Hob Knob-ing around Martha’s Vineyard
Exploring the island
Martha’s Vineyard has some of the most magical beaches I’ve ever seen. Obviously they’re not the same beaches as you’d find in the Caribbean, but the colors, the waves, and even the wind and rain in winter are magnificent and awe-inspiring. If you’re looking for a place to go to reconnect with the world- or yourself- to bring more balance to your harried life, I couldn’t think of a better place to go.
Driving along the coast is like entering into a postcard; the scenery is a museum of historic homes; each one charming, and seemingly plucked from another time. The best part about it is the fact that Martha’s Vineyard is real; it’s not cleaned-up and sterilized like so many resort towns today, and it’s also thankfully lacking much of the snobbery and pretentiousness of places like the Hamptons.
Martha’s Vineyard offers myriad activities and amusements (much more than simply driving to that bridge and reenacting that fateful car ride so many years ago). Beach combing, antiquing, and cycling around the island are requisite starting points, but there are a slew of other options available for visitors of every taste. Alley’s General Store should be on everyone’s list- it’s been around for 150 years!
Foodies will find many shops and restaurants offering gourmet goods, both to enjoy right away as well as to bring home to stretch the memories. Nature enthusiasts will love the 100+ miles of beach, bike and walking paths, nature preserves, bird and other animal watching, and host of outdoor activities, including boating, clamming, and windsurfing. Galleries abound, including a few that top the ’best of’ lists of many big magazines, yet still offer beautiful works by locals- as well as famed masters alike. Of course there are also a handful of small boutiques offering original clothing, trinkets, and other goods that you won’t find anywhere else. Speaking of...
I was introduced to PIK-NIK, a seasonal ’I want everything in it’ boutique, and have officially dubbed it the best shop for EDGE readers on the island. The owner is a well-known stylist and brilliant buyer, who also happens to be quite easy on the eyes. He’s assembled a well-edited collection of this season’s must-haves, alongside vintage pieces and various other items you won’t be able to live without. I found everything from denim that’s only available in one other location, to fabulous retro-inspired vases, to a yak-yarn cap that’s apparently everything in LA, to the best pickles I’ve had in my life. (Yes, pickles!)
This store should definitely top your list of stops- just be sure to call ahead to make sure that they’re open. PIK-NIK :: 99 Dukes County Ave, Oak Bluffs :: 508-693-1366
Because the island offers such a wide array of activities, I suggest you check out the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce site, and then pick up one or two visitors maps- found everywhere- upon arrival.
Unfortunately I only got to personally experience one restaurant while on-island, but I made sure to get suggestions and recommendations from everyone I met. Two of the restaurants that came up again and again were L’Etoile and Détante. While I was warned that both are a bit on the pricey side, I was assured that they were well worth it.
Fortunately I did get to experience the third restaurant on everyone’s must-visit list, Alchemy. And while the prices at this bistro-bar were reasonable, the food was incredible.
As a vegetarian, I often use my "restricted diet" as a way of testing chefs at restaurants I’ve never visited; Alchemy passed with flying colors- and some extra credit to boot. The platter of vegetables, gratin, pasta, and gnocchi I received was beyond anything I could have expected, and went down in my personal food history book as one of my favorite meals outside of France. I’m a huge fan of butternut squash ravioli, and this one wins hands-down (they were a tad sweeter than I’ve had before, with a dash of extra spice- heaven!). The gnocchi was also the best I’ve had outside of Europe, the cauliflower gratin was like an other-worldly experience in my mouth, and every single vegetable (and there were five) was cooked, glazed, and seasoned to perfection. In fact I was so excited about this meal that the woman next to me ordered it immediately without even looking at her menu.
The décor and ambiance at Alchemy only add to the experience. The building itself is very interesting, and features a long bar, about a dozen tables downstairs, and a big hole in the ceiling where you can see up into the dining room on the second floor. Add to that a good wine list and great service and you’ve got a definite winner.
Two other places that I heard were good- and which I’ve added to my list to check out on my next trip- are the restaurant at the Beach Plum Inn, and a new place that opened this year, Balance.
When you go
Martha’s Vineyard has year-round residents and visitors, although many establishments are seasonal. Late spring through early fall is considered high season, and the most popular for visitors. That said, early spring and late fall are beautiful- and much less crowded than the summer. Depending on what you’re looking for, the island is beautiful, peaceful, and quiet in the winter.
To get to Martha’s Vineyard you’ll need to take one of many ferries that serve the island, depending on where you’re coming from. The best way to figure this out is to go to the Chamber of Commerce website, where you’ll find schedules and links to sites where you can book your travel and buy tickets online. You can also reach the island by plane, either through Cape Air, charter flight, or private plane. For more info on air accessibility, see the Chamber of Commerce site as well.
There’s much to see and do, but many activities are seasonal; pick up one or two maps of the island (each of the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard has their own), and inquire with your hotel for information on current events and goings-on.
There are dozens of places to stay on the island, but only one that I would wholeheartedly recommend, and that’s the Hob Knob.
And apparently I’m not the only one who fell in love with this place; it’s an eleven-year recipient of awards for Best B&B from Cape Cod Life magazine and Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, and it’s been featured in Travel & Leisure, Elle, and Boston magazines.
Jason Salzenstein is a writer and editor; design, image, and marketing consultant; and professional shopper. His work has appeared in numerous national and international publications and he has clients around the world. For more information :: www.JasonSalzenstein.com