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A Day in Nantucket Town

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Nantucket harbor, from Whaling Museum

We had a lovely day yesterday. Here’s an account of some of the highlights.

After breakfast at Topper’s, our inn’s restaurant, we took the shuttle into town at 10:30, with four stops in mind — Jewel of the Isle, Murray’s Toggery Shop, a not-yet-determined restaurant for a light lunch, and the Nantucket Historical Association Whaling Museum. All went to plan, or even better, since each stop was even more interesting than anticipated.

1. Jewel of the Isle. This is a jewelry store on Straight Wharf that we go to every year, owned by a husband and wife, Gary and Kelli. Somehow, we had never met Gary before, though Gail spoke to him on the phone half a year ago. Gary and Kelli design Nantucket-themed jewelry, including charms that Gail has slowly been adding to a bracelet, and we went for the annual addition. Gail was wearing some of her past purchases for the occasion, and Gary immediately offered to clean them up. As a result, once Gary’s associate was done helping some other customers, we found ourselves working with him. Seth. After reviewing charms, we soon were talking about travel, his upcoming trip to China, how he helps out Gary — his best friend since high school — from time to time, and so on.

Gary came back with Gail’s jewelry all shiny and we talked about the charms we were selecting from. We also discussed with Gary how they manage during the winter. It turns out that January isn’t a bad month because of Christmas exchanges and upgrades, February isn’t bad because of Valentine’s Day, but March is slow. When Gary went back to attach charms to the bracelet, we talked more with Seth, and it emerged that he is the drummer and leader of a jazz trio, with his wife as pianist. They will be traveling throughout Asia, ultimately landing in Hong Kong as the house band. Or maybe they were in Hong Kong recently for a house gig and they’ll land somewhere else. Whatever the case, there’s much more demand for jazz in Asia than here. Meanwhile, he’s been spending the summer in Nantucket, catching up with friends and family and playing out at ‘Sconset at the Chanticleer. We talked at length, and eventually he handed us a copy of his band’s latest CD, This Time Around. They will begin recording their third CD soon.

Gary returned again with his work complete and we continued to talk about life and music on Nantucket. Seth had mentioned that Gary himself is a first-rate musician, and last night, in reading more about Seth’s trio, Opus 3, I discovered that Gary was in fact Seth’s first teacher, at Nantucket High, where Seth’s father taught art. (Seth’s brother and sister founded the Nantucket Film Festival.)

We got some great jewelry, but even better, we got to learn much more about growing up and living on Nantucket.

2. Murray’s. In my post yesterday morning on Rosh Hoshana services the night before, I talked at the end about the clothing color known as Nantucket red and how I had just learned that Murray’s is the official seller of Nantucket red clothing, going back to the 1940s. I also noted that Nantucket red is considered by some the preppiest or WASPiest of colors. But, I like it, and so from Jewel of the Isle we went straight up the street (Straight Wharf, which becomes Main) to the final commercial establishment — Murray’s, beyond which Nantucket’s glorious houses begin. I couldn’t resist buying a pair of Murray’s classic Nantucket red shorts. I did resist the Nantucket red jacket and slacks. Maybe next year.

3. Time for lunch. We were thinking of heading to our usual lunch place, Fog Island Cafe, but then Gail remembered that a restaurant we had been thinking about earlier in the week as a dinner option is open for lunch, so we headed there. Corazón del Mar. It’s the newest of the three restaurants run by Seth and Angela Raynor, the others being Pearl and Boarding House. it is also the most casual and the only one open for lunch. When we got there, we discovered that at lunchtime it’s even more casual than we imagined. The only option is to order from a takeout counter. But it turns out you can then take the food into the bar and eat there, or take a seat in the bar and have your name called while you wait there. That’s what we did.

You can design your own taco or burrito from a list of ingredients. I had the tacos — two — with grilled steak (carna asada) as the protein; poblano and onions, black beans, and tomatoes as my three vegetables; cheddar and pepperjack as my cheese; and the house salsa as my salsa. After quite a long wait, our meals came. Well, after a reasonable to long wait, my came. After yet another ten minutes, Gail’s did. I don’t know what went wrong, and no explanation was offered. In any case, they were excellent.

4. We exited just one building from the corner of South Water Street and Broad, Broad being the street that has the main ferry dock at its end. And just across Broad is the Whaling Museum, so we had chosen a perfect location for our lunch.

As best we can remember, we went to the museum in 1985, when we were here at the tail end of our honeymoon. But we don’t remember it, and anyway, it was completely renovated in 2004. Every year we stand outside and think we should plan a visit to it, but not just then because we have to get back to the inn, or get somewhere. This year we made the time, though not enough. We were there for two hours and could happily have spent at least another hour. And that’s without even seeing some of the nearby buildings that are part of the Nantucket Historical Association along with the whaling museum.

The museum itself is in a former candle making factory, Nantucket having once been the largest candle producer in the world, as befits the world center of the whaling industry. (The best candles were made from whale oil.) We began our visit by studying the historical timeline of Nantucket, going back to Native American settlement and then the arrival of the British in the 1600s. The whaling industry took off in the 1780s or so and had pretty much died out less than a century later, thanks to four factors: whaling ships got bigger and bigger so they could stay at sea longer and process more whale oil, as a result of which they were becoming too large to get into the harbor; the Nantucket fire of 1846 destroyed the commercial center of Nantucket; many of the young men of Nantucket were killed in the Civil War; and the production of kerosene in the mid 1800s made whale oil less valuable.

At 2:00, we stopped our tour of the exhibits in order to attend the museum’s signature show, a 40-minute presentation on whaling. It is narrated by a museum docent, who works her way through a slide show, occasionally interrupting it to show us some objects. Once that ended, we headed up to the roof, which we were told has the best view of the town and the harbor. And maybe it does. The views are indeed stunning, and in all directions. From there, we had time for only a short look at the scrimshaw collection before heading out to catch a van back to the inn. The collection alone is worth a lengthy visit. We’ll be back.

We headed back to the inn so we could have a break before returning to town for dinner. There was the inn’s daily 4:00 port and sherry hour, of which we partook, then off, over the dunes, for a beach walk along the Atlantic, where we were greeted by an unexpected neighbor, who spent a few minutes chasing after or running ahead of us before moving on.

Wauwinet beach, with neighbor

We had a brief rest in our room before taking the 6:30 shuttle to town.

Dinner last night was at our favorite Nantucket restaurant, 21 Federal. Each year that we return, as we eat at other good restaurants, I think it can’t be that special. But each year it is. The food is just so good. The restaurant is in a house built just after the 1846 fire, with seating in several small rooms. We were at a small two-top last night not far from the bar. A little noisy, but still with an intimate and private feel. We both were thinking about the potato gnocchi appetizer, or a salad, but our waiter explained that the gnocchi was newly on the menu as of last night and, based on his trying of it two hours earlier, it’s great. He was right. It came with butternut squash, chanterelles, and pepitas; together they made the most sublime combination. And then there was the cookie dough soufflé, which once again we decided we both had to have. Sublime again. Even the wine, a 2005 Margaux, was perfect.

After dinner, we had time to go over to the Whaling Museum store, which was still open, then took the shuttle back to the inn, completing a day that reminded us why we keep coming back to Nantucket. I don’t know how we could get tired of it.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel
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