Under the Party Tents, a Tasting of Summer

$175,000 Is Raised in Two-Day Event to Benefit Trust

By JESSIE ROYCE HILL

It is one of the Vineyard's few events at which everyone wears shoes. Tasseled, pointy, strappy and high. They call it a stroll, but the women, in their pink and green Lilly Pulitzer ensembles, more likely teeter from vendor to vendor as they withdraw their heels from the fresh grass into which they've sunk. The gentlemen, a formation of navy blazers and bowties, outpace them.

On Thursday they feasted on seared haloumi and sheep's milk cheese from the new Mediterranean restaurant in Tisbury; dewy strawberries from Morning Glory Farm; soft shell crab from Lure, and lobster macaroni and cheese from Atria.

On Saturday, at the annual auction, they bid on needlepoint luggage racks and hand-hooked rugs.

With Jerry Bennett's nine-piece Sultans of Swing and Trip Barnes providing soundtracks on the respective nights, Taste of the Vineyard and its companion Patrons' Party netted $175,000 this year for the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust.

"The quality of offerings was superb," said Chris Scott, executive director of the trust, yesterday. "This was the best we've done except for 2002 when we auctioned the Ford Thunderbird for $38,000."

The gourmet stroll and auction together form the Trust's signature fundraiser. Under lavish white tents on the grounds of the Old Whaling Church and the Daniel Fisher House, nearly 1,000 people turned out to eat, drink, spend and start the social season.

The funds they raised will help the trust maintain its 12 Island properties, which include the Flying Horses and the Union Chapel, in addition to the two sites on which the parties were held.

Seventy-five restaurants and wine merchants turned up at the Taste of the Vineyard to offer their goods - a turnout which makes for some strange bedfellows along the circuit of stations.

Paul Domitrovich, owner of the evening's most conspicuous chest hair - peeking out from beneath his Hawaiian shirt as he administered seafood jambalaya from Lola's booth, stood alongside a trio of stick-straight blondes in black cocktail dresses pouring microbrews.

Modest women arranging tidy circles of Chilmark Chocolates that were snatched up by the manicured hands of strollers looked slightly abashed, next to the full-throated charm of the purveyors of Yellow Tail wines one table over.

The Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group's oyster table resembled a beehive, its patrons slurping down Island-cultured fruits from Katama Bay and Menemsha Pond faster than Rick Karney and his colleagues could shuck them.

Their neighbors at the Fresh Pasta Shoppe flouted the South Beach diet, handing out assorted gourmet pizzas made from white flour crusts. "We don't make whole wheat crust," the chef stated. "That's a little like selling bladeless knives, isn't it?"

A man in a coat and tie, eschewing the pizzas, leaned in to his friend. "I've been trying to do low carb, but I love Dippin' Donuts," he said. (He may be chagrined to learn the Island chain was bought out this spring, though the folks from Humphrey's, the new owners, pledge to keep the familiar recipe.)

Along their down-home allée, the Homeport ladled quahaug chowder as their neighbors dished out crab cakes with remoulade.

"I never would have gone to Fishbones before, but now I know they make a great lobster quesadilla," remarked a woman in a Very Vineyard green batik print dress under a white cardigan.

Two glamorous dancers in up-dos served Tex-Mex appetizers and lined up the martini glasses. "Do the margaritas have alcohol?" asked a tentative woman.

A portly gentleman resting between courses of tiramisu from Ciao Bella discussed his bowtie. "They're getting harder to find," he said. "I order them in shipments from a place in Middlebury, Vt."

The dance floor was empty two hours into the event as the flow of traffic gridlocked in the aisles. Eventually some young women on break from their vendor's booth swung each other around. Others soon put down their plates of seared ostrich tenderloin - a Zephrus delicacy - and Asian-style duck confit from 67 Circuit and followed suit.

Only the teenage boys sneaking beer from behind the cooking lines and the too-sated patrons they had served awhile before demurred.

Two nights later at the auction, Mr. Barnes took his customary role as auctioneer, reeling in $35,000 in sales on top of the $120,000 from the party's ticket sales.

The top bid went for a Ray Ellis oil painting entitled Moonrise over Chappy, bought for $12,000 by Peter Goltra.

The runner-up was a traditional wooden flagpole provided by Ross Gannon and Nat Benjamin, which went to John Shaefer for $11,000.

A sailing trip on the Resolute followed by lunch at the yacht club with Walter and Betsy Cronkite took in $7,800 from Mike Kidder.

It's not yet July - still toe-dipping weather for all but the intrepid. The Taste of the Vineyard presages the summer's season of haute cuisine benefits, auctions and deck parties. But at any of them, you're liable to see flip-flops.