Art on the Plate: Water Street Kitchen
While most of Woods Hole closes its doors to the winter chill, Water Street Kitchen aims to provide creative, delicious dishes to Cape Codders, no matter the season. Located on, as the name suggests, Water Street, guests can watch the Martha’s Vineyard ferries and fishing boats traverse through “The Gut,” as the Woods Hole channel is known, and into Vineyard Sound.
After working in the restaurant business for years, owners Molly and John Wilson wanted to embark on their own adventure and create a place for locals and tourists alike to experience great service and unique food. The goal, as Molly explains, is “making it a place that everyone wants to be.” Originally called Water Street Kitchen and Public House, the restaurant was built with both customers and employees in mind as a space that fosters a sense of community, and to add to that sense of community, Water Street Kitchen is a family affair, with Molly’s sister, Chelsea Doohan, managing the bar. The sisters grew up down the street in Woods Hole, and Molly describes how special it is now to see year-round locals traipsing through the snow to come enjoy a meal.
“We’re trying to add some dimension to the food scene here beyond just fried clams and lobster rolls. We want to make food that we ourselves want to eat, and that’s based in ingredients that have integrity,” says Molly. Using local products like beach plums and locally sourced mushrooms in the kitchen allows John to bring new, but distinctly Cape Cod, flavors to guests. As the pair explains though, sourcing food is about being conscientious and staying true to the most sustainable ingredients, which means that local isn’t always the answer. “A lot of the time sustainably or responsibly sourced ingredients are the inspiration. All of our seafood is sustainably fished and/or farmed rather than it being ultra local. People often ask ‘what’s the local seafood?’ and that’s not always the most important thing. Sometimes making choices based on what’s healthy for the oceans and sustainable practices are guiding forces,” says John. Water Street Kitchen is one of the few restaurants in the area that partners with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch,” a program that helps to educate consumers and business owners on choosing seafood that is fished or farmed in ways which help keep the ocean healthy.
“As a chef it’s kind of cool to make a piece of art for somebody that’s going to get immediately destroyed.”- John Wilson
The menu at Water Street Kitchen is constantly evolving, thanks to John’s continued teaching and experimentation. For him, it’s about striking a balance between keeping it fresh and keeping it consistent. “We like to have certain dishes that work and stay on for a little while, and then there are also dishes that we’ve had on the menu since the beginning. Some we’ll take off and bring back. I might get a really cool ingredient and that inspires me to be extra inventive with a certain dish,” he says. Southeast Asian inspired flavors are some of John’s favorite, as is often evidenced on the menu like with the house-made kimchi pancake: a dish so popular, it isn’t put on the menu in the summer because the kitchen can’t keep up with the demand.
The duck leg confit brings to life imaginative flavors through its carrot-ginger puree across the plate. A pile of roasted, seasoned fingerling potatoes, a mustard greens salad with lemon juice, olive oil and shaved carrots, pickled blueberries, and of course, roasted duck leg are all perfectly complemented by the sharp, sweet puree. “The sight of the dish is the guests first impression and if it doesn’t look good, it’s not going to be as appetizing to them.” John says.
While neither got their start in food, both found a way to combine their pasts to create the Water Street Kitchen experience. As a former engineering student, John was introduced to the structure and creation of dishes through a job rolling sushi. “What drew me to cooking was the artistic quality to it and the physics and chemistry” says John. For Molly, her passion for art led her to a lifelong love of food. “Everybody in the world eats. It’s an art that is just so accessible. I went to art school and I wasn’t really interested in hanging paintings on a wall in a gallery because who goes to galleries? Certainly not everyone,” she explains. “But creating experience in a restaurant, from the dish, to the drinks and the atmosphere, to the feeling a guest gets when they walk in the door, it’s this creative endeavor that’s so immediate and universal.”
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