What to Eat On Martha's Vineyard
With approximately 40 farms, 125 miles of coastline, and a community whose interest in and support for eating good food is constantly growing, Martha's Vineyard has never been a better place to take in a meal. Here, we give you our regular haunts for diner breakfasts, picnic lunches, ice cream breaks, fine-dining dinners—and everything in between.
Note: In general, the higher-end restaurants on Martha's Vineyard are overpriced and underwhelming; with a couple of exceptions we've noted here. If you must eat dinner out, better to stick with chowder, sandwiches, hot dogs, fried seafood, and pizza.
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Breakfast: Art Cliff and 7a Foods
Art Cliff is a diner through and through, but chef/owner Gina Stanley (who gave up a career in haute cuisine, including a stint at the Blair House, to move to Martha's Vineyard and buy the diner) creates a menu that's anything but average. In addition to all the short-order classics--omelets, fluffy blueberry pancakes, brioche French toast, the best corned beef (and spicy chicken) hash anywhere--she's known for her more offbeat specials. The Bull's Eye consists of two pan-fried fresh codfish cakes with two over-easy eggs (upgrade to awesome local farm eggs for a nominal fee), baby arugula, hollandaise, and spicy mustard oil; frittatas are loose constructions with eggs, Yukon golds, and any number of accoutrements; and crepes are a house specialty, filled with anything from Stanley's house jam, to brie, to Nutella, to blueberries and local honey, to plain old (but perfect) lemon and sugar. Don't forget to check the specials board. If you're luck, she'll have sweet potato biscuits with salty maple butter.
Newly installed in the building behind Alley's General Store, boutique-y café/market 7a Foods, opened by Wenonah Madison and her husband Dan Sauer, who is probably the best chef on Martha's Vineyard at the moment, makes one of the meanest breakfast sandwiches we've had anywhere. Pick your carb (the buttery homemade biscuit is a no-brainer) and whether or not you want housemade sausage (you do) and/or cheese (cheddar, please). With a mug of Stumptown coffee, or a jug of Grey Barn Farm milk*, it's the best possible upgrade to a Mickey D's breakfast combo. The moist coffee cake veined with cinnammon-y deliciousness and nuts, is in the same league. The steel-cut oatmeal with maple butter and raisins is also pretty swell, even in the sweltering heat of summer. Lunch is also really great at 7A, but we'll get back to that shortly.
Grey Barn Farm, just up the road in Chilmark, is producing some remarkably raw-tasting pasteurized milk from their grass-fed cows. For those not inclined to the fabulous raw stuff from nearby Mermaid Farm, Grey Barn Farm's milk is available here, at Cronig's Market, and at Morning Glory Farm.
Lunch: Slice of Life
The gods who invented classic sandwiches like the BLT got it right the first time, but we also approve of the boutique fried green tomato version at Slice of Life, an Oak Bluffs café. The applewood-smoked bacon is thick (but not too thick) well-rendered, and a just a little chewy. The lettuce is actually peppery baby arugula: a natural pairing with bacon and (in this case, basil) mayo. The tomato, a tart green specimen that's sliced thick, coated in fine breadcrumbs, and deep-fried until golden-brown, is hot and crunchy, and totally makes this sandwich. This plus the Slice Salad (spring mix, pesto chicken breast, crumbled bacon, bleu cheese, tomato, dried cranberries, addictively peppery candied walnuts, good balsamic vinaigrette) make a perfect to-share lunch.
Dinner: State Road
West Tisbury's only fine-dining establishment is also the Island's best—if you want one splurge meal on the Vineyard, State Road is the place to gom&mdashwith chef Austin Racine turning out some truly spectacular dishes from whatever's freshest that day. Standouts often include housemade local-milk ricotta, Morning Glory Farm pea soup, really chicken-y roast Island chicken, and seafood reeled in from some nearby dock. It's possible that the best things to eat at State Road are pastry chef's Rose Sarja's insanely yummy treats, available at breakfast and lunch. Muffins, cookies, cakes, just about anything we've ever tasted out of Sarja's ovens has been worth the calories. Warning: They remove the pastries at 2:30 to prepare for the dinner service.
Seafood: The Bite, Sandy's Fish and Chips, Offshore Ale House, Larsen's Fish Market
The whole-belly clams at The Bite, an almost-waterside fry shack up the road from Menemsha Harbor are coated in batter that's substantial enough for swiping up pickle-y tartar sauce without falling apart, but light enough that the rich, creamy, mineral-y clam belly flavor comes through bright and clear. And the chowder's as good as it gets: spoon-coating, but not so gluey that you could stand a spoon in it, and packed with chopped local clams, potato chunks, and just enough of a pork underbelly. The Bite is very popular and downright famous, so parking can be difficult and the wait can be substantial for both the food and seats at one of its two tables.
At Sandy's Fish and Chips, located in John's Fish Market on State Road just outside downtown Vineyard Haven, the fried clams might not be quite as famous, but they might be better. We've tried to do a side by side comparison, but it's difficult as Sandy's and the Bite are fifteen minutes away from each other by car even with no traffic. Still, Sandy's fried clams have a darker coating, and unlike the Bite, Sandy's will put your fried clams on a paper plate instead of in one of those fried clam-killing little boxes, which steam the clams and rob them of their much-coveted crispness.
The Leviathan of all lobster rolls, this once off-menu specialty at Offshore Ale House was in such high demand that it landed a permanent spot on the brewery's menu. Don't be tempted to fill up on the free peanuts; the behemoth split-top bun is grilled and stuffed to the gills (the antennas?) with nothing but fresh-shucked meat lightly coated with mayo. A side of lemon brightens the whole package, and it all comes with a heaping pile of skin-on fries.
If the Vineyard were a college campus, Larsen's Fish Market would be the place that tour guides would show potential enrollees to lock down their commitment. Alongside this weathered Menemsha Harborside fish market, where just-harvested lobsters and Katama Bay oysters are prepared to order with traditional accompaniments, overturned lobster traps serve as both tables and chairs: an al fresco dining room with an incomparable view of the sunset.
The Bite: 29 Basin Road, Chilmark MA 02535 (map); 508-645-9239; thebitemenemsha.com; Sandy's Fish and Chips: at John's Fish Market, 5 Martin Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 (map); 508-693-1220;Offshore Ale House: 30 Kennebec Avenue, Oak Bluffs MA 02557 (map); 508-693-2626; offshoreale.com; Larsen's Fish Market: 56 Basin Road, Chilmark MA 02535 (map); 508-645-2680; larsensfishmarket.com
Candy and Ice Cream: Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium
One side of candy and ice cream shop Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium shelves housemade fudge, peanut brittle, chocolate creams, and some truly stellar buttercrunch (heavy on the toffee, light on the chocolate); the other, about four dozen flavors of their ultra-premium ice cream—including the best of both worlds: butter-based buttercrunch ice cream that's chock-full of, you guessed it, broken buttercrunch candy pieces.
Doughnuts: Back Door Doughnuts
Don't misunderstand the name of Back Door Doughnuts: This bakery makes and sells doughnuts all day long from inside its front door. But it's only at night (from 7:30 p.m. 'til 12:30 a.m., to be exact) that hot, fresh-fried specimens are served out the back of the building. If you're within a block of the store, you'll be able to smell when the first batch comes out of the oil; and depending on how long the line snakes through the parking lot, how long it might be until the next round of apple fritters is ready.
Pies: Eileen Blake's Pies & Otherwise
The Cape and Islands have a very strong pie-baking tradition, and the Vineyard's finest pie baker is Eileen Blake's Pies & Otherwise. Though Eileen Blake herself passed away a few years ago, her daughters now turns out flaky double-crusted pies that would make their mom proud. The strawberry-rhubarb is decidely non-goopy and thankfully not very sweet. Also good are the pecan pie and her Tollhouse pie, which tastes like the biggest chocolate chip cookie you've ever eaten. Mrs. Blake's widower still makes change and mans the gazebo (really a little hut) on State Road where you will find these magnificent pie specimens.
Eileen Blake's Pies & Otherwise: 515 State Road, Vineyard Haven MA 02568 (map)
Food Shopping: Black Sheep, West Tisbury Farmers' Market, Mermaid Farm, Fiddlehead Farmstand
Picnic food can take many forms: chips and beer; hefty sandwiches from Humphrey's deli; and, if you shop at Black Sheep, Edgartown's newest kid on the block, fine cheeses, cured meats and patés, and decadent housemade dips. High-end snacking is the name of the game here, where the Creminelli salamis, Brie-like Rougette, feta-olive spread, and snappy castelvetrano olives make a delightfully portable lunch.
Unless you're on-Island for several weeks, it's hard to eat your way through all the great restaurants. But if you have the opportunity to cook a meal here and there, the pickin's don't get any better than at West Tisbury's Wednesday/Saturday market. Fill up your reusable tote bag with Morning Glory Farm's famous corn, Linda Alley's jams and mustards, Neil Flynn's honey, gorgeous baby bok choy and even-more-gorgeous flowers from Krishana Collins. And if you're looking for refreshment, drop a few bucks to the folks with the citrus press for a cup of fresh-squeezed lemon-lime-orange juice.
On Mermaid Farm, an unglamorous, purposeful 36-acre plot that sits on the Chilmark-West Tisbury border, Allen Healy and Caitlin Jones produce some of the Island's best ingredients. Healy is a milkman, operating the Island's only raw-milk dairy. The milk's flavor never tastes exactly the same twice: Sometimes the rich, nutty cream flavor is more forward; other times there's a mellow sweetness, as if a few drops of honey dripped into the bottle. His amazing whole-milk yogurt is so thick and creamy you could stand your spoon in it, and his feta cheese makes any summer salad better. He also raises lambs and beef cows, and has a freezer full of meat (including some awesome nitrate-free beef hot dogs). Jones, meanwhile, is famous for her tomatoes--particularly the Sungolds that she leaves by the side of the road with a coffee can for honor-system payments.
Fiddlehead Farmstand is the closest thing Martha's Vineyard has to a high-quality, well-curated gourmet food store. Rose Willett and Bob Skydell grow lots of good stuff in season (herbs, lettuce, tomatoes); they sell very good baguettes and other breads; they have a small but carefully curated selection of local Cape and Islands cheeses (like the aforementioned Mermaid Farm's feta, along with lots of good American farmstead cheeses like Cowgirl Creamery); fresh and cured meats like Nueske's bacon; crackers and nuts (try their Marcona almonds) and they sell the very good but insanely expensive Jeni's ice cream from Columbus, Ohio.
The best-tasting produce you can find on Martha's Vineyard is not grown locally. Gold Bud and Honey Crisp Farms' peaches, nectarines, and plums can be found at Eden in Vineyard Haven, the aforementioned Fiddlehead Farm, and the little produce shack that opened in the parking lot of Alley's General Store, both in West Tisbury.
Black Sheep: 18 North Summer Street, Edgartown MA 02539 (map); 508-939-4082; Black Sheep on Facebook; West Tisbury Farmer's Market: 1067 State Road, West Tisbury MA 02575 (map); 508-693-9561; westtisburyfarmersmarket.com; Mermaid Farm: 9 Middle Road, Chilmark MA 02535 (map); 508-645-3492; Mermaid Farm on Facebook; Fiddlehead Farmstand: 632 State Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 (map); 508-696-6700; fiddleheadfarmstand.com; Eden Market & Garden Center: 356 State Road, Vineyard Haven MA 02568 (map); 508-693-5202
Pizza: Flatbread, Joey's
If you crave a good pizza, head to Flatbread (part of a mini-chain) in the Martha's Vineyard airport complex. The pizza there is made in a massive stone oven fired by wood, and the pizzas that come out of it have a crust that are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. With the exception of the dry, pebbly, housemade sausage, all the toppings are worthy.
If you want a slice, head to Oak Bluffs for Joey's, where the slices have crisp edges with cornmeal on the bottom, and are lightly topped with a judicious hand. Joey's has a pizza pedigree worth noting. Joey is a member of the legendary Boston pizza family that owns the venerable Santarpio's in East Boston.
Burgers: State Road, The Galley
State Road's cheffy burger, using locally raised beef, would be magnificent burger specimen if the roll they used didn't overwhelm the meat and cheese by screwing up the critically important bun-to-burger ratio. You might think about bringing in your own Martin's Potato Roll and replacing their bun with it when they're not looking. For a thinner, everyday burger, head to The Menemsha Galley in Menemsha. The view's great, so is the thick chowder, and the thin burger is carefully griddled with the cheese properly melted on your cheeseburger.
Hot Dogs: Dinghy Dogs
Brian Langhammer of Dinghy Dogs is a hot dog lover and purist, and a bit of an eccentric; but don't let his dog and bun show fool you. He uses terrific all-beef Pearl Kountry Club hot dogs with natural casings, and you will notice the difference in your first snappy bite. Plus, he tops his fine dogs with housemade sauerkraut and sauteed onions.
Dinghy Dogs: 12 Circuit Avenue, Vineyard Haven MA 02568 (map); 508-693-6900
Where do you like to eat on the Vineyard?