When we lived in Boston, MA, we spent a fair amount of time on Cape Cod (“the Cape”). Now that we live on the west coast, we don’t get to the area as often. This summer we decided to go back—our first time in more than 10 years. Our motivation for the trip was to see friends who lived there, as well as to see the beauty of the areas. Rather than spending time as we had in the past—climbing the dunes, exploring the woodlands and marsh areas and exploring the area’s rich history—we relied on our friends to take us to some of the places they most enjoyed.
We also limited this trip to only the “Outer Cape”, from Hyannis to Provincetown. The most notable of our stops in this area (from south to north) are:
On previous trips to Hyannis, we have followed the JFK historical trail and visited the JFK Museum. Although we stop in Hyannis primarily for lunch, we just happened to arrive the day of the town’s annual auto show that featured roughly 100 beautifully maintained and restored classic cars. The show had a lot of 1960s-era muscle cars, but also a number of cars from the ‘20s through the ‘50s, with a significant portion having been modified for high-performance, as with quad carbs and air-intakes that rose well above the hood.
The big hit of the show: a 1939 Diamond-T Wrecker. A miniature (roughly four feet high and 10 foot long tow truck) whose body, when at the curb, sat barely an inch off the ground. But, as the owner assured us, once it is started, it is hydraulically lifted to about six inches. Driving, therefore, requires extreme care since the entire truck could disappear into a reasonable-0sized city pothole!
After the show came a fast and totally unsatisfying lunch at Torino (see the Restaurant section below), a few downtown gallery stops and a drive to our friends’ house (a greatly expanded, beautifully restored, two-story 1840 schoolhouse) for an evening of catch-up and a dinner of two-pound beer-steamed lobsters with all the fixings.
We left the island via a ferry that left from Hyannis Harbor, which is almost a destination (in the loosest sense of the word) in its own right with its harborside raw bars and clam bars (one at which we picked up a lobster roll to sustain us during the hour ferry crossing to Nantucket), its mix of pleasure crafts, commercial boats and ferries and especially its dozen or so HyArts artist shanties a few pieces of public art.
Our visit included a quick ride through to see some of the elegant, old, perfectly restored, 19th-century Captain’s Houses that lined the streets.
Chatham. One of the wealthiest and prettiest town’s on the Cape, where we strolled among and were tempted by many of the main street’s shops and the town park’s Sharks on the Park exhibit, which attempts to “capitalize” on the town’s reputation as the Cape’s shark capital with a display of carved sharks, each painted by a local artist. We then drove along the particularly upscale Shore Road, past the luxurious Chatham Bars Inn and Resort and surrounding mansions, to the point, which is home to the Chatham Coast Guard Station and Lighthouse and a lovely beach. And speaking of luxurious Chatham resorts, we ate lunch at another—the Wequassett Resort, overlooking the harbor and the pool (see Restaurant section).
Orleans. Although there isn’t much to do in Orleans, it does have a small downtown area with some nice shops. The harbor, on the other side of town, is the Cape’s primary charter fishing port. We also ate at two of the town’s restaurants: a lovely dinner with our friend at Abba and a disappointing lunch with another friend at the Beacon Room (see the Restaurant section below). A nice bonus was that our friends’ home is very close to the lovely Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 22 mile bike and walking path that runs from Sandwich to Eastham. We hopped on our friends’ bike and rode off a few of the calories we consumed over the last couple days.
Wellfleet. This pretty, tranquil, well-to-do residential town (which, ironically, houses more psychiatrists per capita than any other spot in the country) doesn’t have much of a downtown. It also has a pretty harbor which is home to ships that harvest the regions eponymous oysters. Most interestingly, many of the towns winding, tree-line streets wend their way around a number of pretty ponds and marshes, which makes it one of the most naturally pretty towns on the Cape. The town is also home to Mac’s small fish market and the rustic, casual and very popular Mac’s Shack, where we of course began dinner with a large plate of Wellfleet oysters. (See the below section on Cape Cod Restaurants).
Truro. Although we didn’t stop in this beach town, we did take the pretty, western coastal road along the sandy beaches and the rows of summer beach cottages and inns. One the return trip, we passed, but did not stop at the lovely, eastern sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Provincetown. This lovely, boisterous, anything-goes town at the northern tip of the Cape had a staid history, being the first spot on which the Pilgrims wet foot on American land, and then being home to hundreds of Portuguese fisherman. These austere beginnings were washed away with a fierce 1898 storm that decimated the fishing grounds. By then, however, the area had begun to attract the first wave of artists and tourists who began transforming the humble fishing village into a tourist haven. By mid-20th century, a new crowd discovered the charms of the village and the sandy beaches and dunes—large numbers of New England gays and lesbians. P’town is now the unofficial gay capital of New England, with dozens of gay bars, dance clubs and drag shows and the type of colorful, freewheeling lifestyle (especially at and after sunset) that characterize most gay resort communities.
The overtly gay lifestyle, however, has not deterred either the artists or the tourists. It has, in fact, attracted more of them. Today, the charming bar, restaurant, boutique and gallery-lined Commercial Street is packed with tens of thousands tourists by day and revelers at night. (Other than, of course, from late fall through mid-spring, when virtually the entire town closes down and the 2,500 permanent residents hibernate.
Although we have spent many days and nights in P’town when we lived in Boston (which is a short 90 minute Fast Ferry ride away), this shoulder season (late June) trip was limited to an afternoon stroll along the wharf and along the length of Commercial Street, with plenty of window shopping, gallery and boutique stops and an obligatory drink at a bar with a view of the beach and the harbor. This fat trip, while fun, only whetted our appetite for another trip, during which we will spend a night or two and partake in the nightlife.
Cape Cod Restaurants
Given the limited number of times we get to the coastal New England, we can almost justify our binging on food that we seldom get, and is usually quite expensive, on the West Coast. Although lobster and littleneck clams are both relatively quilt free (other than for the butter and mayo (on lobster rolls) that accompany them, the same cannot be said for our real guilty pleasures—friend belly clams and onion rings—both of which we make even worse by adding tarter sauce and salt. We, however, do manage to rationalize away our guilt (albeit not the calories, fat and sodium) by promising ourselves that we will eat more healthily when we return home.
We overtaxed our rationalizations with meals at the following Cape restaurants.
- Torino (Hyannis) where the packed (for Car Show weekend) outdoor space offered some of the classic Cape dishes we were looking for, but where we were terribly disappointed. Although our server desire to please more than compensated for her inexperience, the steamed littlenecks were good, but at $18 for a mere seven clams, were outrageously overpriced. The fried clams too were overpriced for the portion. Our real problem, however, was that they were inexcusably overcooked and with the length of time we had to wait for them, we did not have time to return them.
- Ocean Street Raw Bar (Hyannis) a casual seafood restaurant on the harbor from which we scheduled to take the Fast Ferry to Nantucket. We picked up 12 oz lobster roll to sustain us during our hour ferry crossing to Nantucket.
- Wequasset Resort (Chatham) where we went to the casual harbor and poolside restaurant at which we had lobster bisque, lobster roll and swordfish taco (and our friends had a scallop roll and fried cod taco—all very good.
- Beacon Room (Orleans), where we met another friend for lunch, offered what appeared to be a nice selection of dishes. Although Joyce found the lobster salad croissant adequate, Tom found the croissant gummy and that the lobster dry. Although we were anxious to try the fried Atlantic cod and chips, we both agreed that the fish was dry, tough and tasteless. Our friend was saved from this disappointment (not to speak of the calories, cholesterol and fat) by wisely sticking to a salad.
- Abba (Orleans) is an upscale, Mediterranean/Thai restaurant that, from our experience, blends the two very different styles with relative success. The four of us shared three appetizers (crispy softshell crab with a very nice sweet and sour chili garlic sauce and two that were only slightly less successful: grilled foie gras (which was slightly dry) with a nice creamy lentil and ginger sauce and mussels steamed in a spicy coconut pineapple basil sauce. We had three different main dishes: braised rabbit with white corn polenta spätzle and peas was quite nice, if a bit salty, thai seafood stew was a clear, thin broth (also with a bit of a kick) with mussels, scallops, clams, fish, shrimp and a side of jasmine rice. The most successful dish was lobster shrimp pad thai that seemed, unexpectedly, to have been prepared with beef broth. Very different and quite good. This dinner called for two wine– both pinots: we began with a 2012 Aurelien Haut-Cotes de Nuit Le Prieure, following with a Dundee (Willamette Valley) 2015 Erath Resplendent. Overall, quite a nice meal with very good service.
- Mac’s Shack (Wellfleet), where the four of us appropriately began by sharing Wellfleet oysters on the halfshell and steamed Littleneck clams. We then proceeded to fried belly clams and butter-poached lobster. Our friends, meanwhile, had pasta with littleneck clams and red sauce and pan-seared scallops. Although all were good, none were especially memorable. The meal was accompanied by a small bottle of sake and a bottle of oaky, William Hill Chardonnay.