Mad Martha’s Island Café is the kind of place where you happily make friends with the little kid whose parents are waiting for you to hurry up and finish eating. The kind of place where the customers’ cars parked on the shoulder across the street might include a Porsche 911 and an old
Corolla that’s not worth a Porsche wheel cover. Where the salt-and-pepper shakers at every table are different funny designs, and there are about 20 hot sauces on a self-service shelf.
In short, Mad Martha’s is the kind of funky breakfast-and-lunch joint that you can find all up and down the coast of New England, each one a little different and shaped by the community around it. Here it’s one part old-school diner, one part sunshiny, would-you-like-avocado-on-that eatery.
One recent day, a regular announced that he’d have the home fries with his lunch, “because it feels like home here.”
Owners Kendall Bowie and Kyree Gerson are the fourth owners here. (One of their predecessors now runs the P.I. Beachcoma just down the street.) They met and became friends when they were working at different restaurants in Newburyport, and teamed up to take over at Mad Martha’s in September 2011.
The venue, which fits in with the cottages around it, opened as a restaurant in 1986 and got the name a few years later. It’s on Northern Boulevard, across the street from a pedestrian beach access. Expect a wait on Saturday and Sunday mornings, good coffee, and home fries, and since you’re on Plum Island, where space is at a premium, be careful where you park.
The printed menu is all breakfast, divided into Sweets (French toast, pancakes), Folds (omelets), Scrams (scrambles), Egg Sammies, Must Haves (combos), and Little Sumthin’ Sumthin’ (sides). I’m not a fan of the cute names, but what’s important is that the food is tasty and doled out in generous portions for a fair price.
For a recent Saturday breakfast, two of our party had build-your-own three-egg omelets, one with bacon, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese ($8.50), the other with mushrooms and Swiss ($6.75). Big thumbs up for both — you didn’t have to search for the fillings. Each came with a nice portion of lightly browned home fries.
Our third diner ordered the French toast made with Portuguese sweet bread ($6.25) and said the taste was just right, but the bread wasn’t as airy as she used to get in Fall River. (The omelet eaters were happy with their toast made from the same bread.)
Mad Martha’s is kid-friendly. The Mickey Mouse pancake ($3) was highly recommended by the two young eaters at the next table. The Scrams also include a grown-up portion of Green Eggs and Ham ($8.50), thanks to spinach pesto.
Not all the little quirks are good. The butter comes in tiny plastic tubs, so you have to peel open two or three to slather one piece of toast. You pay an extra $1 to get a tiny carafe of real maple syrup instead of whatever’s on the table. These are the kind of cost-control measures restaurants take that probably aren’t worth the irritation. I’d rather pay the extra buck on the menu price. But mostly, it’s all good here.
A weekday lunch for two brought a chicken, avocado, black bean, salsa, and cheese burrito ($8.50) and a chicken Caesar salad wrap ($7, $5 without chicken). Both were stuffed generously with fresh, well-prepared food, and the Caesar had a nice cheesy zing to it. The sides offered were home fries, a bag of chips, or spinach with balsamic vinaigrette. Different, but we liked it. Half of the burrito came home for the next day, and aluminum foil appeared at the table to wrap it up before we even asked.
By the way, lunches are only on the blackboard, and Sundays are breakfast-only. On the second Thursday of each month through the summer, the restaurant is bringing back three-course dinners for $25, with two seatings. Reservations are definitely recommended. Bring your own beer or wine.
From the hearty breakfasts to the ongoing discussion of beach erosion — a topic on both of our recent visits — Mad Martha’s truly sets the table for the Plum Island community.Joel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.