Winter nights at Menemsha Cafe


The Menemsha Café is serving dinner on Friday nights this winter (and this Saturday, Nov. 27). Since Josh and Angela Aronie opened the café in April 2009, it’s been an up-Island staple for breakfast and lunch. But from 5 to 8 pm wine bottles replace coffee urns and the eggs and English muffins are put aside for this once-a-week dinner.

Turning down Basin Road last Friday night, the Café was a beacon. White paper lanterns twinkle as soon as you round the corner. Inside the small, dimly lit dining room was all happy chatter and the pleasant sound of clanging dinnerware. Along with bottles of wine, some diners arrive with their own flatware, wine glasses, and silverware. One well-equipped group brought their own candelabras and cloth napkins. This preparedness helps with the burden of dirty dishes, which can be a problem for the small establishment. “We are not really a full-service restaurant,” explains Mr. Aronie. “We don’t have a bathroom. You order at the counter. This is a casual, relaxing, fun place.”

The kitchen is small and the dining room is full, but if Mr. Aronie is stressed, he doesn’t show it. From his open kitchen he manages a “hello” or “glad you enjoyed it” to just about everyone who passed through the café’s door.

The menu, which changes weekly, is handwritten and taped to the front counter. There are usually between five and six entrees on hand with something for every eater. When preparing the dinner menu, Mr. Aronie checks with Island resources first. Whatever is available, he will find a way to use. “Lots of fish in the summer, we use beef from The FARM Institute, we’re working on sourcing Island lamb, and the bay scallops are delicious right now.”

Bay scallops are particularly popular at the moment and Mr. Aronie buys them directly from Menemsha’s fishermen. This week Menemsha Pond’s little treasures were seared to perfection with just the right amount of crisp and served with gnocchi, Brussels sprouts, creamy parsnip puree, carrot ginger sauce, and an 8-year aged balsamic vinaigrette finished with fried parsnips.

For the carnivore, meatloaf or lamb? Meatloaf made with beef from The FARM Institute came with silky smooth mashed potatoes with gravy and a green salad. Braised lamb shank that practically fell off the bone — “You don’t even need a knife” marveled Dan Broderick of Chilmark — was served alongside cheesy polenta and roasted root veggies.

For the vegetarian, the question was Italian or Middle Eastern? Eggplant Parmesan was warm and hearty with layers of fresh eggplant, tomato sauce, and oozing mozzarella with a salad and buttery bread. The falafel makes a regular appearance on both the lunch and dinner menus. Served with tahini (sesame paste) and refreshing tzatziki (a creamy yogurt cucumber dip) over a Marcona almond Mediterranean salad.

Stuffed to the max and not the biggest dessert person, I (foolishly), thought I’d forgo an after-dinner sweet. A generous friend offered me a bite of her burnt-sugar pudding and the next thing I know, she’s blocking my spoon from her dish. Creamy, salty, and sweet, topped with whipped cream, this pudding may have changed my stance on dessert forever. On a coffee run the next morning I casually asked if there was any leftover from the night before. There wasn’t.

The Menemsha Café is BYOB, serving breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday. For dinner, they will be open on Friday and Saturday night this Thanksgiving weekend and Fridays at least through New Year’s. Entrees range from $18.95 to $26.95 and Mr. Aronie assures me that he will never charge more than $30 for an entrée, in keeping with the café’s laid-back vibe. The café does not accept reservations: Seating is first come/first serve. But don’t expect much of a wait as things move pretty quickly here.