When one assembles a salad, the dressing is likely the last ingredient that one thinks of. But for Susanna Herlitz-Ferguson, the secret sauce was the diving-off point for her new restaurant, MV Salads. The restaurant opened on Circuit Avenue in June.
Herlitz-Ferguson has visited the Vineyard with her four kids (now grown) for many summers. Cookouts and dinner parties were always part of the family itinerary, and, although a self-admitted non-expert chef, Susanna identifies as a “foodie,” and would often lend a helping hand in the host’s kitchen. However, one fateful barbecue 30 years ago destined her to more than just seasoning the roasted veggies.
“My friend asked me to make a dressing for the salad, and I’m not a great cook and didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just threw a few things together.” Herlitz-Ferguson’s hodgepodge dressing was an instant hit. “People would invite me to dinner parties just for my dressing!” she said with a laugh.
The first thought that came to my mind upon entering MV Salads is, “This is my special splurge lunch of the week.” The interior is airy and bright, divided down the middle by a long custom table, embedded with smooth rocks and native flora. On the left side of the table is merchandise branded with the MV Salads heart logo — bottles of MV the Dressing, sweatshirts, hats, mugs, bracelets — all designed by Herlitz-Ferguson. On the right side is the salad bar, where employees eagerly await your selection from a menu of eight salads, or your personalized combination.
Choices go beyond conventional lettuce and tomatoes; the bar has an array of herbs, seeds, nuts, and a plethora of protein options, 50 ingredients in all. Also, vegan chef Shawn Clifford made sure to design vegan recipes so there is something for everyone.
MV Salads makes hyperlocal ingredient sourcing a priority, with produce coming from Morning Glory Farm, shiitake mushrooms from Martha’s Vineyard Mycological, and feta cheese from Mermaid Farm. The richest salad is the Menemsha Lobster Cobb, with chunks of fresh lobster from Menemsha Fish Market ($29).
Photo editor Gabrielle Mannino and I chose the Spicy Tashmoo Crunch, Up-Island Quinoa Bowl, and the Mermaid Meadow Summer salads, accompanied by tarragon lemonade and watermelon juice. On this steamy day, the fresh juices were gone quickly.
The Tashmoo Crunch salad was crisp, tart, and light. The jicama slices and sunflower seeds did give a nice texture. The whole bowl was a nice vessel to display the MV the Dressing — Susanna’s original recipe, plus spices ($14).
To me, summer means an excuse to put watermelon — my favorite fruit — in salad, and this combo is always my go-to order, so I was glad to see the Mermaid Meadow ($17) on the menu. Gabrielle asserted that it was delicious, but a little too generous on the mint.
My surprise favorite of the three we tried was the Up-Island Quinoa Bowl ($17). A combination of savory onions, bok choy, and sweet pear slices, all over nutty quinoa flecked with sesame seeds. The MVM marinated shiitakes were the star of the bowl, umami to the max! I was sad when it was gone.
I understand why her dressing was such a hit. I sampled some of the Green Goddess dressing (her original plus avocado) on its own, and couldn’t help going back for a second, third, and fourth spoonful.
Another signature touch: a fresh pan of hot mini corn muffins waiting next to the register to accompany a salad, or for anyone who is not in the mood.
“Even if you don’t buy a salad, you can always take a corn muffin and sample some of our juices,” Herlitz-Ferguson says.
At the end of the block, MV Salads is more upscale compared with the average Oak Bluffs hangouts, but it’s holding its own thus far. Part of its initial success is due to the emphasis Herlitz-Ferguson places on kindness. This manifests itself in the Kindness Box and a feedback box — places for customers to take and leave nice notes after their meals, and leave comments for the staff. Even the bathroom tiles have sweet sayings; detail is key at MV Salads.
Unsure whether they will become a year-round establishment, Herlitz-Ferguson said that they are taking it day by day, and will remain open for as long into the autumn as is “economically feasible.”
MV Salads, 55 Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, 508-338-7754; mvsalads.com.