Second in a series.
There are worse things to encounter on Cape Cod than strings of glistening days and balmy nights. Like, perhaps, sharks, rip currents, and the kind of traffic that makes the veins in your forehead pop. But those endlessly beautiful Cape Cod days can be troublesome when you’re a travel writer and a food writer tasked with exploring the offerings on the Mid Cape rather than lollygagging at the beach or seeking out frosé.
Welcome to the second installment of our Cape Cod adventure. After finally figuring out the geography of the Upper Cape, we were ready to survey the Mid Cape. It didn’t take long to hit a snag. We wanted to engage in activities (hello, Cape Cod Railroad), but we were also drawn to slothful mornings at the beach. How did we resolve this conundrum? Read on, friends.
Christopher: As I lurched from one traffic snarl to another, I remembered why I don’t go to Cape Cod during the summer. Google maps promised me a 90-minute drive. Instead, I spent 2½ hours in traffic singing along to Bananarama.
“It’s a cruel, cruel summer.”
I thought I would be in the clear departing for Hyannis on a Thursday morning. Instead, all of Eastern Massachusetts decided to start their holiday weekend two days early. Greedy! Why did no one send me the memo that the weekend now begins on Thursday morning?
“Hot summer streets and the pavements are burning, I sit around.”
Thanks for that traffic update Bananarama.
Devra: Long weekends exist in a different time-space continuum. It’s possible, in this reality, to find that 60 minutes into a 90-minute drive, one still has 105 minutes to go. I hit “shuffle” so many times that my iPhone’s music library looked at me with dead eyes and said, “Girl. I’ve got nothing left to give.” My exchanges with Christopher from stopped traffic began to devolve. “FEED ME TACO!!!,” I texted. “ME WANT FOOD!,” he replied, via a “30 Rock” GIF. We finally found salvation in a West Dennis parking lot.
LA TACODILLA: Before the pandemic, there was Clean Slate Eatery, an intimate restaurant serving nothing but tasting menus. Now there is its COVID pivot: La Tacodilla, a pop-up taco trailer specializing in tacos dorados — fillings folded into corn tortillas, then griddled golden and crispy. (The menu also offers burrito bowls, topped waffle fries, and more.) Christopher arrived first, drowning his woes in garlicky guacamole and salty chips, plus a carnitas tacodilla with citrus-chipotle hot sauce. Devra followed, mopping up the guac remains and devouring a quesabirria tacodilla with guajillo chile-stewed beef and melty cheese, dipped into savory consommé. “Tacos make people happy,” as the website says. We could speak in complete sentences again.
702 Main St., West Dennis, 508-292-8817, www.latacodilla.com
It was time to stretch our legs and perhaps burn a couple of calories with our favorite sport: shopping.
SHOPPING UNTIL THEY’RE DROPPING IN HYANNIS: Christopher found Spinnaker Records on Main Street in Hyannis and quickly hit the stacks. The luxury of leisurely flipping through vinyl and unearthing treasures is a Saturday ritual that many of us halted during the pandemic. His final haul included an album of Gene Pitney singing his hits in Spanish (for $1.99!), a collection of dance mixes from 1980s Scottish vixen Sheena Easton, and a compilation of soul tunes pressed on dark blue vinyl. Meanwhile, Devra browsed for vintage clothing at two stores with opposite approaches, on opposite sides of the street. First up was Plush & Plunder, an embarrassment of riches, hats hanging across the entire ceiling and every inch crowded with well-preserved frocks, coats, and accessories from many eras. (Devra actually bought a raspberry beret. The kind you find in a secondhand store!) Then it was over to 606 Thrift Ave., with its smaller, curated selection that draws heavily from the ‘80s and ‘90s, equal parts retro class and rocker sleaze. (She did not buy the psychedelic pantsuit she tried on. She regrets it.) Then, because it was pisco sour o’clock somewhere, we dropped into Tumi Ceviche to unwind from consumerism and chat up the server, who was anything but sour.
Spinnaker Records, 596 Main St., Hyannis, 508-778-4122, spinnakercd.com. Plush & Plunder, 605 Main St., Hyannis, 508-775-4467, www.plushandplunder.com. 606 Thrift Ave., 606 Main St., Hyannis, 508-957-2775, www.saksthrift.com. Tumi Ceviche, 592 Main St., Hyannis, 508-534-9289, tumiceviche.com.
Onward! To the lighthouse. Or ... not.
SANDY NECK BEACH: This beach has a lot to offer. It’s a 1,188-acre, six-mile barrier spit with hiking trails and a lighthouse that requires a two-hour trek from the lot we parked in. Because there were too many things to do on the Mid Cape and not enough time to do them all, we instead decided we would sit in the sand and frolic in the waves. Are adults allowed to frolic these days? Our Sandy Neck adventure can be tidily summed up in five steps. Step one: Parking. “That will be $25 please.” Step two: Walking over the pebbles to the water. “Ow, ow, ow!” Step three: Putting our toes in the water. “I think my feet are getting frostbite.” Step four: Walking out of the water, back over the pebbles. “Ow! ow! ow!” We hung out on the pebbles for a while, but eventually moved on to step five: “Byeeeeee.”
Sandy Neck Beach, 425 Sandy Neck Road, West Barnstable, 508-362-8300, townofbarnstable.us/sandyneckpark.
After all that pebble-avoiding, we had earned a nice dinner.
THE PHEASANT: This cozy, rustic-chic restaurant would be the perfect spot for a romantic winter dinner, with its wood beams and fireplaces. It’s pretty swell in the summer, too. The menu is loaded with ingredients from local farms, fisheries, and other Cape suppliers. There’s also a lovely outdoor spot for snacks and frosé, called The Shed. Although one of the points of pride at The Pheasant is its thoughtful “living wine list” — shelves of natural wine for sale at retail prices — we could think of nothing but that frosé. Christopher sweet-talked the staff into bringing us some via a series of increasingly groan-worthy dad jokes. We quaffed, we dipped corn chips in smoky brandade, we feasted on seared dayboat scallops with carrot butter and pea pesto, we almost missed our sunset cruise.
We had to run (literally)! Dessert wasn’t canceled, but it would have to wait.
BAY SPIRIT TOURS SUNSET CRUISE: We were slightly worried because we booked the last two spots on this 63-foot catamaran, which departs from Hyannis, glides through Lewis Bay, and makes a beeline for Hyannis Port. But there was plenty of space on the boat and no mad rush for seats. The only one running was a tardy Devra, who re-created the scene from “Funny Girl” when Barbra Streisand sprints to catch a boat while singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She made it, while strangely Christopher was the one humming Streisand. The cruise was a peaceful and mostly narration-free affair. It was only as the boat bobbed near the Kennedy compound and the sun dropped that we heard perhaps the most Massachusetts-centric description of the area. Forget about the Kennedys. That’s where the Ken’s Steak House magnate lives! Over there is the DeMoulas estate! The oohs and aahs echoed across the bay.
180 Ocean St., Slip 1, Hyannis, 508-771-0107, bayspirittours.com.
Did somebody say it was time for ice cream? Oh wait, that was us.
FOUR SEAS ICE CREAM: Our weekly team-building exercise — this is work after all — has been seeking out the perfect peppermint stick ice cream. It’s such an important task that multiple conversations have occurred throughout our travels about the virtues of peppermint stick and who makes the best. Step aside Brighams, it seems we have a new winner. Four Seas peppermint stick has both red and green candies, it’s homemade, it’s rich, and it tasted like childhood. Christopher, who has never been a member of the clean plate club, finished his entire bowl. Devra snuck a taste of the peach ice cream (delicious) and then devoured her peppermint stick. This shop has been around since 1934, and if there’s any justice in the universe, it will be here another 88 years.
360 S. Main St., Centerville, 508-775-1394, www.fourseasicecream.com.
If Four Seas was a flavorful reminder of childhood, then we needed an audio/visual reminder. There was only one lady for the job, and that was Ms. Pac-Man.
FLASHBACK RETRO ARCADE + BAR + GRILLE: Christopher had been eyeing this boozy arcade for a few weeks, and at last, here was our opportunity to go full-on “Stranger Things.” For the complete “Stranger Things” experience, we were planning on having a couple of drinks and visiting the Upside Down. But wait! It was open mic comedy night. Ms. Pac-Man was too close to the local comedians. She stood lipsticked and alluringly near the door, but too close to the local jesters. Fiddlesticks! There was nothing to do but listen. There was something rather grim about the comedy. It was confessional, self-deprecating, but not necessarily funny. Devra seemed oddly fascinated; Christopher simply gazed longingly at the forbidden fruits of Ms. Pac-Man.
294 Main St., Hyannis, 774-810-7490, flashback.bar.
And with that, it was time to collapse for the night.
SESUIT HARBOR HOUSE: The website for this hotel showed sun dappled, bright and breezy rooms, and at just over $400 a night (including taxes and fees), Christopher was expecting to be wowed. So when he opened the door and saw the bulky, out-of-date pine furniture, a bathroom vanity that was child-sized, a shower that he could barely fit into, and a pillow that looked like a shedding muppet on the bed, he was gobsmacked. This was the place with all the glowing reviews on Tripadvisor? It’s ranked as the top hotel in East Dennis. Was he the only one who noticed the 1980s linoleum in the bathroom? Or the jar filled with shells that had a label on it reading “Shell Catcher.” Not even his parents’ 1980s nautical theme bathroom contained such a thing. It wasn’t all bad. The grounds were lovely, and there was an inviting pool. But behind the hotel there was a herd of goats that glared at guests with those evil square pupils. Perhaps swap those goats out for a clowder of cats instead? Next activity please!
1421 Main St., MA-6A, East Dennis, 508-385-3326, www.sesuitharborhouse.com.
BLUEBIRD DENNISPORT: “I’ll be curious to hear what you think of your hotel,” said Christopher to Devra with ominous glee before he disappeared into the night. Looks like someone read the reviews for both places. Hmmm… But Devra found this renovation of a classic Cape motel every bit as stylish as other Bluebird properties, which are located around New England and rural parts of New York. Her room was decorated with plenty of natural wood and handsome textiles, and it had a little kitchenette with fridge and microwave, all for a low Cape Cod summer price of $250 a night. Everything was brand spanking new. Sure, the shower didn’t have hot water yet, and the grounds were still being landscaped, and a little more sound-proofing would have been nice. But the side-by-side outdoor and glass-enclosed pools were lovely, and guests’ dogs brought over Frisbees for throwing on the lawn (sadly, no goats, which are not evil but perfect), and the spirit of the summer retreat was fully present even if some other parts weren’t quite ready for prime time.
426 Lower County Road, Dennis, 508-796-9777, www.bluebirdhotels.com/hotels/dennis-port.
Good morning. Coffee, please!
THREE FINS COFFEE ROASTERS & MERCANTILE: Some of us worship at the altar of Diet Pepsi (Christopher). Others take their caffeine in nitro, pour-over, or cortado form. Thus Devra headed over to Three Fins, a commodious coffeehouse that roasts its fair trade, small farm, and small lot beans right there. Twas the anti-Dunks, hallelujah. As it was important to sample the wares, it’s possible she had both a cortado (for immediate consumption) and a chilly nitro brew to ward off the heat on the beach. She was ready for some serious sunning, SPF protected, of course. Christopher was already there, hunkering under his little red umbrella.
581 Main St. (Route 28), West Dennis, 508-619-3372, www.threefinscoffee.com.
At Chapin Memorial Beach, the parking lot was full but the line of waiting cars was short. Christopher made like Dionne Warwick and said a little prayer for Devra that a parking space would open. It worked immediately. Thank you, Auntie D.
CHAPIN MEMORIAL BEACH: While Devra sought out coffee, Christopher looked for a patch of sand with an ocean view and swilled his morning Diet Pepsi, the breakfast beverage of champions, and Britney Spears. It seemed that everyone in Dennis had their sights set on Mayflower Beach, but by 10 a.m. there was no parking to be had, so a parade of cars moved on to the next beach: Chapin Memorial. Christopher scored a spot ($30), settled in, and dozed off in the sun. Once again, he was doing all the hard work. Thank goodness he was present to investigate the beach and test the sand and tidal pools. The small parking lot limited the number of beachgoers, meaning there was plenty of space to stretch out. This was also a problem. The beach was almost too peaceful and beautiful. Devra arrived and neither one of us wanted to leave. Darn you Mid Cape! Why do you have so many activities!
90 Chapin Beach Road, Dennis, www.town.dennis.ma.us.
The only thing that could get us to move off that beach (aside from peppermint stick ice cream) was a visit to the grandfather of Goth, Edward Gorey.
THE EDWARD GOREY HOUSE: An author, illustrator, and costume designer as subversive as Gorey seems like an unlikely figure to live out his final years in a beach town on the Cape. But Gorey (perhaps best known for his animated titles for the PBS series “Mystery!”) was a popular figure in Yarmouth Port, at least according to our lively docent. The Gorey House is surprisingly complete with artifacts running from childhood up to his books and illustrations that delight in dark, macabre stories. Fans will love it, and neophytes will learn about this immensely talented gent. If there had never been an Edward Gorey, there would have never been a Tim Burton. As the museum’s website states, “the House keeps its doors open thanks to the generous support of creatives, oddballs, Goreyphiles, and cat enthusiasts all around the world.”
8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port, 508-362-3909, www.edwardgoreyhouse.org.
SKIPPER CHOWDER HOUSE: It wouldn’t be a trip to the Cape without a lobster roll — and maybe some chowder for a change. Skipper Chowder House has been around since 1936. It serves award-winning chowder. And also frozen coconut margaritas, the sort of drink that only seems appealing on vacation, but on vacation boy does it ever. The chowder was thick enough to stand a spoon in, and we’re brothy chowder sorts. But the whole-belly fried clams were crisp and juicy, a fun-size 4-ounce lobster roll was the perfect serving after all the chowder and fried clams, and Christopher even enjoyed his wild card fish tacos.
152 South Shore Drive, South Yarmouth, 508-394-7406, www.skipperrestaurant.com.
After stuffing ourselves like a couple of quahogs, it was time for a nap. But there are no naps for the wicked, or at least for journalists who are supposed to be working.
CAPE CINEMA: There was another beach stop after our late lunch, but we’re both as pasty as Edward Gorey illustrations, so our time at the highly recommended (and tiny) Sea Street Beach was limited. We normally wouldn’t duck inside on a lovely evening, but after reading about the Cape Cinema, Christopher opted to see the new Baz Luhrmann film “Elvis.” He wasn’t as interested in the film (his official review was two “mehs” and a “whatever”) as he was the theater itself. It sports a 6,400-square-foot mural composed of nearly a dozen wooden slabs that fit together on the theater’s curved ceiling. It features nude figures floating in the heavens and reaching for a bright orange light that cuts across the ceiling. And there’s history! In 1939, the Cape Cinema was the first theater to preview “The Wizard of Oz“ before its Hollywood premiere.
35 Hope Lane, Dennis, 508-385-2503, www.capecinema.com.
Stay tuned! Next we explore how the other half vacations on the Lower Cape.