For many, it was the season opener, a chance to reconnect with friends and “taste” all the flavors of the Island. The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, an organization that cares for historic Island buildings, hosted 850 guests and 90 vendors Thursday night at the 28th annual Taste of Martha’s Vineyard gourmet stroll.
“It seems almost like their prom,” decided Richard James, a New York-based investment banker who vacations on the Island. He likened the party to a communal emergence from a hibernation. “Winters are long here,” he said. “It’s almost like they’re coming out from a long winter.”
That’s certainly the case for Chappaquiddick ferry captain Becca Hamilton, 27, who had her long, flowy dress hung in her closet for months, the tag still intact. “I saved it; I wouldn’t let myself wear it to anything else,” she said, holding a plate with two chocolate-covered strawberries from Chilmark Chocolates. It was her second Taste, a party she says gives her a chance to eat great food, dress up, and see a lot of people she hasn’t seen in awhile.
Hundreds of partygoers packed into tent behind her, surveying the offerings, and advising each other how to maneuver the crowds while not dumping the contents of their plates and glasses. “You’ve got to keep a nice little plane,” one woman coached her friend on how to hold the plate steady. “We’re stopping at too many tables,” one young man complained to his friends. Still chewing, they obliged, and followed him further down the aisle.
Newcomers Bad Martha Beer and Lucky Hank’s restaurant in Edgartown set up next to each other near the front of the tent. Vendors included Island and off-Island caterers, restaurants, pizzerias, wine merchants and microbrewers. Even Pepsi and Coke set up shop, staring each other down across the aisle.
L’etoile of Edgartown claimed to be the longest-running stand at the Taste. It was their 28th year, said head server Mary Beth Wesley who has worked there for 20 years.
“I would say it’s a collaboration of a lot of Vineyard restaurants and off-Island purveyors, all in support of a great cause, to have a great time, with a great band and great food. For a lot of people,” among whom she counts her restaurant, “this is the biggest event of the year,” she said. “It’s nice to get your product out and to talk to people who have been clients for many years. And introduce new people to our food.”
The restaurant served samples of poached halibut, which sat in single-file rows in crew boat-shaped platters adorned with spoons for paddles. The halibut is new on their menu this year.
“It’s the best of what the Island has to offer, all in one place,” Mr. James said.
At a quarter past six, there was already a line filling the entire sidewalk in front of the Daniel Fisher House. They wore platform heels, espadrilles, flip flops and cowboy boots. There were bow ties, pearls, silk shawls, pins on their sport coats and flowers in their hair. By 8 p.m., the buckets next to the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group were half-full with discarded shells, and revelers took to the dance floor, inspired by the familiar tunes of Jerry Bennett and the Sultans of Swing.
Bernadette Cormie of Herring Run Caterers selected “down-home” cuisine like Boston baked beans, pulled pork, coleslaw and cornbread to distinguish her table from the “fancy, flashy” food being served by her neighbors.
“We get plenty of attention, [so] we’re not doing it for promotional reasons,” insisted Alex Nagy of the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company. “We really want to benefit the cause.”
It’s notoriously difficult to get tickets for the benefit because tickets sell out almost immediately. Donna Stewart, administrative assistant at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, joined the Preservation Trust last year so that she’d be sent an early notification about ticket sales. “I never could get [tickets] without joining,” she said. She wore a colorful dress from Lord and Taylor, and cheetah print heels which she purchased in New York last weekend.
“It’s a great party, it’s a great social gathering, but I think people also are aware that it really helps keep all our landmarks on the Island that are public restored for public enjoyment,” said Chris Scott, executive director of the trust. He said the $60,000 raised Thursday is crucial to the upkeep of the 20 Preservation Trust properties, which include the Chappaquiddick schoolhouse, a relatively new project.
The Preservation Trust hosts a second gathering on Saturday evening, which will feature a silent and a live auction.
For more photos of the Taste of the Vineyard you can visit our multimedia slide show.