In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of life’s epicurean pleasures must be cast aside, and rightfully so. As we move into this next phase of guidelines and toward a new normal, businesses and consumers alike will have to find ways both to engage commercially and to enjoy themselves while following developing standards for health and safety precautions.
This balance between recreation and responsibility may seem hard to achieve. However, Garde East, the Vineyard Haven fine-dining restaurant on the harbor, has developed an innovative way to indulge diners’ gourmet desires while maintaining appropriate social measures.
A beachside picnic in the sand may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Garde East, a dining establishment that self-describes as one of the finest restaurants on the Cape and Islands. Given the current circumstances, the restaurant had to come up with a way to adjust eating outdoors to ease diners’ concerns around social distancing. Garde East recently opened for takeout, and, with the permission of health officials, also now allows diners to bring their food outside to the marina front. This opportunity to eat beachside, while still basking in the ambience of the crisp and elegant restaurant, allows patrons a welcome reintroduction to social interaction and a dining experience without any violations of our new procedures. The decadent picnics are designed to take to go, whether that be to the beach by the marina or back to your house for dinner.
“The picnic basket is designed to be like opening a basket of presents, with a variety of textures, colors, and flavors. We want the baskets to help liven up eating, which has probably become a boring routine for people these last couple months,” said Garde East Executive Chef Will Weaver.
I had the vegetarian picnic basket ($60), which included a Pain d’Avignon baguette, Cabot butter with MV Sea Salt’s Naughty sea salt, balsamic glazed pearl onions, MV Mycological mushroom conserva, deviled eggs, Vadouvan beets with salty sea feta and walnuts, herbed farro salad with peas and radishes, roasted carrots with red onion and cilantro, and Grey Barn Riprap, Bluebird, and Bon Anniversaire cheeses. The picnic comes in easily transported takeout boxes, with biodegradable utensils available upon request. The team at Garde East also very graciously included a sampling of their seafood selections, including smoked bluefish pâte, lobster potato salad, Jonah crab escabeche, and pickled gulf shrimp (if seafood or charcuterie are added to your picnic, there is an additional $50 charge). The picnic is meant to be shared, and there is plenty there for at least two diners.
The cool, refreshing food is a perfect fit for a warm day outside. The smoked bluefish and cucumber salad was the perfect match for the summer heat rising from the docks. I also particularly enjoyed the beet and feta salad, which was a great light summer bite that could serve as a small entrée or a punchy snack.
Garde East’s takeout menu selections are intentional. The restaurant crafts an enjoyable experience in a time that is quite challenging to the hospitality industry. “Although it is hard to find joy in the current state of affairs, that’s what being in hospitality is about, so rather than box up the items that will be on our menu when we are allowed to have guests, we wanted to come up with a menu that would be happy traveling. There is such a rich tradition of preserving and preparing foods: pickling, smoking, confit, cheesemaking, pâtes, and rillettes. We draw on all of these techniques to provide an interesting selection for our guests,” said Weaver.
Garde East is diligently preparing for a reopening date, which is projected to be around mid-June, according to recent guidelines from Governor Baker. The layout of the restaurant, with an upstairs marina area and the potential for an outside bar, could provide some opportunities for further innovation and creativity when it comes to serving diners as we move forward. They also plan to offer a rotating five-course tasting menu to highlight the bounty of the Island. For now, the picnic takeout and the fact that Garde East offers its full wine list for takeout, with 50 percent off every bottle, will keep me coming back.
Garde East, 52 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven; curbside takeout Wednesday through Sunday, 1 to 7 pm; gardeeast.com; 508-687-9926.