by Annie Bernstein
When I describe the Island to people who haven’t been before, I like to emphasize the lesser-known agricultural richness of the Island: scores of tomatoes from idyllic farmstands, gorgeous salads made from greens picked just that morning, and carrots harvested straight from my garden. It’s only when I arrive on the Island and someone mentions a trip to The Bite that I’m reminded of the less precious, but equally valid other side of vacation fare. I can’t help but pay homage to the straightforward, no-frills attitude that Vineyard institutions like The Bite embody.
I arrive on my annual pilgrimage to Menemsha during peak season, and I’m willing to wait. I’ve brought along a family member or friend who’s likewise fully immersed in vacation-mode: we’ve forgotten what day of the week it is and have gladly left our phones behind, somewhere. The Bite’s line is long—it’s always long—but it moves relatively quickly, and we take the time to liberate ourselves from the conventional wisdom of fried foods, promising not to talk about how gross we feel after so as to delight in our fried feast wholeheartedly. The options are fried, fried, and more fried—clams, oysters, scallops, shrimp, and macaroni and cheese. (Zucchini, one of the lone vegetables on the menu? Fried.)
A traditional clam-shack with a take-out window and communal picnic tables, it’s undecorated and direct, and when I finally make it to the front of the line, I try to order in sync with the restaurant itself. But it’s impossible to avoid spending a few extra seconds trying to snag a peak of the Willy Wonka-style rivers of golden oil that make up this shack-sized Fry Factory. (After all, how else would they fry all that they fry?) There’s an enormous pot of clam chowder sitting on the stove; the back is lined with fry baskets; shark masks hang from the ceiling, and articles in praise of this strange and enticing little world are proudly taped to the glass window. (It’s important to note that the owners are also proud members of the Red Sox Nation, with a “Jeter drinks wine coolers” sticker fixed to the window.) The Bite’s appeal lies in the fact that it’s unapologetically itself: If you don’t like what they’re serving, get out of line, and find yourself another Yankees fan.
After a year’s wait, it’s inevitable that I’ll burn my tongue on the piping hot fried clams. Once cooled, the batter perfectly crunches in my mouth, and the clam melts into its crispy casing. Some dress their fare up in ketch- up or tarter sauce, but I prefer that spiced batter, like this place, to speak for itself.