The Best of Martha's Vineyard? My Grandparents, hands down...

Ever since I was little I have been fascinated with my grandparents. When I was younger it seemed to me as though they lived in a completely different world, perhaps another planet full of exciting and unfamiliar things. If a nine-year-old Me had to put a list together of reasons why I was convinced they were from another planet it would go something like this:

My grandparents live on another planet where cocktail hours are uniform, where evenings are spent at social gatherings, chamber music concerts or plays, where gourmet frozen food items miraculously become dinner in the matter of minutes and a hot oven, where one vacations in their home, where voyages across Planet Earth happen yearly, and where the only Christmas and Chanukkah gifts available for grandchildren are inevitably from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Keep in mind that this is a nine year olds’ list, the things that I found bizarre at the time. As an adult, please allow me to elaborate. My grandparents are not snobs. They are not yuppity-uppity, vain, self-absorbed people. Not in the least. Don’t get me wrong, they live an extremely privileged and fortunate life but they would be the first to admit it, especially since it was not always this way. Now if I were to give a more educated description of grandparents, it would go something like this:

My grandmother, ever since I can remember, has had a keen eye for antiques and real estate, an impeccable taste for exotic jewelry and Pucci prints, an absolute intolerance of ignorance, and an uncanny ability to cut through the bullsh*t. My grandfather spends much of his time with me telling me stories. In all of his ninety years he has spent on this earth he has accumulated thousands of histories into that file cabinet of a brain of his. Stories of my mother’s childhood in Hawaii (something I could never grow tired of listening to); of his life living and working on a farm and how it saved his family during the Depression; of the extreme importance of his education; of how he met my grandmother; of his times as a sailor; and I’ll never forget the story he told me of his father, David’s experience of hiding from the Russian Czar’s army by fearfully climbing and staying in a tree for hours.

Not much has changed in my grandparents since I was little. I would say (gratefully) that they are both as physically and mentally able as they were twenty years ago. He loves the sea and the garden, and can name practically any plant species and its given origin. She likes philosophy, reading the paper, art, and swimming. They cherish friends and family, like music and thoughtful conversation, they are curious more than ever to hear what the youth of today see as their future, they read The Economist and the Times, speak of the frightful political situation we’re in today, and to this day they urge us to be grateful, to always work hard, to fight for the underdog, to reflect, and to never take for granted.

My grandmother went back to school at the age of forty to get her PhD and is still practicing at the ripe age of eighty-eight. My grandfather was raised on a farm by hardworking, thrifty Polish immigrants, and worked his way up the academic ladder one rung at a time. At one time he was the first and only Jew to attend Texas A&M University, only to become the youngest dean in the country's history at the University of Hawaii years later. Needless to say, both of my grandparents are certifiably geniuses whom deeply value education. When they attended my college graduation they both felt a great sense of joy. After spending my first year in college in limbo (otherwise known as Lubbock, Texas, then Portland, then Honduras, then back to Portland), I found myself in a small private school in Los Angeles, CA for the next three years. Disenchanted with the city, I submerged myself in books, discussion, activism and theory, and emerged come graduation time, with a double major in Women’s Studies and English and Comparative Literary Studies. I promptly told my family of my intentions of law school, of writing political feminist theory, of breaking down barriers between race, class, sexual orientation and gender, and eventually saving the world from itself. But first, I needed to travel, just for a bit. I was convinced that traveling would only fuel my interest in legal justice. I was yearning to see the world, to experience it like sand in-between your toes: undeniable, raw, and gritty. But six months passed and I returned from this trip with a new passion I wanted to pursue: food. Luckily everyone was supportive, especially my grandparents. It was really no surprise to anyone. Food had always had an impact on me growing up. In fact, my early childhood memories of my grandparent’s house are based mainly on food memories: cream cheese and jelly sandwiches at the beach, bacon, eggs, and cottage cheese for breakfast…every breakfast, ginger ale, melted brie on toast, key lime pie, conch fritters and the greatest gingersnap cookies from Tip Top Market on Harbor Island, baked noodle casserole, tonic &lime during cocktail hour (I upgraded to gin when it was deemed appropriate), and last but indubitably not least blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream.

As Evan and I were closer than ever to the opening of the restaurant we hesitated making the journey back east. Prior to leaving I believe I asked everyone I knew what their opinion of the situation was: Was it irresponsible to leave the space unfinished, push back the opening, and continue to pay rent when NO money is coming in? Was it appropriate to explain to my grandparents that our dream of owning and operating a restaurant was just weeks away and a “vacation” would hardly be a vacation when our minds would surely be focused on other things: menu design, blogging, and the various packages surely arriving unattended at our front door. How would such a delay affect our progress? Would I offend my grandparents? Would we be jeopardizing our opening? Millions of questions, doubts, and concerns flooded our brains during the weeks leading up to our departure. I feared Evan would be resentful for “dragging him” along for the ride. I feared my presence in my grandparents’ home would be nothing more than just that, a physical body with no thought; a mind racing elsewhere, to other things, must-do-this, must-do-that, creating endless lists of where and how time would better be spent.

Upon reflection I sincerely believe we were idiots for even pondering such things. My grandfather turned ninety. This was his birthday celebration. We had a chance to spend time with family I rarely see given the bi-coastal distance, and celebrate what truly has been an amazing life. Even if we returned to find that the café had been burned to the ground I would not regret my decision about going (especially given we have insurance for things like that.) But there is no insurance for time lost with family and in reality all of our doubts never came into fruition. We designed the menu from the laptop down at the beach, we blogged from various wi-fi hotspots around the island, and we returned home to find that only three packages were left at our door but were graciously given shelter by our neighbors (In the packages? Three beautifully custom made bar stools for the counter at the café). We did think about the café but did so in a way of affirmative anticipation, describing the paint colors to my grandfather, sharing recipes with my grandmother. In fact, the minute we walked off the plane Evan and I were no longer wearing our “proprietors of a Café” hats, we were just plain old family members getting a chance to spend time with other family members celebrating the many exciting and wonderful things we were ALL up to. God, and what a comfort that was. To not have to think about the café, or talk about the café, that is if we didn’t want to. What a gift. It might have been his ninetieth birthday but he was the one who made the offerings by making this trip happen for us.

That being said, and I know that there was an awfully lot just said, I would finally like to get to the food portion of the post, aptly known as The Best of Martha’s Vineyard and dedicate it to my magnificently gracious grandparents, Morton and Shirley Rosenberg.Thank you, thank you, thank you.

For the purpose of keeping things brief (I know, too late, too late!), I’m going to honor the Vineyard with a top five, and in no particular order.
I know Evan already blogged Chilmark chocolates but he absentmindedly (I love you, Honey) forgot to mention that this lil' chocolate factory relies on solar power. During this visit to the island I noted several green steps it has taken since my last visit two years ago. More farms, more literature on supporting local businesses, and now solar panels!!! The fact that this celebrated gem has moved towards higher levels of sustainable business practices AND that it truly does have some of the best chocolate around means it makes the list. Three cheers for solar chocolate!!!
Chilmark Chocolates
State Rd., Chilmark, MA

Obviously Evan and I have a thing for Farmers Markets. Always have, always will. It gave us such great pleasure to be a part of the Portland Farmers Market last year and we have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the farmers, vendors, and organizers of any local market. While in Martha's Vineyard we had the opportunity to visit the lovely West Tisbury Farmers Market. Highlights included: gorgeous produce, fresh limeade, raspberry-lemon ice, and beautiful loaves of fresh baked bread. But the show-stopper, hands down, was this truck full of fresh popovers served appropriately with cherry butter. We were in love from first bite to the last.
West Tisbury Farmers Market
Wednesday and Saturday, 9:00 am - Noon
Grange Hall, State Road
Chilmark, MA
Long ago and for reasons we still can't be too sure about, Evan swore off Dairy Queen. This blasphemous act was committed during a ill fated beach trip where Evan was served a Reese's blizzard reeking of the wretched bubblegum variety. From that moment on he swore it off, and has since kept his word. Sadly, Evan has regretted this decision, especially when he realizes that the famed peanut buster parfait will never touch his lips, or when I (quite cruelly, I know) will stop in on occasion for the infamous dipped cone. However, Evan's plight was avenged thanks to The Gallery restaurant on the Menemsha Harbor where we dutifully delighted in dipped cones together.
The Galley Restaurant
515 North Road
Chilmark, MA

If anyone has been to or even heard of Martha's Vineyard you are bound to conjure up the image the image of a black lab. Why, you may ask? Visitors be warned: You will see bumper stickers, hats, housewares, sweatshirts, leashes, t-shirts, belts, and bandanas all sporting the dog. Has Martha's Vineyard adopted the black lab as its unofficial mascot? Well, the answer is it may as well have with the amount of black labs running around rampant on the isle and a large majority due to this establishment, The Black Dog Tavern. What began as a tavern many years ago has now blistered into an infamous, cafe, bakery, and souvenir shop. Residents and vacationers alike flock to the various establishments to get their hands on baked goods and clothing alike. So we stopped in to see what all the fuss was about- did this bakery really have something going on, or were people more interested in gussying up their wardrobes? Well, our conclusion was both. We took a sampling of the bakery's daily offerings to see what was hot and what was not. Truth be told most of the baked items could barely hold a candle to Portland's finest. I nearly cried for Random Order's raspberry-coconut bran muffin after sampling Black Dog's pathetic bran offering. However, not all was lost. The bakery did fry up one hell of an apple fritter, and I should know: I'm an expert on apple fritters and this one was definitely in my top five(hence, it makes the top five for M.V.)
Black Dog Bakery
11 Water Street
Vineyard Haven, MA

Blueberry pie. Ohhhhhh yeahhhhhh. Blueberry pie. Without sounding too much like a snob, I only eat blueberry pie on Martha's Vineyard. That being said, I've only eaten blueberry pie there three times. The blueberry pie on Martha's Vineyard in unlike any other blueberry pie in the world, and Eileen Blake's Pie and Otherwise makes the best pie on the island. I have a special memory of sharing blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream with my grandfather at the age of 10, again at the age of 22, and now at the age of 25. We are both suckers for this treat which means whenever we are on the island together we are sure to have and repeat this memory and for that I am forever grateful.
Eileen Blake's Pies and Otherwise
St. Road, Chilmark, MA


Unknown said...

WOW - so happy I was along for the ride - the pictorial and recap are fab! iou/xoxo

Anna Moriarty said...

Hey! I just stumbled upon your guys' blog and love it! Especially the Vineyard stuff! We live right across the street from the West Tisbury farmers' market. My sister and I have a vegan & vegetarian blog you guys might like http://twobluelemons.blogspot.com/
Good luck with the restaurant!! It looks awesome!