First in a series.
SANDWICH — Let’s get this out of the way as cleanly and efficiently as possible.
What you are about to read is not a best-of list. Best-of lists are generally a pile of fried baloney seasoned with a sprinkle of know-it-all-ism. One person’s best beach is another individual’s rocky, overcrowded field of seaweed.
Instead, this is what it looks like when a food writer and a travel writer start exploring Cape Cod. Some hits, some misses, and a lot of fried clams. Over the next month we’ll be dropping in on different regions of the Cape — Upper, Mid, Lower, and Outer — to sample the lodging, restaurants, beaches, and maybe some peppermint stick ice cream. Some weeks we’ll voraciously devour the offerings of a region in 24 hours, other places areas we’ll linger for 36 hours. Variety, spice of life, and all that good stuff.
Hopefully, we can provide you with something to inspire your summer travels as we explore. This week we begin with the Upper Cape.
Christopher: Until this trip, my understanding of the Upper Cape was “This is the part of the Cape next to the canal with the bridge and all the traffic. I drive through here to get to Chatham or Provincetown.” Even worse: I never knew this part of the Cape was called the Upper Cape. It makes no sense because geographically. Falmouth is lower, not upper. It’s another Massachusetts mystery, much like why anyone would name a place Belchertown?
Devra: This is where I went with family as a kid, for our version of “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” For actual vacation, full of adult pleasures (not that kind, Chris, get your mind out of the gutter where at some point in this series a candlepin bowling ball will surely land), I head straight to Truro. Which is on the Outer Cape, a term that actually makes sense location-wise. By the end of our travels, my goal is for us to stop confusing Upper and Lower Cape. I have no hope that we’ll be able to memorize all the villages of Falmouth, however. I’m starting to suspect Cape Cod’s planners wanted to confuse outsiders in hopes of keeping the place to themselves. Haha, planners, joke’s on you.
Christopher and I have known each other for many years — but you never really know someone until you travel with them, do you? I was glad, but not surprised, to find our priorities perfectly aligned upon arrival. First stop: day drinking.
TREE HOUSE BREWERY: This bayside Sandwich outpost of the cultish Charlton-based brewery opened last year, and it’s a truly beautiful spot. You make an online reservation for a specific time slot; when you arrive, they give you a wristband and drink tickets (three’s the limit), and you choose from what’s on tap that day. You can also purchase beer to go. Devra started off with Haze, a Double IPA, then moved on to a very vanilla-scented tipple, King Creamsicle. Christopher pulled up an Adirondack chair and made short work of the Airmail, a canned cocktail that combines “honey and rum with crisp acidity and velvety effervescence.” The scene is tipsily friendly but not rowdy, with plenty of kids and people asking strangers to take their picture. We had the pleasure of witnessing the most awkward pickup attempt of all time.
98 Town Neck Road, Sandwich, www.treehousebrew.com
After too much sun and velvety effervescence, it was time for dinner in Woods Hole. Here’s a helpful hint for those of you (meaning us) who are unfamiliar with the Upper Cape: It’s bigger than it looks. At least that was our excuse for being late for dinner.
WATER STREET KITCHEN: We’re sorry, Water Street Kitchen. We’re not from around here. We called to let them know about our ineptitude, and they were very accommodating. Despite the labor shortage, just about all of the staffers we encountered on the Upper Cape were totally gracious and attentive, even when clearly new to the job. Like many fine restaurants these days, Water Street Kitchen makes use of seasonal ingredients and global flavors. Unlike most, it’s right on the water. The dining room is homily stylish and vaguely nautical, in that the walls are painted navy and there are vintage glass floats hanging from the ceiling. We shared some small plates — burrata with peas, garlic scapes, and other springy accompaniments; a kimchi pancake; a pork belly lettuce wrap with black sticky rice, cucumber, and ripe shredded mango. We enjoyed all of it, but the best thing might have been the super-flaky strawberry rhubarb hand pies for dessert.
56 Water St., Woods Hole, 508-540-5656, www.waterstreetkitchen.com
Should we get another round (of pie)? If only we we had time.
SEA CREST BEACH HOTEL: After dinner, we were itching to get to Devra’s hotel room. Listen up, pervs: We wanted to get there to see the sunset. Devra landed a room right on the beach at this family-friendly hotel in North Falmouth. The view was worth a million bucks, the sinking sun setting the silver water aflame. The room not so much: It was perfectly fine, with Cape touches (painted oars above the bed, anchor-shaped coat hooks) and a comfortable bed, but the finishes felt cheap, the bathroom needed updating, and one exit door was stuck shut (the nice stranger who freed Devra said she’d done the same for another guest earlier). We wouldn’t care if we’d paid motel prices, but the reduced midweek rate was still 700 bucks after fees and taxes. The beach was beautiful, with lounge chairs at the ready, and the outdoor and indoor pools were, too. There was an arcade and ice cream shop. We’d definitely come back with kids, get the cheapest room possible, and enjoy the amenities.
350 Quaker Road, North Falmouth, 800-225-3110, www.seacrestbeachhotel.com
After that glorious sunset, we were ready to go out on the town.
CATAUMET MINI GOLF AND ICE CREAM: Here’s where we started to realize that perhaps our reporting priorities were slightly different. While Devra spoke of trying another restaurant (classy), Christopher was fixated on finding miniature golf and peppermint stick ice cream (trashy). We tried the restaurant first but had spent too much time gazing at the sunset. By the time we reached Epic Oyster in North Falmouth, a server with a man bun and sensible shoes informed us the restaurant was closed. Therefore it was a win for mini golf and ice cream. Although Cataumet Mini Golf and Ice Cream was precariously close to closing, we still managed both the ice cream and 18 holes of surprisingly challenging golf. If you’re looking for a challenging course with a fiberglass horse, this is it. We were hitting well over par, so much so that the owner was turning off the lights behind us as we rushed to finish. Verdict on the ice cream: Christopher was happy it was loaded with crunchy peppermint candy bits, Devra was underwhelmed by its sweetness.
1370 Route 28A, North Falmouth Highway, 508-326-8160, www.cataumetcrossing.com
SANDWICH INN AND SUITES: While Devra took the water view room at the Sea Crest, Christopher took the parking lot view room at the Sandwich Inn and Suites. It all comes down to priorities. For $700-plus dollars a night you can look at the ocean, or at $267 a night (that’s high season rates) you can drive a few minutes to the beach and save a lot of money. The 1950s Sandwich Inn and Suites was recently renovated — the vibe is Coastal Granny on a budget — and even though it’s a classic motor inn, Christopher’s room was comfortable and the renovations were tasteful. We would recommend the hotel, particularly if you’re looking for a room to crash in after a busy day on the Cape rather than a resort.
14 Route 6A, Sandwich, 508-888-0409, www.sandwichinnandsuites.com
And with that, we called it a night.
LOWELL HOLLY RESERVATION: Brisk morning walks aren’t something we normally do (either of us), but the Lowell Holly Reservation sounded too good to pass up. It’s an easy hike in one of the Cape’s rare old-growth forests. What makes this one even rarer is that you can find 250 holly trees, and a lot of rhododendrons. So while beachfront Devra spent the morning luxuriating at her resort and then sauntered off for pancakes, poor parking lot view Christopher hit the trails, hiking for 2.4 miles with views of both Mashpee Pond and Wakeby Pond. Beginners can tackle this stretch without a problem, save for the roots on the trail. Pro tip: Don’t forget the insect repellent. Otherwise you’ll be displaying blotchy red gams at the beach.
Entrance on South Sandwich Road, Mashpee. thetrustees.org/place/lowell-holly.
MOONAKIS CAFE: Not to be a stickler for the facts, but Christopher failed to invite Devra on his sneaky idyllic morning jaunt. The first cracks in our traveling alliance? Nay, Devra was far too stoked to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely carb fest at East Falmouth institution Moonakis Cafe. (Christopher doesn’t do breakfast, one of the three most important meals of the day.) There’s plenty on the menu that’s glorious and of the place — lobster omelets, Portuguese sweetbread French toast, linguica anywhere you’d want to put it — plus a full roster of chalkboard specials. Devra got sucked in by a fluffy, plate-engulfing blueberry pancake topped with a golf ball of butter and powdered sugar. Yes, she got linguica with that. (Shoutout to her fellow solo diner at the counter, who turned out to be the best company! Always talk to strangers.)
460 Waquoit Highway (Route 28), East Falmouth, 508-457-9630, www.moonakiscafe.com
After Christopher’s morning of virtue and Devra’s morning of sloth, the great outdoors beckoned.
BUZZARDS BAY BIKES: Would Devra survive her first bicycle ride in a decade? The kindly owners of Buzzards Bay Bikes, conveniently located by the Cape Cod Canal Bikeway, seemed confident so off we went on our rented cycles. We rode the north path out to Scusset Beach State Reservation, an easy, flat 7 miles with the wind at our backs and the water sparkling in the sun. Look! There’s the canal! It’s so much more fetching when you’re not gazing at it from traffic on a bridge. On our way back, it started to rain. The wind was really mean to us. What did we ever do to you, wind? Were our bicycles suddenly broken? They seemed so much harder to ride. We’d make it back, eventually, victoriously.
139 Main St., Buzzards Bay, 508-759-6559, www.sailworld.com
But first we needed lunch. A seafood shack beckoned from the side of the road.
THE SEAFOOD SHANTY: If you can ignore busy Route 6, you have a lovely view of the canal from this classic spot, which first opened as a clam shack in the late ‘50s. It’s been the Seafood Shanty for more than 30 years, offering clam chowder, stuffed quahogs, fried seafood plates, ice cream, and more. (Cash only, but there’s an ATM.) We settled in at a picnic table in the shaded, woodsy area around back. Christopher had perfectly fried and nicely salted clam strips with extra tartar sauce. Devra had a lobster roll that was actually worth its $29.95 price tag (lobster’s expensive this year, folks, be prepared): basic roll, crunchy lettuce leaf, towering mound of huge lobster chunks barely cloaked in mayonnaise. We were fortified. Buzzards Bay Bikes wouldn’t have to send a rescue van after all.
803 Scenic Highway (Route 6), Bournedale, 508-888-0040, www.theseafoodshantycapecod.com
It wasn’t quite dinnertime. What were two parched riders to do? You had us at tiki.
CAPTAIN AL’S RESTAURANT & TIKI BAR: Like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, except the pot is a cold drink and the rainbow is physical exertion. Captain Al’s Restaurant & Tiki Bar was calling our names. The parking lot was madness, the exterior was unlovely, and the back deck was heaven. Captain Al’s is right on the beach overlooking Buttermilk Bay. The servers swiftly convey Cape Cod Cosmos, Rum Punches, and Hurricanes to your table. There’s food if you want it. We didn’t. Devra went into vacation mode and had a frozen pina colada the size of her head. Christopher drank something fruity and rummy called Al’s Escape and lived to tell the tale.
3236 Cranberry Highway, Buzzards Bay, 508-759-0811, http://www.captianalsrestaurantandtikibar.com
We were on time for dinner, at last.
EPIC OYSTER: Epic Oyster is a great restaurant and everything you want from dinner on the Cape if you are a citified adult with citified tastes who wants deep beach vacay vibes and also food with a chef’s sensibility. In an old diner car bedecked with greenery and fairy lights, Epic has a menu that changes all the time, is sprinkled with Portuguese influences, and starts — naturally — with oysters. In a charming grotto called the Octopus Garden, we slurped fresh, briny bivalves from Megansett Harbor, West Falmouth, and Truro. Then we shared crab bisque in a bread bowl, fresh Azorean cheese with crushed peppers and toasted Portuguese bread, seafood empanadas, and a little more lobster — this time “escargot-style,” shucked then served in the shell with plenty of parsley-garlic butter. There’s a nice little cocktail list, but we went straight to wine. It was a fine night for crisp French whites chased by complimentary caramel-chocolate chip cookies.
70 County Road, North Falmouth, 508-563-3742 (yes, that spells EPIC), www.eatepicoyster.com
SOUTH CAPE COD BEACH: You expected us to leave the Upper Cape without going to the beach? Oh, readers of little faith. Throughout our foray we were blessed with the kind of weather that you normally only see on shimmering Cape Cod postcards. No rain, no fog, warm temperatures, and a UV index that could be listed as “broil.” The downside to all of that glorious clime was busy beaches. Several Cape beaches are townie-focused, with parking for residents only and visitors left to fend for themselves. That’s why we embraced South Cape Cod Beach with open arms and open bottles of coconut-scented SPF 50 sunblock. The white sand beaches are soft, the water is calm (thanks Nantucket Sound), the beach is wheelchair accessible, and there are hiking trails. And parking? Yes! $15 for Massachusetts residents, $40 for out-of-staters.
668 Great Oak Road, Mashpee, 508-457-0495, www.mass.gov/locations/south-cape-beach-state-park
Stay tuned! Next week we invade the Mid Cape.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther. Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.