A chef can be a storyteller with food, and that is what the new chef at State Road is. Chef Randy Rucker came to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas in October, and hasn’t looked back.
A previous owner of three restaurants in Texas, he is now enjoying focusing all his energy on the food in his new kitchen. Mind you, he has big shoes to fill. State Road’s former Chef, Austin Racine, helped define the now iconic restaurant.
For Randy Rucker, State Road is the perfect fit. This Modern Day Tavern sets the scene for a menu rich with food that has a story, even history. The move to State Road has been an easy one for this James Beard Award nominee. He has been doing farm-to-table for years. He believes “food should taste like where you live.”
However, having four distinct seasons will make Randy have to be resourceful. Upon arrival to the Island, he began pickling and preserving local foods. You’ll find a number of his creations as part of menu items.
Soon you’ll also find a number of curated meats. Randy got a whole pig, butchered it himself, and is making smoked meats, including ham and curated meats like salami too. On the menu now, you might see buckboard bacon, which is bacon he’s made, from the butt of the pig. I have to say that I was impressed with the fact that he can butcher his own animals.
One of his ventures out was with the previous chef to Menemsha Fish House. There he met Mikey Rottman and Mike Holtham, who showed him a 600 pound tuna that was just brought in. Randy was almost shaking with excitement. Having such fresh seafood so close opens up a whole new world of opportunities.
Randy has always been a seafood guy. He loves to fish, loves to cook, and loves to introduce different types of things from the sea, including raw fish and sea veggies, such things really contribute to the story of where you’re eating.
You might also find him foraging. When he’s not in the kitchen working with his stellar team, he likes to go on walks with his girlfriend. He is excited for the things he’s found and knows will be available in the warmer weather. Not to mention the awesome kitchen garden State Road has in back.
Don’t get used to any signature dishes, Randy likes to change the menu as often as possible. He is the chef who’s food is created by the food he can source locally. Ingredients first, menu second. His days begin with a call to let’s say Grey Barn to see what proteins are available. From there, the menu is created. It’s important for him to have a relationship with the local farmers.
It’s also important to him as a chef to show respect to the animal, use it entirely. Philosophy dictates what’s on the menu.
Another added bonus to being on the Island, Randy has met and now works with Glenn Roberts. Glenn is the founder of Anson Mills, where you’ll find heirloom corn and rice grown and milled. Ancient grains reborn — grains so different from good ole Uncle Ben’s rice. Grains that you will find on State Road’s menu, one of the few places in the country.
All of this is really working for Randy. He’s excited to continue to grow State Road, excited for what the summer will bring. It’s all a big change. It’s the first time in 16 years that Randy has not been the owner/boss. One of the best things now, is that he can focus his all his energies on the food, and he can continue to make the State Road kitchen his own.
Before the restaurant opened, Randy served me some incredible dishes that were not on the menu. Starting with raw black bass with lime and radish. Not only was it beautiful, it was so fresh and delicious. A balanced crudo.
The crudo was followed by gently poached Katama Bay oysters with seaweed from Maine in Japanese Dashi broth. I’ve never had poached oysters before, but such a different way, and the seaweed and broth were so good.
The seafood was followed by housemade ricotta gnocchi with Randy’s pickled blueberries and buckboard bacon. My dinner date, Catherine, said the blueberries offered a “spritely” bite, and we were both intrigued by the clever mix of flavors. Neither of us had even heard of pickled blueberries, but would gladly have them again.
It was fun sampling Randy’s dish of the moment, what he was inspired to create in the moment, a wonderful tease of what’s to come.
Then it was time to order from the menu. By this time, we were not super hungry. So, we decided on two starters, a veggie, and a main dish, all to share.
We had the Roasted Katama Oysters, with lard, almond gremolata and bread crumbs. The oysters were fresh and light. I love the brine in Katama Bay oysters and what a great way to prepare them.
Also, we ordered the Maine Shrimp, popcorn style. We were told the heads were still on the shimp, but also, manager Maura Martin told us that the best part of the shrimp was the sweet brains.
Once we got the shrimp, Catherine and I chickened out. We did not eat the heads. I am not proud of this, but I just couldn’t do it. We did have a lot of fun “playing” with them though. This is something I don’t think either of us would venture to have again, but we tried.
A friend messaged me that the Fried Brussels Sprouts were life changing. She was correct. Perfectly fried, served with a fish caramel and peanuts. It was rich and flavorful. I want to try to replicate this recipe at home!
I should also mention that fresh, baked bread is also served with your meal. House made, it was delicious.
For dinner, we opted for Orecchiette with duck confit, mushrooms, black kale and parmesan broth. I had not had duck and pasta before, but enjoyed the combination with the earthy kale. Of course anything with cheese is a good option. At this point, we were beyond full!
Chef Randy is very creative and original with his menu options. Fresh, creative, and definitely filled with items that will expand your culinary horizons.
However, we had to have dessert too. After all, I adore the pastry chef at State Road, Leslie Hewson. Her desserts are worth the calories!
We chose the Ice Cream Cake – chocolate and cinnamon red hot gelato, brownie crust. Don’t tell my husband I got this. It’s right up his alley and he’d hate to miss this. This was one crazy dessert. The flavor combos were so fun, and what big kid, like me, doesn’t want to have ice cream cake! Sure beat a Fudgy the Whale (for all you who grew up with Carvel).
Before I wrap up, I have to also mention that the bartender PJ Kron was so fun and great to us. We sat at the bar, and he was so good at helping us with wine choices for our meals. Also, it looked like he can make so really delicious wine and champagne cocktails. The beer menu was good too, with lots of good options.
Dining at State Road is truly an experience. Even before you dine, the space, the music, the decor all envelops you in the “New American Tavern” feel. It’s casual and full of friends and neighbors, but elevated and a culinary adventure.
State Road has now closed until spring, the end of March. However, once it’s open be sure to check out what chef Randy is up to!