Though the idea of spending a cold winter on an isolated little Island during its off-season seems outlandish to most, I have always advocated for Martha’s Vineyard year-round. A few months spent without traffic or crowds everywhere you go is just what keeps us natives somewhat sane during the circus our busy season brings. Another perk of enduring a Vineyard winter would be that while the population decreases, the familiarity of our community increases. For me, this means I can walk into most any restaurant and be immediately greeted by name, and sometimes even with a glass of my favorite wine. The problem though, is that many restaurants close during January and February. Most of those who choose to keep trucking along during these desolate months are forced to substantially reduce their hours. So if you find yourself on this rock in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of the winter, during the middle of the week, where can you go out to eat? With no pun intended, I was inspired to write an article about the Newes.
We were greeted by Esther, an extraordinarily warm and welcoming hostess, and a familiar face around Edgartown. She led us to our table and tossed another log into the iconic fireplace. I was accompanied by my boyfriend Zach, who despite having grown up on the Vineyard, had never been to the Newes — those darn West Tisburians! I perused the drink list, and decided to leave it up to the bartender to choose what would best warm me up and calm me down after a long day of work. He concocted their most popular winter drink, the Spiced Cider ($10), which is composed of housemade warm apple cider and an amber rum. (I actually didn’t confirm that the cider is made in house, but it didn’t leave me with that sticky feeling your mouth gets after consuming something with all sorts of unintelligible ingredients.) Zach opted for the Light Newes ($7), which is a beer kegged exclusively for the Newes. He described it as being “more refreshing than a cold glass of water and lighter than Bud Light.”
While I did want to try some of the less popular menu items, I am a firm believer that you shouldn’t leave this particular place without ordering their Onion Soup with 3 Cheeses ($10). When I was a kid, I would go with my parents and pick the singed cheese off the edges of my dad’s onion soup. One day he convinced me to just order my own bowl and, almost 20 years later, it was just as overwhelmingly delicious. You know that warm, savory smell that fills your house when you slow-roast meat in the oven, or leave stew in the slow cooker for hours? If you could encapsulate that delicious aroma and comforting feeling into a flavor, it would taste exactly like this soup. We also ordered the Crispy Pork Ribs appetizer ($16), which comes smothered in a dry rub and served with a side of bread-and-butter pickles. The rub was truly mouthwatering. It had a spicy, Cajun barbecue flavor with just a hint of smoky sweetness. The ribs had that fall-off-the-bone consistency that led me to believe they must’ve been slow-cooked, while somehow still having a crispy outside.
The next thing to land on our table was the Bag O’ Rings ($10), another menu item you’d be crazy to leave the Newes without trying. Then before I could throw in the towel, our entrées arrived; the Herb Roasted Chicken Thursday special ($18) and the Daily Rotating Risotto ($18), which that day was prepared with creamy pesto, tomatoes, artichokes, and spinach. The risotto plate was bursting with bright colors and a fresh herb fragrance, which is a rare find in the middle of January in New England. The light summery flavors blended well with the rich and creamy consistency, creating a perfectly balanced dish.
Zach’s a real “meat and potatoes” type of guy. When he passed over the remainder of the roasted chicken dish, I noticed he had already eaten most of the green beans and polenta that it’s served with. I told him I didn’t realize that he loved either of those foods so much, to which he replied, “I hate green beans, and I have no idea what polenta is, I’d never eat it.” Without letting him in on the fact that he most certainly just did, I congratulated the Newes for preparing out-of-the-ordinary foods in such a way that they satisfied even the pickiest eater. The roasted half-chicken was cooked and seasoned to perfection. It was juicy and full of garlic, parsley, and black pepper.
I started feeling the unavoidable guilt you get in the pit of both your belly and wallet after ordering with eyes bigger than your stomach, and just in the knick of time general manager Robyn was there to convince me to order dessert. To my chagrin, Zach let her in on the fact that he had grown up here and never been to the Newes. He quickly explained that he lived in West Tisbury, though, so they began calculating the approximately 11-minute commute. They agreed that this of course was an understandably long trip to make — such a classic conversation between Vineyarders. Eli’s Evil Cousin ($9) soon arrived. Eli would be the brand of root beer they serve on draft, and the evil cousin comes in with the shot of vanilla vodka and scoop of ice cream that this drink is composed of. Suddenly I had just enough of an appetite left for dessert.
For just about $100, two people each got a drink, an appetizer, and an entrée, and we got to split both a side dish and a dessert. Not only is that an incredible occurrence on Martha’s Vineyard, but the food quality far exceeds your average pub fare. So if you find yourself on the Vineyard in the middle of the winter, hoping to avoid another night of cooking and cleaning, head to the Newes and grab a seat by the fire. It’s worth it, even if you’re coming all the way from West Tisbury.
The Newes, 23 Kelley St., Edgartown. Open daily at 11:30 am, 508-627-7900, kelley-house.com.