Vineyard Finds

Turn up the heat in more ways than one this winter, with some Island-sourced and -made products guaranteed to take the chill off.

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Left: Saag Paneer, paneer cheese cooked with a spinach-based curry. Right: Butter Chicken, chicken stewed in a homemade butter sauce. —Courtesy Bombay Indian

Bombay Indian Cuisine

After years of waiting — and much wishful thinking among Islanders — the Vineyard has now added Indian cuisine to its range of ethnic offerings. This past October, Austin Grande and partner Sydney Scannell opened Bombay Indian Cuisine on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Currently Bombay is only open for takeout, but the 79-seat restaurant also offers a dine-in table option. (Staff shortages have delayed waiter service for the time being.) 

What a trip to the restaurant may lack in the full-scale dining experience, the food will more than make up for. Everything is made on premises from scratch, including all the sauces, sides, and even the roti and naan (traditional Indian breads). Grande uses all organic ingredients and imports his spices and flours from India. 

The Bombay Indian menu includes staples like Tikka Masala, Vindaloo, Korma, and curries, but there are also a couple of surprises. Grande is experimenting with fusion dishes that incorporate Indian touches with items associated with other cuisines. His street corn features masala, lime, and cilantro, as opposed to the Mexican version with mayonnaise and cotija cheese, and Lemon Ginger Lobster Rangoons are on the menu.

Chicken Biryani: marinated chicken, basmati rice, vegetables, and an array of authentic Indian spices. —Courtesy Bombay Indian

Grande is joined in the kitchen by his longtime friend and colleague, Mark Thompson, who aside from working in numerous successful restaurants has also spent time cooking for the New England Patriots. 

Friends had suggested to Grande that he purchase his masala (a blend of Indian spices used in a lot of traditional cuisine) and other premade ingredients from restaurant suppliers. “That’s just an insult to the craft,” says Grande, a purist when it comes to cooking. He also insists on using only fresh produce, and makes every effort to purchase local ingredients.

“You can use frozen spinach, but why would you?” he says. “I’m hoping we can change the dynamic of Indian food in the U.S. with fresh ingredients.” 

Grande explains that there really are no shortcuts to cooking authentic Indian. “It’s a challenge. It’s not like any other cuisine,” he says. “You’re using 20 different spices in one dish, and all are being incorporated at different times along the way. It’s really an art form. It has to be done slowly.”

Doing things the right way also requires a combination of artistry and science. “For the naan, you have to have the right climate to get the bubbles to form,” says Grande, who has done a good deal of experimenting to perfect that dish. “I’ve found that if the kitchen door is open, you get bubbles. If it’s closed, you don’t.”

Although some chefs bake tandoori dishes in a conventional oven, Grande refuses to compromise, and so he won’t be offering that marinated specialty until he can (hopefully in the near future) purchase a traditional tandoori oven. 

Sweet Rice Pudding with rose water and pistachios. —Courtesy Bombay Indian

That perfectionist approach comes from a longtime immersion in Indian food and Indian culture. Grande was introduced to traditional cooking by his stepmother, who hails from Western India. She would often cook for the family when he was growing up. Later the aspiring chef moved to India, where he eventually worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant in New Delhi. Upon returning to the States, Grande went on to work in a number of different upscale restaurants in Boston and other New England locations, including a stint as head chef for Intermission Tavern on Tremont Street. However, he was never able to pursue his love of Indian cooking until last year, when he and his girlfriend opened a takeout-only spot at the business park at the airport. 

The venture proved so successful that the couple decided to take the leap and open a full-service restaurant. Grande still travels to India when he can. He has visited spice farms there, and arranged for his own connections to local suppliers. 

Grande’s love for all things Indian extends beyond his culinary ventures. “I was brought to tears when I first saw the Taj Mahal,” he says. “It’s such a marvel of engineering and art.” Perhaps the same could be said for the Bombay Indian menu. 

Bombay Indian Cuisine, 7 Oakland Ave., Oak Bluffs. Visit bombay-indian-cuisine.square.site.

Mimi’s Hittin’ the Sauce 

Cathy and Mark Peters of West Tisbury have been bottling and selling their own hot sauce since 2016. Mark grows the seven varieties of peppers in their gardens, and Cathy cooks up the sauce according to well-guarded recipes. All in all, the Peters’ sauces, which go by the brandname Mimi’s Hittin’ the Sauce, have taken home numerous top awards internationally. Now the couple has added a spice mix that combines their homegrown peppers with maple sugar from Vermont and a variety of other dried ingredients, that can jazz up just about anything from meats and veggies to dips and popcorn (one of Cathy’s favorite uses).

Mark starts his pepper seedlings indoors in the dead of winter, then transfers them to a heated greenhouse until they’re ready to go in the ground in early summer. Harvesting occurs in the fall, and the next few months are devoted to drying the ripe peppers in two dehydrators in the Peters’ home, then vacuum-packing them. Cathy uses an Island commercial kitchen to cook up and bottle her concoctions. All in all, the Peters grow and harvest seven different varieties, from the familiar — habaneros, ghost peppers, and Scotch bonnets — to a few with very colorful names: Scorpion, Carolina Reaper, Dragon’s Breath, and Komodo Dragon.

Awardwinning Mimi’s Hittin’ the Sauce. —Courtesy Mimi’s Hittin’ The Sauce

Cathy’s recipes all feature similarly inventive names like “Gonna Git Ya” (hot), “Smack My Ass” (extra hot), and “My Body’s on Fire, Strip Off My Attire” (extra-extra hot). The spice mixes and rubs go by somewhat less provocative but equally creative descriptives — “Don’t Rub Me Wrong” (mild), and “Get Your Rub On” (spicy). 

Cathy had to keep experimenting until she arrived at a sauce that was fiery enough to win second place in the prestigious Old Boney Mountain hot sauce competition in California. The 500 or so yearly contestants hail from nine different countries, but Mimi’s Hittin’ the Sauce has managed to proudly represent the Vineyard — taking home half a dozen first or second prizes in various categories (mild, medium, and hot) over the years. 

Next up, the Peters plan to start offering a taco and chili seasoning mix in two temperature levels. The recipe will feature, among other things, a spice blend, garlic, brown sugar, and — surprisingly — cocoa and coffee powder. 

Cathy believes in adding a bit of heat to just about everything (although she herself can only manage the mild varieties). “I want people to think outside the box,” she says, adding that she and her husband add the sauces and spice mixes to egg dishes, chowder, and more, and use it as dipping sauce. She also recommends making your own barbecue chips by sprinkling some of the spice mix into a bag and shaking vigorously. One customer even swears by the hottest of the hot — taken straight out of the bottle — as the ultimate hangover cure.

Visit them on Facebook at bit.ly/3hs8zVF.

Island Alpaca

Stay warm and cozy this winter with a hand-knit item from Island Alpaca. Owner Barbara Ronchetti offers hats, scarves, gloves, mittens, baby jackets, and onesies that are as local as it gets. Her own flock collaborates with a core of Island knitters to provide the softest, warmest natural-fiber attire you can find anywhere. 

Ronchetti explains the difference between wool (the fleece of sheep, goats, and rabbits) and alpaca fiber: “Because alpaca fiber is hollow-cored, it acts as an effective insulator, and is known to be 30 percent warmer than most breeds of sheep. It helps keep you warm in winter and cool in summer. It also naturally wicks and draws moisture away from the body, and allows it to evaporate quickly, so you stay dry and comfortable.” According to Ronchetti, alpaca fiber is also hypoallergenic. 

Along with the locally sourced and Vineyard-made products, the Island Alpaca gift shop also offers hundreds of other alpaca options, including blankets, sweaters, shawls, and ponchos, bags, baskets, and even stuffed animals — all made in the U.S. from small-farm fiber or from a fiber cooperative to which Ronchetti contributes material from her own flock for a fiber blend. 

Whether or not you’re looking for a gift item, a visit to Island Alpaca’s herd can provide a great outing for every member of the family. Ronchetti and her staff are always on hand during farm hours, and are happy to share their knowledge with visitors. And who could possibly feel the winter blues while petting a fuzzy-topped head?

Island Alpaca, 1 Head of the Pond Road, Vineyard Haven. Visit islandalpaca.com.