, though the falafel is pretty close, but I would say definitely the chicken sandwich, we probably do somewhere around 40 a day.

Can people call ahead for big orders?

Yes, or even for single orders. The phone number is designed more for texting than calling. We are hoping that they will see the menu online or through Twitter or whatever and order ahead of time. It helps us to be prepared especially when a lot of the construction workers are up here and they don’t have the time to be waiting around, so we try to go as fast as we can.

Any new specials on the horizon?

We’ve been using some of the old standbys that we had from the Menemsha Café. We will probably do a sausage sub and a steak and cheese. We are going to do a burger tomorrow [this past Tuesday]. We are playing it by ear, we are going by how much we sell. If we’re sold out of something, then we need to make something new tomorrow.

Are you having a good time doing it?

Yeah, it’s fun.

Visit The Food Truck Facebook page or follow them on twitter @thefoodtruckmv for the daily menu. To order ahead, call or text: 508-560-5581. The Food Truck is cash only.

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Chocolate mascarpone tart with pistachios in olive oil from "The A.O.C. Cookbook." — Photo by Kaylea Moore

SS_Kaylea Moore-webI have always eaten copious amounts of cake during the month of February. As a child, I may have been on a permanent sugar high for 28-29 days in a row. February kicks off with my mother’s and brother’s birthdays two days apart, which equaled cake for a week, with all of the leftovers. Valentine’s Day usually brought some sort of confection: cupcakes, chocolates, or a combination of both. One week later, my birthday resulted in two cakes, one to be eaten with my family and one for my usually themed party. Classmates’ and friends’ birthdays brought more cake into my belly. I would consume it right until last day of the month, at my friend Catie’s birthday, who was born on leap year.

Some say that cakes are served at special occasions because they represent the pinnacle of culinary talent, and only the best should be served during a celebration. Traditionally, cakes were made from ingredients that were expensive and difficult to obtain, (such as sugar and spices) and could only be afforded once or twice a year. They have long been associated with ceremonial occasions such as weddings and birthdays, and have become an integral component of these rituals. To this day, my mother insists that you eat cake and blow out candles on your birthday.

With my big day quickly approaching, I have received multiple phone calls from my parents asking what kind of cake I want. It got me thinking about the cakes that I have eaten and made over the years, and which I enjoyed the most.

Buying Cakes

There was the Nickelodeon green slime cake that my friend Alison had at one of her birthdays: whipped cream sandwiched between yellow cake, topped with vanilla pudding dyed green with food coloring. October meant a Dairy Queen ice cream cake at Erin’s party, a favorite of mine, with the chocolate cookie crumbs and gel icing. In high school, Eleni would get a strawberry white chocolate cake from M.V. Gourmet Café & Bakery in Oak Bluffs, topped with glistening strawberries and white chocolate stalagmites, a tradition that still exists today.

Over the years I have eaten my fair share of Black Dog Bakery creations, including their trademark “Triple Chocolate Mousse” majesty of white, milk, and dark chocolate mousse, whipped cream and chocolate ganache. Or the “Black-Out” Cake: dense chocolate cake with fudge and chocolate frosting, topped with chocolate cake cubes and powdered sugar. And, of course, their moist, dense traditional birthday cakes enveloped by rich buttercream.

Many birthday meals have ended with confections from Cakes by Liz. Past favorites include white cake with hazelnut crunch filling and a raspberry frangipane tart. Last year I remember drooling over Leslie Hewson’s pineapple upside down cake at a co-worker’s birthday. I have heard great things about the custom made cakes from Scottish Bakehouse — I’m excited to try their pumpkin cake with caramel cream cheese frosting and their pineapple cake with coconut frosting.

Bake your cake and eat it too

I love the challenge of baking a cake, and I’m not talking about with help from Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. Here is a peek into the process of mastering the art of cake making (or at least my adventures along the way):

bouche de noel.jpgIn culinary school, we were asked to make a buche de noel, the classic French rolled cake decorated to resemble a Yule log. I remember it taking forever, baking the chocolate genoise sponge cake, melting the chocolate with hot cream for the ganache, whipping the coffee Swiss buttercream, making and assembling the meringue mushrooms, and decorating the cake. But it was so much fun to make, reminiscent of arts and crafts as a youngster.

Chocolate Macadamia Cream Satin.JPGThis Christmas, I decided to try and conquer a cake that I have wanted to make for 20 years. I flipped to the back of my parents’ dog-eared, stained copy of “Mrs. Field’s Cookie Book.” There it was — the chocolate macadamia cream satin cake — what I’d considered the most magical of desserts as a child. The labor-intensive recipe took all day to make and was a disappointment to me, after spending years of fawning over the glossy photo, but at least my parents liked it.

The thing with making a cake is it’s not just one or two steps. You usually have to bake the cake, let it cool, make the filling and frosting, assemble, then frost and decorate it, and sometimes, refrigerate it for multiple hours.

In one of my articles from last year, Liz Kane of Cakes by Liz gave great advice to home cooks looking to make the perfect cake. She said, “don’t try to make a cake and ice it all in the same day. Putting it in the freezer for a couple of days adds moisture.” Then you frost it.

Unfortunately, I have yet to take Ms. Kane’s advice. I spend the whole day slaving in the kitchen over a recipe I swear said took one hour to make, but doesn’t account for letting the cake cool or refrigerating the filling for two hours.

This happened to me again, two weeks ago. My mother is obsessed with mascarpone cheese, so for her birthday I decided to make her a chocolate mascarpone tart with pistachios in olive oil, a recipe from “The A.O.C. Cookbook.” The four-page recipe should have been an indicator that I needed more than the time that I allocated, but it didn’t look too difficult.

Another tip: read the recipe and ingredients carefully before you make it. I didn’t account for how long it would take to roll out the dough, form it in the tart pan, bake, and cool it. Or the amount of time it took to unwrap and chop bars of chocolate and shell almost a cup of pistachios.

Chocolate mascarpone tart.JPGThe tart was a bit weepy; it should have had a few more hours to set in the refrigerator, but I was at the birthday candles’ beck and call. It ended up being a new and interesting dessert that my mother said she enjoyed, and that’s what mattered.

So for you amateur cake makers, learn from my mistakes. Make sure to read and re-read the recipe and make the cake the day before. If it is a disaster, at least you’ll have time to run to one of our great Island bakeries for some reinforcements.

Layer cake tips

Cakes tend to dome when you bake them, so after they have cooled, make them level by cutting off the tops with a serrated knife. This will prevent a lopsided cake. When the cakes have been leveled, and the cut side of the bottom cake is topped with filling, invert the cakes on top of each other — so that the cut sides are facing each other — and brush off any loose crumbs. Next is a thin coat of icing called a crumb coat. Use an offset spatula to apply a small amount of icing all over the cake, to lock in the crumbs. Freeze the cake until the icing is set and then frost with remaining icing. This will leave you with a smooth surface.