In the shadow of tall oak trees and petite American flags, a white wooden sign for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) stands strong. A smaller sign underneath gives even non-vets a reason to stop and park: “Now Serving Dinner.”

Inside the Oak Bluffs VFW kitchen is Deon Thomas, a chef who, after coming off a career of opening, running, and closing his own restaurants, has still managed to keep the same reputation of making damn good food.

“Cooking is my passion and it is a passion indeed,” the Jamaican-born chef says.

Chef Deon first landed on the Vineyard about two decades ago, after an introduction was made with a diner at one of his restaurants in Anguilla. “She loved all of my food,” he remembered – so much that she thought more people needed to enjoy it. Together they made plans and traveled to the Vineyard, and in 2001, Deon opened The Cornerway Restaurant in Chilmark. Next he opened Deon’s in West Tisbury. When he decided to close that location, he opened Deon’s Restaurant on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Each year he worked the summer season on the Vineyard and returned to Anguilla to cook in the winter.

But the past decade really tested him. In 2009 and 2010, two hurricanes destroyed his Anguillian restaurants. A year later, an economic downturn took its toll and Deon’s on Circuit Avenue closed.

“I woke up one morning and found myself restaurantless,” he reflects, although he is remarkably positive about the turn of events. “I found myself at the VFW and I’ve been here nine wonderful years.”

At the VFW restaurant, which is open to the public, Chef Deon has amassed an eclectic menu of rotating recipes that are so uniquely Deon that a first-time customer’s toughest task might be deciding what to order. Oxtail, goat curry, mac & cheese, jerk chicken, jerk yard pork, and the dish Chef Deon recommends everyone try at least once in their life: the lobster pancake.

“The lobster pancake is the most excellent dish,” he says with Jamaican panache. “In the Caribbean there is an abundance of lobster. I always had so much at my disposal, and this is the first dish I crafted with it.” Luckily, lobster is also available on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Let me tell you all about the lobster pancake: the base is an herb-scallion crêpe made from scratch, a savory thin pancake where fresh lobster meat is folded in with Gruyère cheese and Dijon mustard.” Then a real decadent star is born: a reduction of cream, shallots, white wine, and “good ol’ butter.” He infuses the whole dish with fresh thyme, and after plating it, it is served alongside a fruit salsa.

“It has the flavors of a Thermidor with a rich cream cheese texture and taste,” he says. The lobster pancake is an appetizer, but regulars will often request a double portion as an entrée.

First timers are allowed to double the portion too. Just ask Chef Deon himself – he’ll never turn down an opportunity to talk to a customer. After all, that is what brought him to Martha’s Vineyard.

“You can always find me here smiling on Towanticut Street at the VFW in Oak Bluffs,” he says.