Teamwork makes the dream work at the Port Hunter

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The Port Hunter team, from left: Stephan, Tiny Dancer, Rico, Alex, Jeremy, Tommy, Paul, and Nick. (Not pictured: John Stones.) —Marnely Murray

Jeremy Davis of the Port Hunter has quietly become one of the best chefs on the Island. In the past six years since he arrived on Island, Chef Davis has evolved into a focused, driven chef. He has surrounded himself with a carefully curated team from around the country — many are old acquaintances from Florida or Michigan, the two main spots where Chef Davis kicked off his career.

Born and raised in Jupiter, Fla., a location just as seasonal as Martha’s Vineyard, Chef Davis began his career with a high school cooking class that piqued his interest. From there, he jumped to odd jobs at pizza shops and buffet restaurants, eventually bartending at fine dining restaurants. While bartending, he was scouted by Old Marsh Golf Club in Palm Beach, and suddenly he was the sous-chef there. That experience brought him to the Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown. Strolling along downtown Edgartown one day, he saw a “we’re hiring” sign at the Port Hunter. Obviously, he got the job.

Starting at a new restaurant is a gift. “In the past six years, I’ve grown up with the Port Hunter,” Chef Davis said. “Most important, my team has grown with me.” In an instant, you can see his face light up with passion. You can sense how grateful he is for this team, the men who prep, cook, sauté, clean, laugh, and work together seamlessly. They all have each other’s back and can project their chef’s vision and aesthetic.

So what is this vision? Chef Davis describes it as a freestyle, inspired by world cultures,

rustic, and colorful. I can attest to all of this because I’ve pretty much tasted everything the Port Hunter team has made. From early dinners to late-night cocktails, Port Hunter has become one of my favorites (and yes, I’m allowed to have favorites).

Chef Davis seems happy to have landed on the Island. “To be able to know the fish I’m getting from Menemsha is the freshest, or that we can go out and clip herbs 30 minutes before service at our greenhouse — I appreciate and am thankful for that,” he said. That’s the wonderment of working on this Island. The resources that are available to us, the fresh produce and seafood, are a gift.

The team at the Port Hunter recognizes that, and they all sit down to a good family meal before service every night. “It’s the moment we can all sit down and catch up, whether we’re talking about new menu specials or not,” Chef Davis said. Feeding the staff, a staff that has your back and works hard for you, is the least a chef can do. But Chef Davis goes beyond that, connecting with each and every person, making sure their day is running smoothly.

It’s clear from the food that something about this system is working. I’ll give you a rundown of what you should order if you’ve never been. Start with the calamari ($13), perfectly fried to a crisp and served with a sweet jalapeño jam that will leave your fingers sticky, in a good way. Get the corn, also known as the “elote,” Mexican street corn slathered in a cilantro aioli, sprinkled with queso fresco and fresh cilantro, if its is on the menu (it’s not always available, since it’s dependent on fresh corn from Morning Glory Farm.) As an entrée, the fish tacos ($18) are a stellar choice — lightly fried Vineyard flounder on corn tortillas with a chipotle aioli, pickled cabbage, Mermaid Farm cumin-infused yogurt, and a black bean ragu. When I’m in need of comfort food, the Tiz Chicken ($30) is the way to go — slow-roasted GOOD Farm chicken set atop sautéed spinach and garlic, and a creamy herb polenta soaking up all those chicken juices, it’s comfort food at its finest. For dessert, their key lime is quite tasty.

The Port Hunter is consistent. Though their specials change daily, the food is always packed with flavor. I hope Jeremy Davis and his team at the Port Hunter keep doing what they’re doing for many years to come. In the meantime, you should know they’ll be open up until Oct. 29, but closed Mondays after Columbus Day. Like them on Facebook to see their daily menu additions (facebook.com/ThePortHunter), and get yourself there as soon as possible.