As summer turns the corner from July to August, it’s easy to find yourself yearning for a respite from the high temperatures, traffic and long lines of the hectic summer season. A picnic can be a great way to slow down, appreciate your surroundings and remember why so many people choose to visit, or make their home on the Vineyard.
What follows are some ideas to help plan a vacation within a vacation, with three different budgets and locations.
We began in Vineyard Haven with $25 to spend. For this picnic, the first stop was The Net Result on Beach Road. We went in expecting to buy the standard bluefish pate, but wound up leaving with a container of smoked tuna spread. It had a deep, smoky flavor offset by vinegar and lemon and was especially good spread on crispy rice crackers.
Next stop was the Scottish Bake House on State Road, which always has great desserts, and we found just what we were looking for — moist and chewy macaroons for a dollar apiece. Final destination was Waterside Market on Main street, where they have many prepackaged items to choose from. We chose one of their two types of Israeli couscous salads and a small container of curried chicken salad. From there, Owen Park is just a short walk up Main street, and offers a great view of Vineyard Haven harbor. The park features a long, sloping hill dotted with park benches and a covered gazebo. At the bottom of the hill is one of Vineyard Haven’s few public beaches, complete with conveniently located rest rooms and access to the town dock, which is where we set up our meal. From the dock, we could watch the ferries come and go, and check out what the charter fishing boats were bringing in at the end of the day.
With a budget of $50, our up-Island picnic featured items purchased at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market and Fiddlehead Farm. The sheer number of choices available at the Farmer’s Market can tax decision-making. Knowing that we wanted to start with a simple salad that could be prepared anywhere, we went with a gigantic heirloom tomato from Whippoorwill Farm, some Pam’s Pesto and decided to pick up some cheese at our next stop. We stopped to sample some of the jams and jellies at the New Lane Sundries stand, and were blown away by their sweet and spicy Zinfandel Chili Jam.
For dessert, we wanted something light and refreshing; North Tabor Farm’s big, juicy blueberries fit the bill nicely. We continued on to Fiddlehead Farm, looking for mozzarella cheese for our salad, and perhaps a runny cheese to go with the jam. On the porch was a basket full of ripe peaches that lured us in with their smell alone. We added a few to our dessert menu. Fiddlehead has an extraordinary cheese selection for such a small shop, and Rose, the co-owner, is always ready to help with any and all cheese-related questions. She steered us toward a small wheel of mild, runny, Weybridge Cheese by Cellars at Jasper Hill, and a box of garlic crostini to spread it on. We also found some fresh mozzarella to complete our salad. You’ll also find interesting drinks in Fiddlehead’s cooler. We choose a blackberry and a cranberry/raspberry soda from Spindrift, both of which were refreshing and mildly tart.
We drove down the road to Priester’s Pond, a small, tranquil nature preserve managed by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission. It’s located on the down-Island end of North Road, where it intersects with State Road in West Tisbury. The main trail runs along the pond, and leads to a small waterfall and the subsequent stream. A wooden walkway winds along the stream and then loops back toward the entrance. If, however, you take the first right fork and travel down a short path, you will find a tiny, secluded clearing with a single wooden bench overlooking the pond, a perfect spot to relax and reflect. We decided that this spot, shaded by a beetlebung tree, was the perfect place to set up camp. The beauty of this spot is that although it is right off the main road, it is so peaceful that it feels as if you could walk miles without encountering another person.
For our Edgartown picnic, we splurged and spent $100. When asking around for picnic ideas, many people mentioned SoignÃ© on Upper Main street, especially their prepared items. We left with a salad of crisp, bright green sugar snap peas that tasted fresh from the garden, and a bottle of A to Z Pinot Noir, figuring it would be easy to drink and go well with a variety of different flavors. Screw-top wine bottles are v ery picnic friendly, as you don’t have to remember a corkscrew and they make it easy for you to take the leftovers with you.
Two doors down is Edgartown Seafood, run by the Larsen family. They always have a great selection of fresh seafood, and can answer just about any question you throw at them. We ordered a half dozen Katama Bay oysters, a half dozen littleneck clams (sold by the pound), a half-pound of cooked shrimp and some of their homemade cocktail sauce. The surprisingly large shrimp were perfectly cooked, still retaining a bit of snap as you bit into them. Combined with the spicy sauce, this shrimp cocktail rivaled that of any restaurant. Our last destination was Edgartown’s new “gourmet district” of North Summer street.
Two businesses have recently set up shop, transforming the street into Edgartown’s newest food destination. Black Sheep specializes in fromage and charcuterie, with the slogan “picnic to pantry.” They have a wide selection of cheeses, sausage and homemade spreads. They are also very happy to let you sample items. We merely inquired about the prosciutto and they immediately sliced us off a piece. When we asked the owner which of the patÃ©s was his favorite, without hesitation, he suggested the Orange DuckPatÃ©. We also tried a Robiola Di Langa Due Latti cheese paired with their house-made bruschetta. The tomatoes cut through the richness of the cheese wonderfully, and the bruschetta was full of basil and garlic flavors, without b eing too acidic. We wound up purchasing all of the aforementioned items, and had to resist buying more.
Right across the street is Rickard’s Bakery’s new retail location. In addition to breads, they offer sweets, coffee and espresso, and sandwiches to go. Their proximity to Black Sheep couldn’t be better, as we were able to quickly find a fresh baguette to go with our cheese and bru-schetta, as well as a couple desserts, an exotic-looking raspberry mousse cake and a lemon meringue tart that was so artfully toasted you almost didn’t want to eat it. We brought our bounty down to Eel Pond, a body of water that is usually calm and protected, but still open to the ocean. To get there, take Pease’s Point Way north all the way to the end, and you’ll see a boat ramp and small floating dock. The shoreline of the pond, although marshy, has many sandy patches that serve well as picnic areas, and is also great spot to watch osprey snatch fish from the pond.
If you know where to look, the Vineyard offers plenty of places to get away from the crowds and enjoy a peaceful moment or two with good company and good food.
Ezra Agnew and Kelley DeBettencourt are a writing and photography team based on the Vineyard; they blog about restaurants with reviews, recipes and culinary adventures. “We love to eat, cook and travel (in order to eat more),” they write. Their Web site is HungryNative.com.