Life’s a beach and then you die — or so the old saying goes. But at least at Beach Road you’ll die happy. Set amidst the sea oats in Vineyard Haven, overlooking the scenic lagoon with its moored boats and skiffs, lies the sister, or “cousin,” restaurant to the vaunted State Road, also located on the street of its namesake.
In a comfortable room that buzzes with quiet aplomb, chef and prodigy Frank Williams doles out sea-inspired fare, delivered by a team of dedicated and dapper servers who make you feel like you’re at home, if home were a four-star restaurant. Caitlyn Lewis, the longtime bartender with her trademark “Fizzes” (naturally flavored sodas that can be “spiked” for a $3 upcharge) and equally colorful tattoos, tends to a crowded counter where customers flock for $1 oysters on weeknights from 5 to 6 pm. “If I have an approach to cocktails,” Lewis explains; “it’s all about savory. Sweet is a nice dash here or there, but you don’t want to overwhelm.”
If there’s something overwhelming about the cocktails — a fitting start to any Beach Road experience — it’s the creativity. We began our waterfront excursion with the Heartbeet, a beet-infused martini ($13) that tastes like it’s right from the garden, along with the “fizz du jour,” orange, vanilla, and cinnamon ($7), ideal for designated drivers and diners under the age of 21.
Donning a tight longshoreman’s hat, the chef paid us a visit from the galley.
“Is it hard being a cook who’s under 30?” Williams pondered. (He began his cooking career at the age of 13 at Island O.G. Poppa’s Pizza on Circuit Avenue.) “I feel like if your heart’s in it and you have the passion, you end up where you need to be. I’m just trying to do ‘me,’ and I hope that people like it.”
Indeed, by 6:30 pm the room was full. Beach Road and its cousin are both open year-round except for one-month closures in February. In January, though, it felt like a bit of June. On Williams’ recommendation, we sailed into shellfish — Spearpoint oysters, briny and sweet (three for $9) along with BR’s take on the classic Shrimp Cocktail ($4). Somehow, they’ve managed to distill the taste of authentic cocktail sauce and horseradish into a liquid that’s served in a miniature Mason jar and recommended as “a shot” … or a sipper.
Our next port was Charred Island Cabbage & Summer Truffle ($16) with “MVM shiitakes, dashie beurre monté, and garlic confit.” Pair the plant with Leslie’s Bread, compliments of baker Leslie Hewson, and complete with sourdough, focaccia, pain de mie, and a butter of preserved lemon and pink peppercorns ($9). There’s also a small boulangerie at the entrance to the restaurant if you’d like some loaves to go. The Rohan Duck Confit (charred cauliflower purée, black-eyed peas, cherry gastrique, pomegranate, $19) makes for a nice sorbet, followed closely by a plate of Clams Linguine ($26, parsley pasta, thyme, local littlenecks).
“If State Road is farm-to-table, then Beach Road is sea-to-table,” co-owner Mary Kenworth draws the distinction. “State Road is kind of like country and Beach Road is city or town.”
Kenworth and husband Jackson have firmly established both eateries as Island destinations, and it’s not by accident: “Our goal was to create a place where both locals and tourists could come year-round and be comfortable. Although the two restaurants are different, we’re always thinking about making sure there’s something for everyone.”
Being out at sea is comfortable at this nautically inspired spot. Pictures of sloops and ketches frame the restaurant (and bathroom) walls. A majestic chandelier constructed of glass globes interwoven with thick sisal rope hangs in a private dining room.
“One of the things we’re looking to do more of in the future” — the Kenworths aren’t done yet — “are more of the kind of pop-ups that we recently did for Friends of Family Planning. We’re interested in taking advantage of this space in more of a daytime environment. We’re not sure how we’re going to do that quite yet, but it’s something we’re thinking about.”
The view from this starry perch would be equally magnificent in the light of day. In the light of night, however, we gathered up our plentiful leftovers and prepared to walk the plank. Williams, however, had one last trick up his sleeve. Our server, Alex Wright, and manager, Chris Cajolet, came out together to deliver the baby: a Smoked Double Bone Berkshire Pork Chop ($45) served with Morning Glory Farm parsnip purée, poached apples, cipollinis, fried capers, and a cider beurre monté.
Perhaps it’s more pig than pontoon, but the pork chop was as smooth as the peppercorn butter and as tender as tuna. Are there desserts at Beach Road? Apparently no shell has been left unturned. The Butterscotch Whiskey Pudding à la whipped cream ($10) and Chocolate Cake
with dark chocolate icing and vanilla anglaise ($12) are recommended for the intrepid party, but our group had netted enough results to call it a day and head back to the mainland.
It’s always hard to end a day or night on the water, but all good things must come to an end. Luckily, we skipped dessert so there’s something to come back for. Something for everyone.
Beach Road Restaurant, 79 Beach Rd., Vineyard Haven. 508-693-8582. beachroadmv.com.