On a foggy and windy Sunday in Aquinnah, 14-year-old Islander Luc Woodard stands at the order window of the Cliffs’ newest establishment, Faith’s Seafood Shack and Sushi Bar, faithfully serving out the responsibilities of his first job. He shirks a calculator, practicing his addition while making out a receipt for a lunch of varied seafood dishes. This is the tail end of an unexpected late afternoon rush, and yet, Luc, ever enlivened by the customer interactions, continues affably. It is with mouths watering and souls delighted that the steady stream of customers at Faith’s retreats to the picnic tables in back of the restaurant.
Faith Vanderhoop and her husband James Shephard are the proud owners, creative directors, operations managers and more of Faith’s Seafood Shack. While they opened last September, this is their first summer as Aquinnah restaurateurs, replete with the busloads of tourists and unexpected rushes.
Now, going in to the busiest month of the season, they already have established a following which includes more than 400 fans on Facebook, several Island celebrities, and all the up-Islanders who appreciate having fresh sushi without the daunting trip down-Island.
“I originally wanted to have something like a Pow-Wow stand,” Ms. Vanderhoop said, citing buffalo burgers and Indian tacos as two dishes she might have added. “But there’s a lot of fried food . . . everybody does fried.”
The menu features excellent fresh fish dishes as well as sushi. The signature fish taco includes Mr. Shephard’s catch of the day, a striped bass, as well as a sauce created by Faith (the couple are in informal talks to have Faith’s collection of sauces bottled). One nearby diner remarked that it was the “best fish taco ever,” singling out the special sauce and freshly picked cilantro as what made the differed.
“That fish you’re eating, I caught that,” said Mr. Shephard, chuckling. “Well, actually my buddy caught that one . . . I caught a smaller one.”
Another popular menu choice: Split Rock oysters, which are harvested at Faith’s mother’s small oyster farm on the Aquinnah side of Menemsha Pond. Clean and fresh, they are a delicacy with local flavor and character. The restaurant also serves Kushi oysters from British Columbia, which Mr. Shephard praises for their “creamy and meaty” taste.
Mr. Shephard insists on perfection in the three soups served at the shack: Aquinnah chowder (which is a clear broth chowder typical of Rhode Island and Nantucket, where he grew up), New England clam chowder and lobster bisque.
The bisque is a labor of love: it was the 16th sample Mr. Shephard tried when developing his menu. He had all but given up when finally he spoke with Peter from Little Rock Farm who let him in on a recipe he’d developed using lobsters he boils down himself. Mr. Shephard’s favorite item on the menu is the clear broth Aquinnah chowder, which he believes is awardwinning caliber (it was the 10th sample he tried).
The raw fish is the stand-out at the restaurant. Using the skills of an imported New York-based sushi chef, the couple created sushi rolls with an Aquinnah flair. There is the succulent Gay Head roll, which has spicy king crab, scallop, yellowtail, mint leaf and masago. Then there’s the Cliff roll, a shrimp tempura, eel and avocado roll. Both were outstanding in freshness, preparation and cohesion. The spicy mayo is one of the best on the Island — Mr. Shephard occasionally treats himself to an off-the-menu item, crab claw with spicy mayo.
The atmosphere is easy, though there have been some challenges. Ms. Vanderhoop had hoped to use all biodegradable and compostable serving utensils. “It was close to my heart, but when it came down to my budget . . .” she said. She still plans to meet that goal, when the economy recovers.
“It’s a constant everyday affair,” Mr. Shephard said about refining the shack. The former Hollywood production manager plans to add a camera to his clifftop surf cams which are positioned to survey the waves at Philbin and Lobsterville beaches. “They let me get my geek on!” he laughed.
The couple credits their staff with assuring the shack’s success. “Part of any successful business is your crew,” Mr. Shephard said.
Meanwhile he hopes to add a deck to the back of the restaurant, to offer a more enclosed aesthetic and corral its windblown waste. He dreams of sushi nights and clambakes on the back deck with musical performances and socializing.
By mid-August, Faith’s Seafood Shack will begin offering clambake catering, and already it does takeout orders (508-645-4080). There is an online sushi menu, and it would also do sushi aficionados well to check out the chef’s specials too. Find it at faithsseafoodshack.com.