In essence my visits to Shelter Island, and my dinners at Vine Street Cafe have given me the opportunity to slow down and leave my hectic Long Island life behind for a few hours. After departing the Sag Harbor side of the Shelter Island Ferry, I’ve felt a shift. The late afternoon light catches the pilings on the pier at an angle that you only see when you’re on the water. My guests and I quickly begin to loosen-up, and the topic of “getting away for dinner” works its way into our conversation. The dining room itself, with its soft lighting and tranquil aesthetic of mostly whites and neutral tones, offers a sense of peace and quiet, even when filled to capacity. I’ve been impressed by the pacing of each meal. The staff’s attention to my table has been considerate and complete.
Our drink order takes place quickly. Well-prepared cocktails arrive, and after talking and getting comfortable, we begin to focus on what we’d like to eat. When I think about it, that’s what dining-out is supposed to be…an all-out reprieve from a busy workday or workweek; an opportunity to slow things down and move at a relaxed pace. Vine Street Café does this well. They’ve obviously designed an ‘experience’ for their guests, and for that I’m grateful. The menu arrives with your beverage instead of upon seating, so the meal unfolds slowly. The approach is relaxed and sophisticated. The service is attentive and consistent. There’s never been a sense of “waiting” for anything.
On each of my first two visits I enjoyed an outstanding salad, well portioned and properly dressed. First, a simple toss of lettuces with crisp radish and thinly sliced scallions. On another night a gorgeous plate featuring lightly pickled beets and a tangle of bitter greens with just the right amount of blue cheese. The soups are spot-on, too. They could be a bit hotter, but from a palate pleasing perspective the tomato bisque won my heart. The organic sweet potato & zucchini soup was silky and soothing. The bread service is unusually constant, replaced on time and served with fresh butter each time. Very nice!
I’ve had two of Vine Street’s chicken entrees, each surprisingly delicious and a reflection of the chef’s desire to innovate with fresh ingredients. On our first visit, chicken, fried and plated over cheddar grits and greens. On our next visit, roasted with a pleasingly sweet marmalade over another creative starch and vegetable combination. I’ve also had the lamb prepared two ways, and both for me were delicious. You might think of it as comfort food a few steps ahead of the pack.
I say again, when visiting this chic and sophisticated eatery, don’t be in a hurry. Go with the intention of slowing down and having a special experience around food and drink – and the company you’re with. The kitchen staff is under cautious control. Rest assured that Terry and Lisa Harwood, Vine Street’s owners, have a little chocolate-something with toffee waiting for you. Or, a fresh local apple tart with homemade ice cream. There will be a hot latte too. If you’d rather take a pass on the after-dinner sweets, give some thought to the extensive list of after-dinner drinks. The bar, just inside the front door, has an extensive menu.
Just like a visit to a remote sporting club, making the time to travel to the Vine Street Cafe will feel something like a holiday that takes you away from it all. You’ll be all the happier for catching the sunset while aboard the ferry en route to Shelter Island for what is sure to be a very sumptuous dinner.
Vine Street Café is located at 41 S. Ferry Road on Shelter Island. Tel: 631-749-3210