“It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” Chef Jeff Wingo of Isola Restaurant says about cooking. No if’s, and’s, or maybe’s. He knew he wanted to cook ever since he was a child, and it was that desire that led him to apply to only one college: Johnson & Wales in Miami Beach, Fla. Chef Wingo is originally from Holbrook, and after going to school in the South, he missed his New England roots. He headed back North, applying for jobs all over, especially on Martha’s Vineyard. Those applications landed him jobs all over the Island, including Nectar’s, Sidecar, Kitchen Porch Catering — all leading up to his current position as executive chef at Isola in Edgartown.
A destination for when you’re craving traditional Italian family recipes updated for a modern palate, Isola is owned by the Sullo family, who previously owned Rocco’s, among other establishments. They’ve been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years, and this restaurant is truly a family restaurant. Peter Sullo oversees everything while his sons manage the front and back of the house. Gaby, his daughter, bakes the ever-so-popular Italian Love Cake a couple of times a week for the restaurant. It’s a family affair, indeed.
The menu at Isola is focused on Italian, with an entire section dedicated to pasta, but my recommendation is to start with one of the appetizers, like the Italian Country Salad ($13). Warm goat cheese that has been pan-seared is served atop pickled shallots and toasted pignoli, tossed over greens with a pancetta vinaigrette. Another great appetizer to kick off a meal is the housemade ricotta ($11) served with warm tomato compote and black pepper crostini. Slather some ricotta on the crostini, dollop some compote on the top, and you’re on your way to a tasty bite. Simple, yet incredibly flavorful.
But don’t fill up on appetizers. I recommend ordering a variety of pasta dishes from the menu and serving them family-style in the center of the table, so everyone can have a taste of everything. Currently, there are four types of pasta on the menu — perfect for a party of four friends to enjoy family-style. The Ricotta Cavatelli ($28) is the star of the menu. All the components shine: perfectly made ricotta cavatelli is paired with Chef Wingo’s housemade Italian sausage, charred rapini, truffle oil, Parmesan, and cured egg yolk shaved atop it all.
If you’ve been keeping up with the national food publications like Saveur or Food & Wine, you might have seen cured egg yolks make their debut earlier this year. Chefs use the technique to bring a level of “umami” and flavor fullness to their dishes. Fresh egg yolks are placed in a blend of salt, sugar, and black pepper, and set to cure for a couple of weeks. At the end, the result is a small yolk disk that looks and feels like a gummy candy. This is then shaved over pasta as if it were Parmesan, and brings the dish to a level of finesse and richness unlike anything else. It’s a must-try, in my opinion.
But that’s not to say the other pasta dishes are less than stellar. Make sure to order the Spaghetti with Local Clams ($29). It’s a lemon thyme spaghetti pasta made in-house served with a Vineyard littleneck sauce, roasted tomatoes, and pancetta bits. If you’re craving another classic, than the Drunken Pappardelle ($28) with Nana’s signature meatballs, roasted mushrooms, traditional Bolognese sauce, and shaved ricotta salata is a great bet.
Last but never least, for the vegetarians in the group, the vegetarian pasta ($27) is a summer vegetable ragu with toasted almonds and romesco sauce. Flavors and texture provide a gorgeous masterpiece, not just some tossed sautéed vegetables over al dente pasta, like at other restaurants. Living the gluten-free lifestyle? All pasta dishes are available free of gluten, for an added cost of $3.
Isola does offer a selection of entrée dishes if you don’t want to solely focus on pasta, like its Veal Osso Buco ($35), Grilled Lobster ($36), and Seared Diver Scallops ($33). But like I said, make sure to try the pasta. Pasta and sauces are made in-house daily, and Chef Wingo tries to source as locally as possible, focusing on Morning Glory Farm and MV Mycological mushrooms for his produce.
Eat as much pasta as it takes to make your heart content, but leave a little room for dessert, because Gaby’s Italian Love Cake ($12) is an Italian masterpiece deserving of its own pedestal. Ricotta mascarpone cheese is lightly whipped and combined into a rich chocolate cake batter that’s baked and served with crushed hazelnut brittle, whipped cream, and orange zest to brighten it all up. It’s the perfect finale to the meal.
Don’t forget, you can also order pizza from the Isola Pizzeria if your kiddos (or other dining companions) are craving it, while you enjoy your dinner at the restaurant. Isola Pizzeria is open seven days a week from 11:30 am until 10 pm, while the restaurant is open nights only starting at 5:30 pm for dinner.
Isola is located on 19 Church Street in Edgartown. For reservations and more information, visit isolamv.com or call 774-549-9446.