“Sea smoke, frost smoke, or steam fog, is a fog which is formed when very cold air moves over warmer water. The effect is similar to the ‘steam’ produced over a hot bath or a hot drink, or even an exercising person.” –Wikipedia
One might need a minor workout after a trip to Oak Bluffs’ Sea Smoke restaurant, but some indulgences are worth the cost. Off the beaten track, about a half-mile from Circuit Avenue’s downtown, partners J.B. Blau (Sharky’s, Loft, M.V. Chowder Co., Copper Wok) and Dan and Wenonah Sauer (7a Foods) have lit a fire on the harbor.
The décor is a first good sign: pictures of cattle skulls, plenty of wood, rustic chalkboards, and an array of ciders, wines, and craft beers. The prized possession, however, sits in a private lair out back: a 20-year-old behemoth that Blau has deemed “the biggest smoker on the Island.”
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where there’s fire, there’s barbecue. Calling upon the Texas BBQ tradition, pitmasters Dan Sauer and Robert Carter have cooked up an assortment of brisket, beef, sausage, and fall-off-the-bone ribs that are sure to satisfy newbies and BBQ aficionados alike.
Last year, Sea Smoke employed a traditional cafeteria-style approach to the science and art of slow roasting, but this year things have been rejiggled — featuring sit-down service, wine and beer (with a full bar coming in 2020), and a menu that strikes a chord from Memphis to Martha’s Vineyard.
Warm up with something from “the Leaf Pile” (a.k.a. salads), or better yet, some “Kindling.” We opted for the Corn Pudding Fritters ($7) and Jalapeño Poppers (wrapped in bacon, smoked for two hours, $12) — an auspicious beginning indeed. Once the fire is raging, it’s every man and woman for themselves. Creative Mac ’N’ Cheese Skillets ($12-$16) contain “bubbly, cheesy, saucy goodness” as well as a choice of BBQ add-ins.
Burger buffs will be tempted by the 50/30/20 (chuck, bacon, chopped beef, $18) and fans of the mythical “Old 96er” (a steak from the film “The Great Outdoors”) may want to take up the challenge of “The Bad Axe Burger” (burger, sausage, choice of more meat, coleslaw, sauce, $25 — and good luck).
The “BBQ On-Trays” (kudos to the wordsmith) are where the rubber meets the road. A Texas Trio is de rigueur: Brisket, St. Louis Ribs, Sausage ($26) — and the Half Smoked Chicken ($16) — did not die in vain, cooked with TLC for anywhere from 90 minutes to 15 hours.
Anyone who loves barbecue knows that the sides are just as important as the mains. Two “Sidekicks,” as well as cornbread or a dinner roll, come with every On-Tray, and there are many to choose from: Dry Rub Fries, Corn Pudding Fritters, Coleslaw, Collard Greens, Baked Beans, Potato Salad, Spicy Texas Beans, and more ($4-$15).
There are also a few other cowbells and whistles worth mentioning: a nice menu for the “Saplings” (kids), tables to wait for takeout, and if you find yourself waiting, why not try your hand at axe throwing? Correct. If you haven’t heard, Sea Smoke boasts the first axe-throwing court on the Island. The up-and-coming sport is overseen by professional bladespeople from Mass Axes (facebook.com/massaxes).
On an Island where farm-to-table is all the rage, owners Blau and Sauer describe their concept as “smoker-to-table,” and nothing could be closer to the truth. All Sea Smoke meats are fired with 100 percent native, Martha’s Vineyard woods, and don’t be surprised if you find a ring in your dinner. That pinkish hue is the “smoke ring,” a product of myoglobin proteins, and a badge of honor for pit masters and backyard chefs alike.
If you still have your Sea Smoke legs at the end of this wagon train, you might keep the one dessert on the menu company: a House Made Peach Cobbler ($8) with scoops of vanilla ice cream. It might not be what the doctor ordered, but you definitely should.
Sea Smoke, 11 am to 10 pm daily. Menu available online at seasmokemv.com. 7 Oakland Ave., Oak Bluffs. 508-338-7404. (Gift cards and VIP cards from Sharky’s and/or affiliated restaurants are not accepted at this time. Sea Smoke hopes to be cross-honoring cards beginning summer 2020.)