Chef Frank Williams has spent the last seven hours in the Beach Road kitchen experimenting. “I love when the seasons change,” he says to me. “In some sense, it gives us a whole new clean slate. So much of our food is from Island farms so we are always asking, ‘What does this farm have? How can we use it?’”
Frank doesn’t believe in throwing out an entire menu every season — there are Beach Road essentials — but likes to introduce new, meaningful flavors as they emerge or, as he says, “I don’t like doing one big traffic change.” On the day we talked, he and his sous chef had been working with two pigs from Jo Douglas’ Fork to Pork.
The next day, Beach Road would feature Frank’s riff on Pot-au-feu. “I spent some time messing with the broth, getting the vegetables right,” he says. “I bought the two pigs because Trevor was very interested in learning how to break one down. So we worked side by side, me teaching him how to make the cuts. And now we are working on how to put forth as much of each animal as we can.”
Frank believes that a huge part of his job is being the leader and head teacher. He is the first one to arrive and often the last to leave, putting in regular 16-hour days. “I try to lead by example. And communicate that cooking, working in a restaurant, is a lifestyle. My hope is that our kitchen is a place of solace. Here’s a place to get away from issues outside of work, to focus. It is about process, efficiency, anticipating next steps. That’s why mise en place is so important. Then it becomes a playground. I want my cooks to want to come to work. I want them to be asking, what am I going to learn today? And if they mess up, I understand that it happens, but we also have an extremely high standard for our food. I taste everything that everyone makes.”
Frank grew up with two sisters, Maria and Gina, in Katama, surrounded by food, fishing, clamming, and crabbing. As he tells it, both his parents were amazing cooks. His mother, Donna, is from the Azores, and there were regular family feasts. “I remember my great-uncle coming up here with a van full of food. Thirty people. It was amazing.” And when he asked for an allowance, his father, Frank, who died in 2006, suggested he get a job, which seeded the roots for a life with food. Frank’s first job was at Papa’s Pizza in Oak Bluffs. From there, he worked at the Edgartown Golf Course during the day and Giordano’s at night.
“I was lucky because I had people teaching me how to do things the right way, right away. To pay attention to how hot things can get. To respect structure, organization, and time management. And to double check the labels. I once made the mistake of making pies for Thanksgiving with salt because the sugar lid had been swapped with the salt bucket. Huge mishap. A lot of unhappy people that day,” he laughs.
Frank graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 2009 and headed off to study architecture at Roger Williams College. While in school, Frank continued to cook, taking the Amtrak train from Providence to work at Boston’s Red Lantern, and then at Providence’s much lauded Al Forno restaurant. When Frank graduated, he returned to the Island to work for an architect, but soon learned that he enjoyed working in kitchens far more than designing them. He helped JB Blau open the Copper Wok, and then moved to Alchemy where he worked for four years. “In 2017, Mary and Jackson [Kenworth] hired me to work at State Road,” he says. “So many doors opened up.” And in 2019, he became the head chef at Beach Road.
When asked what it was like to inherit Beach Road and work with Mary and Jackson, he said, “Incredible. The space is so beautiful. I wanted to serve more than chowder and fried clams, and Mary and Jackson embraced it. Our Baker Leslie Hewson is fantastic. I use as much of her product as we can. And we have incredible freedom with our menu. And the food from the farms and sea just makes it even better. We have an enormous wine list. Mary is in charge of that. And I work with Adrian, our mixologist, who is great. We were just working on a new fizz today.”
As Frank talks more about the fish he gets from Johnny Hoy and the joy of spending three hours scaling fish, he becomes more animated. “I really do enjoy black bass season,” he laughs. “I love the process of cooking, the universal language of food, putting love on a plate. But there is also the reality that we spend 8 hours producing a plate of food that is gone in two minutes.”
He tells me his uncle wants him to bring the spaghetti with clams back. “I just don’t have the staff for it right now. Staffing has been an absolute nightmare this year. It’s hard. I understand. There are kids who just want a summer job, but I need people who are passionate about food and who are going to care. Yes, the food might be eaten in a minute, but the person will walk out with an experience, a feeling, a memory. That is forever. And, obviously, I want it to be a good one.”
We are delighted to report that Beach Road will be open this fall and winter. And we at Edible salute Mary, Jackson, Frank, and their entire team for being a dedicated year-round gorgeous place for us to gather, slurp oysters, sit at a bar and have a drink with a friend. For creating a menu that serves marvelous high/low fare — hot dogs and lobster linguine!! So we can pause and talk about our days and maybe even process a bit of this complex and wonderful life we have here.