It is always surprising to me how small the Island can feel. There are six towns, and people can get pretty embedded there, especially if they live in one of the down-Island towns where you can get almost everything you need from grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, retail and liquor stores. Living up-Island, I drive without much thought since it is about seven to nine miles to everywhere. Though admittedly in the height of summer, I try to organize my routes so I am not driving through the traffic at the infamous Five Corners when a ferry has arrived, or by the airport when three planes land within an hour of each other . . . remember last summer around 1 pm?
Regardless of the perception of what is a long drive, I am advocating for exploring and checking out some of the businesses that may be off the beaten path, even for a small island.
First, I am going to send you to the Martha’s Vineyard airport, yes the airport. When entering, take the first right and you will find three businesses housed in the old Hot Tin Roof area. MV Wine & Spirits is a liquor store, and Black Sheep is an excellent choice for fine groceries, cured meats, cheeses, and a huge variety of takeout specialties — delicious salads and famous homemade dips and spreads, along with crackle bread pizzas. Black Sheep also has an excellent catering service for dinner parties, luncheons, and brunches.
But the reason I am making this airport pitstop is the fish sandwich at the Fish House, which I consider to be one of the best on the Island. I believe a good sandwich has to do with the design as much as the ingredients, and bigger is not always better. I find flavors can get lost with a sandwich spilling over. This fish sandwich has the perfect balance of ingredients, yielding delicious flavor and texture. Made with fresh haddock, technically related to cod and perfect for frying, the sandwich is served on a butter-grilled bun with tartar sauce, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Sounds pretty normal, but there is nothing normal about this fish sandwich. It’s definitely my favorite.
The Fish House opened in 2018 and is owned by locals, chef Everett Whiting and fisherman Tyler Gibson and his wife Shane Laderoute, who holds down the front of the market and is always a cheerful, knowledgeable presence. They offer highly selective fresh local seafood, also quality steaks and meats.
This team of creative, hardworking Islanders has turned this off-the-beaten path location into a seasonal must with a full and diverse takeout menu that includes classic fried seafood specialties, as well as fresh poke bowls, pork carnitas and shrimp tacos, salads, really good onion rings, lobster rolls, and more, all homemade.
For our next option, we will head up-Island into West Tisbury’s town center, just under four miles from the airport. The old center of West Tisbury features Alley’s General store, the First Congregational Church, a library, town hall, and 7a — a takeout restaurant in the old laundromat location next to Alley’s.
A year-round staple for breakfast and lunch, 7a is going into its 12th year. A couple of their signature items include an egg sandwich on a homemade cheddar jalapeno biscuit with all the fixings, or for lunch, the Liz Lemon — a memorable sandwich with housemade pastrami, smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on rye topped off with crunchy potato chips. (I know people who travel up-Island just for the Liz Lemon.) They also have soups and always a seasonal veggie sandwich, as well as really great cookies, muffins, scones, and tea cakes. You can sit outside on the benches at 7a and watch the bustle of Alleys’ store and downtown West Tisbury.
Continuing up-Island, it’s hard to not make a stop at the Chilmark General Store for the pizza slice of the day. The store has been around since the early 1900s, and became famous for its amazing hand-tossed pizza first made by Primo Lombardi and family after they moved his pizza business from Oak Bluffs to Chilmark. The Chilmark General Store is a must-stop, where locals and seasonal residents meet on the porch for conversation and good, old-fashioned people watching.
Current owners, husband and wife Joel Glickman and Jennifer LoRusso, have been running the iconic store since 2011. The well-stocked market, deli, and pizzeria keep the up-Island crowd satisfied with on-point grocery items and creative homemade sandwiches and salads. The deli and pizza kitchen often feature local ingredients on special pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. The slice of the day usually features a very hearty deep-dish slice like housemade sausage and pepperoni; there are also classic cheese or pepperoni slices. My favorite is the veggie slice with Island-grown veggies added to it. Whatever slice you choose, you will be happy you made the scenic drive.