Some restaurants have a certain allure about them, a draw that brings you in over and over again, whether it’s for a well-crafted burger on a Thursday night or a celebratory multicourse dinner late on a Saturday night. An up-Island dining destination for locals and visitors alike, State Road in West Tisbury is an alluring restaurant we have all come to love. This season, they’ve brought in a new leader to their culinary team, Executive Chef Randy Rucker.
A James Beard Award nominee originating from the Lone Star State, Chef Rucker, along with his girlfriend Amanda and their cat Rufus, has traveled from the South to settle into the Vineyard lifestyle. In the past few weeks he has discovered a newfound love for New England and its culinary offerings. “As a chef new to the area, my goal is to focus on learning and discovering the natural resources the Island has to offer, along with the indigenous ingredients that I hope to showcase on our new menus,” Chef Rucker said.
Bringing in a new chef during the off-season is not only smart, but kind. It gives the new cook time to get to know his surroundings, the ins and outs of cooking on an island, and above all, time to meet the farmers, artisans, and fishermen who will help source the new menu. Along with owners Mary and Jackson Kenworth and the longstanding previous chef, Austin Racine, Chef Rucker has traveled the Island — everywhere from Menemsha Fish House to the countless local farms.
“Food should taste as close to where you are located as possible,” he said. “Mother Nature is the one that does most of the job. We as cooks just have to try not to ruin that.” When you visit State Road this season, you’ll notice just that. The menus have been rewritten to showcase Chef Rucker’s philosophy on food, while keeping in step with the restaurant’s knack for remaining fresh, local, farm-to-table, and sustainable.
Luckily, the restaurant’s onsite garden makes this easy. Once spring arrives, Chef Rucker hopes to extend responsibility for the garden to the rest of the kitchen team. “When a young cook has to plant, upkeep, and water the vegetables he or she has to use in a menu item, once the time to harvest said vegetable comes, the reverence and appreciation for that ingredient has increased a hundredfold,” Chef Rucker said. He also hopes to develop a pantry of pickles, sauces, and seasonings.
State Road’s new menu will constantly evolve, reflecting the season and availability of products. On our visit to the restaurant last week, we had a chance to taste a couple of stellar dishes. Start with the razor clams ($15) from the cold selection of appetizers, lightly marinated with shimeji mushrooms, kumquats, and yuzu kosho. Bright flavors are the ideal way to start the meal, especially on the upcoming cold winter nights. From the hot selection of appetizers, the wood-grilled swordfish ($23) is served up with a delectable urchin vinaigrette that’s sure to impress.
The menu also showcases a section “for the table,” with offerings such as lightly grilled swiss chard ($10) served with Cape turnip and Parmesan, brussels sprouts ($10) with fish sauce, caramel, and peanuts; sunchokes ($10) cooked in brown butter, served with maple, cranberry, and granola; and marble potatoes ($12) smoked with hay and cooked with endive and garlic confit. Table shares are some of my favorite menu items to order, and typically great options for those who are vegetarians, as they are often vegetable-focused.
Moving on to the mains, I certainly appreciate a menu that focuses on just a few offerings and does not overwhelm with hundreds of items. I can’t stop thinking about the pan-roasted duck breast ($38) served with sweet potato purée, charred cabbage, and dried apricot. The flavors just screamed of the season, and the duck was perfectly cooked. I have yet to taste a crispier, more flavorful duck skin.
Make sure not to skip dessert. State Road’s baker and pastry chef, Leslie Hewson, is collaborating with Chef Rucker, and the current desserts ($12 each) are showstoppers. If you’re with friends, I suggest getting the cookies, a selection of freshly baked cookies and bars. They also have a section of “shots” ($8 each) for those wanting “just a little something sweet.”
State Road is currently open for Burger Night on Thursday starting at 5:30 pm, and open for dinner Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Sundays, brunch is served 8 am to 2 pm. For dinner reservations, call 508-693-858 or visit stateroadrestaurant.com.
This article by Marnely Murray originally appeared on mvtimes.com.