Right around this time every summer, I realize it’s been weeks since I’ve left the two-mile microcosm in Oak Bluffs that has become my entire world. That’s when I round up some friends and pack the car for an up-Island road trip. By the time we hit Alley’s, I remember how much I love the ride up Middle Road —the grazing bulls at Brookside Farm, the breathtaking view of the Atlantic across Keith Farm, and the marvelously crooked trees at Beetlebung corner, where we turn and head toward North Road.
As we begin to descend the last winding hill, I remember Menemsha itself. Something about the weathered cottages perched at the water’s edge surrounded by lobster traps, buoys, and fishing nets makes me want to say, “Argh! I could stay here forever.” Although pleasure boats are well represented, the hardworking fishing vessels stand out, maintaining the harbor’s salty character.
For years, each time I returned to Menemsha, everything was right where I left it, but last year something changed. In April of 2009, Josh and Angela Aronie opened Menemsha Café (formerly Menemsha Deli) on Basin Road. Normally, change would denote a detriment to this timeless fishing village, but in this case a notable void was filled.
The exterior of the shingled cottage looks much as it always did, blending in with the surrounding shops and clam shacks. Inside, however, Josh and Angela completely overhauled the one-room eatery. Although the building had housed a deli for many years, the new owners installed a brand new kitchen, new lighting, and porcelain tile flooring.
The walls have been painted “library mahogany” and bear the work of such distinguished Island artists as Allen Whiting, Sheila Hughes, and Nathan Shepherd. The tabletops were built as part of an eco-friendly community project in Nashua using reclaimed walnut boards. The chairs look like mismatched relics from grandma’s house — stored in the basement and emerging faithfully on joyous holidays. Huge multi-paned windows drench the earth-toned room with daylight.
The cafe is welcoming without being overbearing. Take your time perusing the menu and order at the counter when you’re ready. Breakfast is served from 6:30 to 11:30 am daily and includes bagels and lox, egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, oatmeal, and granola. Bacon and sausage are all-natural and nitrate-free, so go nuts!
Lunch is available from 11 am until 3 pm so pack your cooler with nothing but ice and beer because everything else is here. Dietz and Watson meats are piled high on the ham, turkey, and roast beef sandwiches. The sensational Reuben sandwich offers a choice of corned beef or pastrami. Artisan bakery Pain D’Avignon provides most of the breads, like the buttery brioche used for their decadent lobster roll. They’ve brought the cheese steak to a new level using chopped tenderloin and caramelized onions. Now, I’m no vegetarian, but the meatless offerings here are hard to resist. The vegetarian wrap, with or without cheese and bacon, is packed with sautéed vegetables and exploding with flavor.
The Aronies are committed to local businesses as well as the environment, which is why they use 100 percent compostable materials from ECO MV in Vineyard Haven. On Fridays and Saturdays, when the cafe is open for dinner from 5 to 8:30 pm, Josh spends his time between lunch and dinner visiting Island farms and collecting fresh, organic ingredients for the evening’s dinner specials. Vineyard Sole with cucumber, cherry tomato salad, lemon basmati rice and sautéed North Tabor Farm bok choy is just one reason to stop in before sunset. And, they do not charge a corkage fee.
From flavor to hospitality, the Menemsha Cafe is a welcome addition to these familiar surroundings.