Chilmark Tavern has eluded me for the last couple of years, but this was the Summer it had to happen. I have been hearing so much about the Island’s only “tavern”. The food and the scene draws crowds nightly with people from all over Martha’s Vineyard.
Living in Oak Bluffs, it sometimes feels like heading up-Island is a serious commitment. However, with a favorite dinner companion, my friend Cameron, and a bottle of great wine, we headed to the Chilmark Tavern to see what the buzz was about.
We went on a Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. And when many restaurants are less busy this late in the Summer, Chilmark Tavern was hopping. Lucky to get table, we quickly got into the menu. We were immediately impressed, and both agreed it was night for apps and dinner, a night of serious eating.
The decor of the tavern is simple, but you’ll find some great Island artists’ work, like copper sculptures by Scott McDowell. However, the main art here is the food.
Chef Jenna Sprafkin is not only young and full of humor and passion, but this chef can cook. Here, plates are inventive, with unexpected flavor combinations, and prepared with dedication and such freshness.
I had the Mussels, which were not the usual white wine and butter, but had celery root, potato cream, spring peas, smoked butter, and thai basil served with amazing crusty bread.
Cameron had the Cleveland Farm Liver Mousse. Mousse is not my thing, but she said it was quite good and a treat.
Then, we were in for a surprise. We also got the Local Bluefish dish. Neither of us are huge fans of bluefish, but Chef Jenna’s dish is a play on an everything bagel, which happen to be a favorite.
The bluefish was lightly smoked and perfectly pan seared with a beautiful crispy top, so well seasoned, and on the side, there were crispy ‘everything’ potatoes, herbed crème fraiche, a bed of watercress.
Both of us agreed that this bluefish dish made us rethink how we feel about this abundant local fish. It was truly amazing.
You would think we had had enough but there was still more dinner to be had. For me, it had to be the Scallops. I love scallops and usually choose them for dinner, so predictable on my part.
However, these scallops, I can say, were my best meal of the entire Summer. Yes, the best, by far.
The scallops were seared on a himalayan salt block and come with cauliflower, red grapes, capers, and a brown butter sauce. I was a little apprehensive about the grapes and the brown butter sauce, but our amazing and helpful waitress, Janine, had assured me when ordering, that the dish was really good.
Boy was I wrong. The sweetness of the grapes, with the saltiness of the capers and seared scallops with the richness of the brown butter was so good. The grapes were like little fireworks in your mouth with each bite.
I actually was careful to create a balanced bite each time because the flavors were heavenly together. I could go on and on about how delicious it was, but you should really try them for yourself.
Even with all this food, dessert was a must! I saw Chef Jenna’s post on Instagram for the night’s dessert. It was a Peach Crisp, made with local peaches, salted caramel, and benne seed, served a la mode. I knew even before I walked through the door that this was happening.
And I’m so glad it did. The sweet peaches, the caramel, the ice cream. Sheer heaven! I ate till I could eat no more. I left so full and with the onset of a food coma, but it was all just so good.
I’ve been focusing so much on food but I need to give a brief accounting of how Chilmark Tavern as we now know it came to be.
The owner, Jenna Petersiel (yes it’s kind of funny that the owner and the chef are both named Jenna and I bet a bit confusing for some), was in need of a change a few years ago. Nothing says change like having an Island business, a restaurant no less.
However, she wanted this project, this thing that she could recreate and make successful. Now in its sixth season – it’s definitely an Island favorite.
However there was a point, she needed a new chef. She was friends with Chef Jenna on Facebook, who was living on the west coast at the time. Jenna Petersiel was actually Chef Jenna’s camp counselor long ago. Jenna was trying to get her help in finding a chef.
Chef Jenna said “It’s me, I’m you’re chef.” And like that, the stars aligned, and Chilmark Tavern began it’s amazing food journey.
Just think if that conversation didn’t happen. Things could be so different, but we are so lucky it did because Chilmark Tavern is one of the best places to eat on Martha’s Vineyard. I only wish my food pictures could capture the beauty of the food we ate with my iPhone.
Author’s note: Chilmark Tavern is BYOB, but don’t think that just means that you bring your own beer and wine. You can bring spirits too.
There is a bar stocked with “elixirs and mixers” to help you try one of their signature cocktails like the Limonata — fresh squeezed lemons, organic sugar, sparkling or flat water that goes well with vodka or gin. Perhaps the Raspberry Lime Rickey, a house specialty, no one would tell me what was in it for your vodka. There are lots of options and they get pretty creative at Chilmark Tavern.
So much good food and good company, one of my top Vineyard nights of the Summer. Thank you Jenna and Jenna. I can’t wait to come back, maybe grab a seat at the bar this time, which always had fun people at it while we were there.
Good thing you’re open until Columbus Day weekend. I bet Chef Jenna has some amazing recipes up her sleeve for the Fall bounty of Martha’s Vineyard.