My good friend Louisa had been gone all summer, off on a road trip across Canada, and back through the northern U.S., with her husband Chris and their black dog, Obie. When she finally returned a couple of weeks ago, we had lots to catch up on.
I hadn’t thought about acoustics when I said, “Let’s go to Behind the Bookstore!” I was just selfishly thinking about what a great meal I’d had with friends a couple of weeks before. Then I remembered that for several years, years ago, Louisa had worked in the Edgartown bookstore, and so the choice seemed just right.
We parked way out on North Water Street, almost to Starbuck Neck, and walked into town. I hadn’t made a reservation, thinking it’s the Thursday before Labor Day, everything is quieter.
Not at Behind the Bookstore (BTB); at 6:45 they were already taking names, unless we wanted to sit at the “counter,” which was just fine with us.
BTB sits, well, behind Edgartown Books. Bookstore owners Jeffrey and Joyce Sudikoff opened BTB as a coffee shop in the back section of the store in 2013, with seating on the big, sun-drenched terrace. They expanded the kitchen and started dinner service in 2015; the kitchen and coffee shop have moved to a former attorney’s office at the back of the property. Sails now cover the terrace, acting as a roof over the intimate but airy dining space. Last year, manager Elana Carlson told me, with the help of Sperry Fabric Architecture, Mr. Sudikoff added a rain canopy on top of the sails for all-weather protection: “We unfurl the canopy with the onset of bad weather, and can carry out service. Rainy days are some of our busiest times; guests gather under the canopy, next to a heater if it’s chilly.”
This night, it was plenty warm, and a few stars were showing in the dusky sky above the sails. Louisa and I sat at a high counter, just a few feet from the bar. Servers turned on the string of warm light bulbs. Over our cocktails (mine involving bourbon and egg whites — trust me, it works), we traded summer stories — hers of great national parks, wildlife with antlers, mine of trips off-Island and birds I saw in my backyard.
We shared everything: a salad of North Tabor Farm greens, another salad of heirloom tomatoes, the Ginger-Miso Tuna Tartare (which Chef Molly Levine — more on her in a minute — says is a crowd favorite), a lamb burger, and “handcut linguine with lobster brodo, Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, escarole, and gremolata breadcrumbs.” (Yes, that’s as yummy and comforting as it sounds.) Each bite was sublime.
Molly, who’s enjoying her second summer as chef, cooked in Berkeley, Calif., before this, and is devoted to “honoring the land and the seasons,” by sourcing locally and sustainably. I asked her if she still used Slip Away Farm on Chappaquiddick for some of her produce. “Slip Away is a favorite of mine,” she told me. “I love how they treat us like a CSA [community-supported agriculture cooperative]; Collins just comes with his car and drops a bunch of stuff in our walk-in once a week.”
She also gets produce from Chilmark’s North Tabor Farms, MV Mycological, and Morning Glory Farm. “I source seafood locally through Menemsha, and try and get meat from on-Island. We get our chicken from the Good Farm, and have had ribs from Beetlebung, and lamb from the FARM Institute. It’s really important to me to craft my menu around these sources.”
I asked her how the menu might change with summer winding down. She said she had just added the heirloom tomato salad we’d ordered, along with a summer squash salad and braised short ribs with creamed corn. “Some things never change, as they are staff and customer favorites,” Molly said, “like the half [GOOD Farm] chicken and the clam toast.”
The biggest change, Elana says, is that regular dinner service stopped with the Sunday, Sept. 10, dinner. Breakfast and lunch will continue to be served until Oct. 9, with only the coffee shop open after that.
“Starting the following weekend,” she said, “we will hold ‘pop-up’ dinners, running for the last three weekends in September. The first is ‘Ramen Night’ on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 14, and 15.” The fixed price will be $45 and will include appetizer, salad, and ramen selection.
Louisa and I ordered wine from the extensive list, and lingered over our dinners, enjoying each other’s tales of summer adventures.
And then I realized the true beauty of that soaring sail ceiling was not just in allowing diners to feel both inside and outside at the same time, but all that restaurant noise — plates, bottles, orders being yelled, chitchat all around — went up to the peaks of the sails and out to the sky, allowing diners to talk to each other, and be heard. Background noise was so minimal that there was no need to raise our voices, and we were free to just relax into the evening, murmuring our approval of the excellent food, and the company, and making note that, before BTB ends its dinner service, we had to head back and try the clam toast.