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Your Guide to Eating in Nantucket by Real Food Traveler

Your Guide to Eating in Nantucket by Real Food Traveler

Your Guide to Eating in Nantucket by Real Food Traveler

Seafood that couldn’t be any fresher, sweeping views, and great restaurants. Writer Betsa Marsh enjoyed eating in Nantucket, thoroughly. Here, she tells us which restaurants to check out and what you absolutely have to have there to enjoy the Nantucket foodie experience.

Generations of whaling families came down to Nantucket’s original harbor to bid “farewell” and “welcome home,” often years apart.

Netting Nantucket Delicacies
From the first lungful of island air, our taste buds start attuning to the sea. With each step closer to shore, we know that ours will be a total seafood assault on Nantucket, Mass.

Lobster, clams, oysters — the landlubber’s pizza and burgers can just go fish.

Fried calamari and oysters, washed down with a cold beer at Brotherhood of Thieves.

This dainty jot of land, 30 miles off Hyannis Port, is an exemplar of history and preservation — the entire island of Nantucket is a National Historic District.

The Wampanoag Native People had been fishing here for 5,000 years before nine Englishmen from Salisbury, Mass. bought land and came ashore in 1659. In a tragedy as old as exploration itself, the native population was soon wiped out by disease and the English settlers took control. After struggling to farm and breed sheep on the thin, sandy soil, the Anglos, too, turned to the sea.

On our Nantucket adventure, my friend Carol and I tour the island’s brick-and-cobblestone lanes with a guide from the Nantucket Historical Association. We follow the sweep of history from the Wampanoags to the grizzly heyday of whaling. As petroleum fuel replaced whale oil, so tourism replaced industry on this little fishhook-shaped isle, 14 miles long and no more than six miles wide.

Steeped in tales of the sea, we ponder where to head for lunch. Let’s follow the locals out to the tall grass and tides, to the clapboard Sayle’s Seafood.

Laborers pop in for fried clams and chowder to eat on their truck tailgate, ladies pull up in BMWs for a filet to broil at home.

Sayle’s Seafood is part retail grocery and ready-to-eat seafood restaurant a few miles outside Nantucket Town.

Perched on a little porch table, facing the sound, we sample the clam chowder, fried oysters and shrimp cocktail, to acclaim. The deep-fried crab cake, so different from the Maryland style we’re used to, gets a pass.

It’s lunch with a smile at Sayle’s Seafood outside of Nantucket Town. Time to try their clam chowder and fried oysters.
Then it’s back to town for shopping and purposefully getting lost—let’s try to find the 1806 Old Gaol (jail) and the Oldest House, a wedding gift built for Jethro Coffin and Mary Gardner in 1686. We defy the scant street signs to finally find both, and, on the way back into town, reward our superior orienteering skills with Nantucket shirts and sweaters.

After our rough-and-tumble lunch, it’s all about sit-down serenity at Dune downtown. Sconces diffuse the evening light and grasscloth walls absorb every sound. This is the place for grilled Spanish octopus or a stir-fry of New Zealand cockles. And, yes, heresy — my lavish vegetarian tasting plate of mushrooms, mustard greens, carrots, asparagus, peas and fiddlehead ferns.

Time for a seafood break? Dune steps in with a perfect tray of fresh vegetables: mushrooms, mustard greens, carrots, asparagus, peas and fiddlehead ferns.
But we’re back on a seaside quest the next day, so where better than the massive Whaling Museum, crowned by a 46-foot skeleton of a sperm whale?

At the height of the whaling industry, about 1800-1840, ships’ crews hunted leviathans on voyages that sailed for three to five years. Museum interpreters spin tales from the whalers’ history, including the tragic Essex whose capsizing by an angry whale inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick.

After hours in the museum, we feel like salty tars ourselves, so it’s down Broad Street to the Brotherhood of Thieves. What might look like just pub grub and local brew quickly surprises with lavish lobster rolls and a mountain of fried calamari dusted with some of Nantucket’s best breading. My lobster bisque arrives enrobed in puff pastry, hiding velvety cream broth.

Lobster RollLobster spills over the bun at Brotherhood of Thieves.

Of course, we can’t leave gorgeous Nantucket without more harbor time, first to the original dock that brought so much wealth to this little Quaker stronghold. Sailors wished each other “greasy luck” before they set off, and many did make their fortunes from the oil and ambergris of the world’s whales.

Then it’s off north to Brant Point Lighthouse and Nantucket Harbor, where ferry passengers toss two pennies into the sea to guarantee a return to Nantucket.

Brant Point Grill plates a bright salad of bitter greens, pickled baby carrots, radishes, white asparagus, Chioggia beets, parmesan, cured egg yolk and lemon vinaigrette.

We linger over the view all evening at Brant Point Grill, tucked behind the White Elephant Hotel. We try the spring salad, fresh with bitter greens, pickled baby carrots, radishes, white asparagus, Chioggia beets, parmesan and lemon vinaigrette. Then it’s seafood tagliatelle cioppino, rich with mussels, clams and shrimp.

Time to share a cool strawberry mousse with a final look out to the water. Outside, teenagers gambol on the jetty at twilight and ferries chug in and out of their harbor berths, far into the gloaming.
Brant Point Grill has one of the best views on Nantucket.
Brant Point Grill bakes its own snap-cookie spoons for a strawberry mousse dessert. The view is just as refreshing, off to Nantucket Harbor and the ferry docks where travelers hop on and off Nantucket all summer long.

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About the author - Betsa Marsh
Betsa Marsh is a writer/photographer who’s reported from more than 100 countries on seven continents. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Hemispheres, American Way, Endless Vacation, Islands, AAA Home & Away, AAA Journeys, Midwest Living, Ohio Magazine and Indianapolis Magazine, as well as USA TODAY, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Des Moines Register, Indianapolis Star, Louisville Courier-Journal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, San Antonio News-Express, The Oregonian, The Tennessean and  Toronto Star. She is past president of the Society of American Travel Writers.

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