The island of Martha's Vineyard is one of New England's great treasures, with its charming towns, dramatic scenery, interesting galleries and shops, and beautiful beaches. But dining choices can be a bit limited, not because of a lack of restaurants, but because the eateries tend to come in two varieties--places that are elegant and expensive, and spots that are quick and cheap. Indeed, if you want to find a local restaurant that has comfortable seating, relatively reasonable prices, few tourists, and decent food, you may become frustrated in your search. This is why Jimmy Seas, an old-school Italian spot in Oak Bluffs that has been around for two decades, is so special; it fits the bill on all of these points, including the last one especially, as it once received a "26" for food in the Zagat guide (very few restaurants in all of New England have ever received such a high rating).
Circuit Avenue is the main drag in Oak Bluffs, and this is where most of the restaurants and shops are located in this quirky seaside town. One block west of the road is the historic "gingerbread house" area (a must-see while in Oak Bluffs), while one block east is Kennebec Avenue, a somewhat plain-looking side street that looks a bit rough around the edges in spots. Jimmy Seas is on this road, and it is extremely easy to miss, as it resides in an old house and its sign is rather tiny and plain. In fact, if it weren't for the large garlic display perched above the restaurant, it might be nearly impossible to even know that this is a dining spot at all (the narrowness of the road and the lack of street parking don't help, either). One look inside Jimmy Seas, however, and it is pretty obvious that this is a restaurant, and a charming and attractive one at that, with its dim lighting, red walls, enclosed wraparound porch, and cute little bar in the middle. A constant smell of garlic emanates from the kitchen, extending beyond the dining areas and into the street.
Much of the menu at Jimmy Seas focuses on Southern Italian fare, with huge portions of red sauce dishes served right in the pan (yes, the servers actually bring the pans full of food to diners' tables). A few of the items available at Jimmy Seas include cherry peppers that are stuffed with a savory and salty mix of provolone and prosciutto; steamed mussels that can be ordered with either red or white sauce; a roasted garlic appetizer that consists of an almost absurd number of buttery and tender garlic cloves swimming in olive oil mixed with Italian herbs; an outstanding gamberetto chicken that comes with a rich and earthy pesto, along with shrimp, ziti, and shaved parmesan cheese; lobster fra diablo with a 1 1/2 pound whole lobster in a very spicy sauce over pasta; an enormous portion of sweet-tasting butternut squash ravioli in a rich sage cream sauce, a good amount of pecorino romano, and just a touch of nutmeg; a garlicky scallops aglio olio served over linguini; vongole (littleneck clams) marinara, also with linguini; and fettuccini juliet, which is made up of chicken, mushrooms, and prosciutto in a cream sauce. Being that this is Oak Bluffs (one of only two towns on the Vineyard that is not "dry"), beer, wine, and liquor are available at Jimmy Seas. Prices are generally high compared to similar Italian restaurants off the island, but as mentioned earlier, the portions are huge, and the prices are low compared with other many eateries on the Vineyard.
Neither Martha's Vineyard nor Nantucket are places to go for low-key neighborhood dining spots, but if you look hard enough, you can find them mixed in with the cheap eats cafes and the high-end bistros. And Jimmy Seas is one of the best choices for hobnobbing with the locals, as the atmosphere is mellow, the tourists are few, and the food is awfully good. [Note: Jimmy Seas closes for the season at Thanksgiving and opens back up in April.]
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