Those are definitely four of my favourite things—Martha’s Vineyard, JAWS, Black History, and BBQ! The fact that I got to role them all into one glorious day is a story unto itself and that is why I am here. I am going to share it all with you. The cool thing about it is that the history and the BBQ parts of the day were firsts for me! They were two things that I had been wanting to check off my list for a while now. Whenever I get to cross things off that list, I am thrilled! People are always asking me what I am going to do when I run out of things to do, when I get through my list? Impossible. The list is continuously growing. It gets longer every day. I cannot keep up! So, without further ado, I give you JAWS, Black History, and BBQ!
Everything Begins With JAWS
As do so many of my days on Martha’s Vineyard, this day started with a long walk. It was a perfect morning. The temperature was around seventy-five, it wasn’t humid, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was staying in Vineyard Haven and I walked to Oak Bluffs, picked up a coffee at Mocha Mott’s and then made my way toward Edgartown. The walk along Beach Road is probably my favourite walk in the world. The ocean on one side, Sengekontacket Pond on the other and trees everywhere—what could be better, really?
Coffee in hand, I sipped and strolled, this is when I think. I take photos and I think about my book. The book I’m writing. I wonder what my characters are going to get up to next—I never really know—and try to sort out how they’re going to get out of any current jams they happen to be in. Quite often, I get them into situations without any idea as to how I am going to get them out of them! My phone rang and it was my friend, Dolores Borza, of Homegrown Tours. Dolores knew that I had been eager to take part in one of her African American History Tours for quite some time. I answered the phone and heard Dolores’s characteristically energetic and happy voice, “Where are you?” she asked. I told her that I was headed toward Edgartown but that I would be stopping at the JAWS Bridge to take pictures. “I’ll meet you there!” she said.
It was early in the day and it was early in the season. The beaches were almost empty even on a glorious day like this. I dropped my back-pack and pulled out my camera. I found a place to safely stow my coffee and then started looking for the angle that was going to make me happy, at least for the moment. I always get a couple of shots that mimic shots in the movie and look for new shots of the stone jetties or breakwaters—I’ve never really been sure what they were. I clicked happily away until a car beeped its horn at me and a blonde woman jumped out and ran toward me. It was my friend Kathy! She ran up, gave me a huge kiss and a hug, “I just thought I would stop and say hello!” She then ran back to her car and drove off. Hey, it’s The Vineyard!
As soon as Kathy drove off, Dolores drove up in her blue tour bus. She opened the door, and popped out. “So, you still want to take that African American Tour?”
African American History
There is a lot of African American History on Martha’s Vineyard. In fact, there is a lot of history on Martha’s Vineyard period. If you love the island half as much as I do, you are doing yourself a great disservice, if you do not look into it. Even if you only take a tour with Homegrown Tours or go to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, do it! Learning why Edgartown is full of white colonial revival and greek revival architecture but Oak Bluffs is not, or discovering the history of the Wampanoag people and the African American History on the island, will give you a brand new respect for Martha’s Vineyard and its people.
A big part of the African American History Tour that I saw—and admittedly, I didn’t see it all—was the Charles Shearer Cottage on East Chop. Charles Shearer was the son of a white slave master, James Shearer, and his enslaved black woman, Matilda Giles. Charles was a slave, born a slave. In his early years, he kept out of sight and learned hunting and fishing from the natives of the surrounding area. Toward the end of the civil war, as his master was preparing to move his property (slaves included), Charles announced that he would be joining the Union Army. Charles was chained and beaten in the barn. When Master Shearer moved, he left Charles chained in the barn to die. He was discovered by the Union Troops and they allowed him to go with them.
After the Civil War, Charles moved to Hampton, Virginia where he attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. He would eventually marry Henrietta Merchant, who was African, white, and native descent, but born free to free parents. The couple prospered and had ten children. The family moved to Boston and became very successful. They visited Oak Bluffs often as they were devout Baptists. The Shearers purchased their first piece of land on Martha’s Vineyard in the late 1800’s. In 1903, they purchased the piece of property where Shearer Cottage now stands.
The family history is a remarkable one. I’m not sure exactly why the African American History on the island fascinates me like it does, but it really does. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Martha’s Vineyard was where slaves escaped for Canada on the “Underground Railroad”. I used to live in Halifax and I am very familiar with the history from the other side. It’s cool to put the pieces together, especially in my favourite place in the world.
When I started to get hungry, Dolores happened to be driving past Sea Smoke MV. I had just had the pleasure of meeting JB Blau for the first time, a week ago at Best of the Vineyard. He had been kind enough to come up and introduce himself. I told him that I was dying to try his new spot, Sea Smoke! This seemed like kismet to me. Dolores dropped me off and I went inside.
Sea Smoke Martha’s Vineyard
As I said, I had the good fortune of meeting JB Blau at Best of the Vineyard just a few days ago. I was always seeing his posts on Islanders Talk and I liked his vibe. Through his restaurants, JB was always doing good things for the community. It was obvious that he loved the island as much as I did, so I thought we should meet. I reached out to him and he responded by saying that he loved the idea, but he was crazy busy, especially now with the new restaurant. If I wanted to stop by and say hello, great, but he didn’t have time to hang out.
I totally understood. I have a lot of friends on Martha’s Vineyard and let’s face it, when I’m there, I’m on vacation. I have all the time in the world. They’re working and it’s their busy season. So, when JB made a point of coming up and introducing himself to me at Best of The Vineyard, I really appreciated it. He told me that he was spending most of his time at Smoke. Stop in and say, hi. I told him I definitely would because I thought his place looked great! I was not disappointed.
Most of Martha’s Vineyard, I find, has a real reggae vibe to it. There’s an “island time” feel. Reggae totally fits the island. When I walked into Sea Smoke, I was struck by the south-west tone. It was fun and very upbeat. I smiled right away. The place smelled amazing. It smelled like BBQ. I was met at the door by a very pretty and very happy girl who took me to a table and asked me what I would like to drink. JB walked in then and I asked him, “What should I drink that’s non-alcoholic?” He said, “The house iced-tea.” I said in my best Matthew McConaughey, “Well, alright then.” My impression is awful, but it seemed to suit the surroundings. No one noticed anyway. Moving on…
I loved the iced tea. It wasn’t just straight up sweetened with sugar, I think it was honey. It had a really nice flavour anyway. The menu had a lot of options, but when my server asked me what I should order, I just said, “Bring me your favourite item on the menu.” This seemed to strike the fear of god into her; however, this is not an uncommon request for me to make at a restaurant that I am visiting for the first time. It has been my experience that I always get the best crowd pleaser they have. I always make mention that I hate carrots, but other than that—carte blanch. JB came back into the dining room at that point and my server told him what I had asked. He smiled and looked at me, “I’ll bring you some stuff. You’ll like it.” He did. I did.
Have you ever had brisket? Brisket that has been smoked for fifteen hours? I hadn’t until this very moment. JB brought me some brisket with an assortment of sides. I had macaroni and cheese, collared greens, cornbread, cornbread pudding, southern potato salad, baked beans, and Texas style beans. It was an overwhelming amount of food, but I was up to it! The brisket was incredible. JB took the time to point out how to tell if meat has really been smoked properly or just infused with liquid smoke. He told me about the differences between the styles of beans, and what made southern potato salad what it was.
Everything was delicious. I’ve been wondering if I can actually commit in writing to what my favourite side dishes were. Potato salad and cornbread are probably the winners for me. On the whole though, I really cannot recommend Sea Smoke enough. I found myself in that position usually reserved for Christmas and Thanksgiving. You know, when you are stuffed, but you keep eating because everything in front of you is so good? Yeah, that feeling. When I was done, the chef came out and introduced himself to me. Then he said, “I hope you saved room for my peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream! The cobbler is my own personal recipe.” What’s a Canadian boy to do? That’s right.
I left Sea Smoke feeling more than sated and smiling the smile you get from talking with good people. I like that combination. It’s one of the better combos in life. I also knew that I was going to have to walk a long way to once again feel good about my waist line! From Oak Bluffs, I walked back to Vineyard Haven via East Chop. The afternoon was hot and sunny. The ocean roared at the foot of the cliffs, and rippled when I returned to sea level. I love that walk because it takes me past The Brody House from JAWS, as well as The Brody House from JAWS: The Revenge. Turns out everything begins with JAWS and everything ends with it too! What can I say—it’s my thing. Hey, it’s The Vineyard!