Third in a series.
CHATHAM — At the height of summer, the Lower Cape is not only chock-full of hydrangeas, it’s also bursting with monied, well-coifed travelers whose lustrous locks defy both humidity and stiff breezes. It’s easy to feel out of place while walking around one of the town’s tony resorts if you’re not wearing the right untucked gingham shirt or correct pair of Tory Burch sandals. Genteel waves of crisp white pants and casual, pricey blazers begin rolling out at cocktail hour, followed by diners in Italian driving loafers, statement jewelry, and nautical shift dresses.
Do you know who was not properly attired for a high-season visit to the resorts of Chatham? One guess: Us. The Boston Globe’s food writer and travel writer stood out like a pair of second-hand roses among the flourishing and wealthy human hydrangeas surrounding them.
Welcome to week three of our Cape Cod summer safari. We have been playing the role of naive tourists by selecting attractions and restaurants along the Cape and hoping to mine some gems as we learn geography along the way. It’s impossible for us to find the best of everything, so please hold your rage if your favorite place is not mentioned. We don’t claim to be experts, just a pair of curious gadabouts. Join us as we ease on down to the elbow of the Lower Cape.
Christopher: Familiar territory at last! I may not have known this area was called the Lower Cape, but I have spent time in Chatham and Orleans, so at least I know a few local institutions worthy of a visit — I’m talking to you Hot Chocolate Sparrow and Cape Cod Rail Trail. While other parts of the Cape contain a wide swath of both tourists and locals, the scales here appear to tip in favor of second homeowners and holidaymakers.
Devra: I thought Orleans was part of the Outer Cape, so what do I know. Aside from the occasional quick stop into Sunbird Provisions for baked goods and breakfast tacos, or Vintage in Vogue for throwback finery, the last time I hung out in these parts I was in grade school. I’m pretty sure my family is still wearing the holey T-shirts we purchased on that vacation. Can I expense a Lilly Pulitzer frock and a pedicure?
MOM & POPS BURGERS: Devra learned of this Chatham spot while researching a recent burger story and tucked it away, knowing it would be the perfect first stop upon our arrival. “Mom” is originally from the Philippines, while “Pops” is from New England. The menu reflects that. So Christopher had a cheeseburger, made with meat from burger-blend king Pat LaFrieda. And Devra had an adobo-flavored Filipino pork burger, topped with papaya slaw and chile-garlic mayo. On the side: Mom’s homemade lumpia, long, slender, crispy egg rolls. Lumpia > fries. We’ll be back to try the frozen calamansi margarita and “Boaty the Fishwich,” because who can resist that name?
1603 Main St., Chatham, 774-840-4144, www.momandpopschatham.com
Now for something sweet. How about a window-shopping stroll on Main Street, with a stop (or two) for penny candy?
I WANT CANDY: Children are genetically programmed to beg for candy. It’s an instinctual behavior that has developed over hundreds of years. Likewise, parents are wired to respond with “No, we just spent [fill in amount here] at the dentist.” But something magical happens on seaside vacations and “No” turns into “Knock yourself out, kid.” Wax lips, gummy sharks, and saltwater taffy rule at last. Because our cerebral cortexes have yet to fully mature, we made a run for the candy stores after lunch, beginning with the petite Chatham Penny Candy store. Nothing costs a penny, but Christopher gladly paid (a lot) for gummy watermelon rings, buckeyes, and smooth and melty mints. Also, did you know that there’s a company that still makes candy cigarettes? We thought they had been sent to the slaughterhouse along with that miscreant Joe Camel years ago. Devra bought some clove-flavored hard candies (and promptly spit one out) and gummy lobsters. It’s not penny candy on the Cape if something isn’t shaped like a lobster. Down the street is the larger (classier?) Chatham Candy Manor. The specialty here is chocolate.
After this sugar bender, we needed a sponge bath and a pillow mint. Time to check in. But one of us got the sticky end of the lollipop when it came to hotels.
CHATHAM BARS INN: It wasn’t Devra, living life decidedly above her pay grade at this classic, classy New England resort. For the better part of a mortgage payment, she landed a room with a fireplace and access to all the amenities. So many amenities! Should she golf or play tennis? Book a cabana by the pool or hit the private beach (on the creepily named Aunt Lydia’s Cove)? Snag an Adirondack chair for a drink with a view or frolic among the absolutely, utterly glorious profusion of hydrangeas everywhere she looked? Overwhelmed by choice, she hid in the bathtub and emerged smelling like one of the candles in the stores on Main Street. Eau de Chatham! In the morning, she would be awakened at dawn by sun blasting through the slats of the charming wooden blinds. Eye mask, please!
297 Shore Road, Chatham, 800-527-4884, www.chathambarsinn.com
THE CHATHAM MOTEL: While Devra stayed at one of the most extravagant resorts on Cape Cod, Christopher was confined to one of the most basic. It seemed like a fair trade. Devra had been putting up with Christopher’s “I want fried clam strips without bellies and extra tartar sauce” demands for three weeks. She needed a proper space to decompress from his ridiculousness and a large bathtub to soak away her stress. Still, it wasn’t all bad news for Christopher. Although the Chatham Motel was $1,000 less a night than the Chatham Bars Inn, his room was clean, spacious, recently updated, and smelled freshly scrubbed. It wasn’t particularly fancy with its parking lot view, but the woman with the purple hair who checked him in was exceedingly friendly and the experience was pleasant. With rates from $180 to $210 a night in July, the room was a steal.
1487 Main St., 508-945-2630, www.chathammotel.com.
Before our Cape adventures even began, Devra was talking about candlepin bowling. It was time.
THE ALLEY BOWLING & BBQ: Candlepin bowling is the ultimate rainy day Cape Cod activity. At the Alley, an hour of bowling costs $30, but on a rainy day the cost is $35. The equipment at the Alley is straight out of 1962, and the lanes could use a good sanding, but that’s what makes this place so charming. Candlepin bowling is one of the most challenging sports known to man, but Christopher’s misspent youth included watching “Candlepins for Cash” and long Saturday mornings at the French King Bowling Center in Erving. He was rusty but ready. Devra, who was dolled up for dinner and the only person in the facility wearing a dress, started getting competitive. “Should we keep score according to the rules?” she asked. After three highly (un)contentious games, Christopher had rolled his way to victory.
191 MA-6A, Orleans, 508-255-0636, www.alleybowlingbbq.com.
Although barbecue is served at this bowling alley, no barbecue was consumed. A defeated Devra demanded a consolation prize: a fancy dinner.
TWENTY-EIGHT ATLANTIC: There are plenty of high-end places to eat on the Lower Cape, but the menu at this Wequassett Resort and Golf Club restaurant stood out, with unexpected touches and a contemporary sensibility. It also offered a chance to see what chef James Hackney, a L’Espalier alum, is up to these days. Turns out he’s up to halibut ceviche with blood orange and mango; yellow tomato bisque with cheddar biscuits served on a silver tray; a carbonara riff with bucatini, lobster, pancetta, and shiitake mushrooms; and duck breast with “textures of beet root” and a cherry confit tartlet. The dining room was satisfyingly pretty, the staff attentive and well-informed. We were curious what a $40 lentil dal would taste like, but instead we spent the money on a round of kir royales (spritzed tableside with lemon from a perfume atomizer, a neat touch) and a delicious, decidedly mammary rhubarb dessert.
2173 Head of the Bay Road, Route 28, Harwich, 508-432-5400, www.wequassett.com
What’s an old, frequently-mistaken-for-married-on-this-part-of-the-Cape couple to do late at night? Go bar hopping!
BREAKWATER BEACH: Sandbar hopping, that is. When the tide goes out — way out — you can walk the Brewster Flats, a stretch of cool, rippling sand that extends for more than a mile. Although Devra misread the tide chart, oh, a time or two, she got it right here: 12:45 a.m. We headed to Breakwater Beach, eerie and deserted in the moonlight. How beautiful and quiet it was as we struck out on the flats. How serene. How … itchy. “Ahhhh, I’m getting eaten alive!,” screamed one of us (it was Christopher), and we ran back to the car, swatting no-see-ums all the way. It was the most romantic moonlit stroll this frequently-mistaken-for-married-on-this-part-of-the-Cape couple had ever taken. Next time we explore the Brewster Flats by day.
Breakwater Road, Brewster
The following morning, the water was sparkling, the wind was gentle, and two kayaks waited for us at a dock on the Oyster Pond River.
THE CHATHAM KAYAK COMPANY: We were lifejacketed up, ensconced in our kayaks, and ready to paddle. The laidback guide, Tanner Marchi, pointed in a few vague directions: “That’s the easy way. I recommend the other way, which is a little harder. Just don’t go in the ocean and you’ll be fine.” Christopher jauntily pushed off. He appeared to be taking the harder route. Hey Christopher, the easy way is that way! An evil cackle floated back on the wind. We glided easily, following the shore, making eloquent declarations like “Wow, this is so beautiful” and “Wow, this is so amazing.” The time flew. Fueled by Diet Pepsi, Christopher made quick work of the return trip. Pre-coffee, Devra was passed by motorboats, other kayakers, toddlers in water wings. But she didn’t wind up in the ocean.
391 Barn Hill Road, Chatham, 508-241-5389, www.chathamkayak.com
Devra had seriously earned some coffee. As she headed toward caffeine, nothing could distract — WHAT’S THAT! She screeched to a halt and banged a U-ey. Devra brakes for pie.
MARION’S PIE SHOP: A sign on the front of this pie shop reads, “Well behaved children welcome. The rest will be made into pies.” That’s how you know it’s the real deal. Another tip-off was the glass case filled with pies large (9 inch) and small (6 inch), in flavors like wild blueberry, cran-peach praline, and Key lime. There were also savory pies and other treats. Staff and fellow customers agreed: Devra needed to try the strawberry rhubarb. No quibbles there; it’s one of her favorites. But peach is amazing, too, and what about cherry? The smaller pies made the choice a little easier. She left with one strawberry rhubarb and one Baileyberry — blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry, the ultimate indecisive’s pie.
2022 Main St., Chatham, 508-432-9439, www.marionspieshopofchatham.com
Now, back to our regularly scheduled caffeine quest (and safer driving protocols).
SNOWY OWL COFFEE ROASTERS: There are Snowy Owl outposts in Sandwich (bean-roasting HQ and cafe) and Chatham (espresso bar right on Main Street), but the Brewster coffeehouse was first. It’s part of a groovy little compound, alongside herbal apothecary/organic farm Great Cape Herbs. At another time, Devra would have sought out some post-kayaking Super Joint Anoint Salve or Better Back Blend Tincture; she was also intrigued by the adjacent vegan Fare & Just Kitchen. But just now it was pour-over o’clock. Snowy Owl offered four single-origin options and three blends: Brewster, Jaws, and her new best full-bodied friend Captain Crosby. Ahoy! She also grabbed a Cup of Sunshine (fresh-squeezed OJ with lemon, turmeric, and agave), and it was off to meet Christopher for lunch.
2624 Main St., Brewster, 774-323-0605, www.socoffee.co/cafe
Perhaps you’ve noticed a clam strip and lobster roll deficit on this leg of our adventure? Let’s fix that.
COOKE’S SEAFOOD: Confession time. We came here because esteemed colleague Dan Shaughnessy recommended it, and we thought it might present a chance to rib him a little. Nope. “Great fried seafood and service in the spirit of the Old Cape spots of my youth,” he told us, and his description was spot on. Cooke’s is unassuming, family-friendly, every kind of friendly, and sparklingly clean. Devra had a lobster salad roll that tasted impeccably fresh and cost less ($25) than any other lobster roll we had encountered. Christopher had his favorite, clam strips (the heart wants what the heart wants), which were nicely fried. The onion rings were above average, too. And Cooke’s even had baklava — made by a local Greek woman, according to the deeply genial man behind the counter, whom we’re guessing was owner Spiro Mitrokostas, who runs the place with wife Jenny and son Jimmy. As we ate at an outside table, he emerged from the restaurant, stretched, and announced with delight that his wife had arrived and he was heading off to take a nap. Color us charmed, Shaughnessy.
1 South Orleans Road, Orleans, 508-255-5518, www.cookesorleans.com
A large fried seafood lunch requires a palate cleanser. Perhaps a chaser of something minty?
ICE CREAM CAFE: A combination of curiosity and flat-out laziness brought us to the Ice Cream Cafe. It’s a quick walk across the parking lot from Cooke’s, and its selection of homemade ice cream included the much-coveted peppermint stick. One of the best parts of this trip — aside from the fact that we’re still speaking to each other — has been the bounty of homemade peppermint stick ice cream on the Cape. It would be difficult to top Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, but the Ice Cream Cafe does an admirable job of producing an extra creamy, silky product. Although flavorful, the consensus was that this peppermint stick needed more bits of candy to give it the proper crunch-to-cream ratio. Or maybe we were still stuck in a candy frame of mind from all of the sweets we bought in Chatham. There are vegan options for those who eschew dairy.
5 South Orleans Road, Orleans, 508-240-0003, www.icecreamcafe.com.
Beach or wine? Because this is Massachusetts we couldn’t have both, so wine it is!
FIRST CRUSH WINERY: We certainly weren’t expecting verdant rows of vines accented with dewy red and green grapes, but I think both of us were taken aback that First Crush is situated in an industrial park. The winery, which buys grapes from growers in Northern California and then produces its wines on the Cape, offers tastings for $15 (five wines) or $18 (six wines, and a chocolate shortbread cookie). We opted to split the five wine tasting. Because they had two wines made with Cape Cod cranberries on the menu, we started with the Three Sip Cran. We ordered the other cranberry wine for our second taste, and our server snapped “You’re going to waste a pour on another cranberry wine?” The pour was ours to waste, so yes please. After we tasted it, we understood her confusion. If you go, skip those cranberry wines and head to the winery’s finest offering, a Turbo Wine Slushy. But don’t call it frosé, because you will be corrected. This is an industrial park winery that takes itself quite seriously.
527 Main St., Harwich, 508-737-6867, firstcrushwinery.com.
Again, the beach was calling, but so were adorable seals. How could we say no to seals?
MONOMOY ISLAND EXCURSIONS: After kayaking, we wanted to get back out on the water, but this time without any exertion. Monomoy Island Excursions runs several seal watch cruises a day, and unlike whale watch cruises, which can be hit or miss, it’s almost guaranteed that you will see seals on this cruise. They hang around Monomoy, an uninhabited eight mile sandbar off of Chatham. The water here is too shallow for sharks, so the island is loaded with seals sunning themselves and bobbing in the water. If you’re having a lousy day, seal watching is better than Prozac at putting a smile on your face (this statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration). Even Christopher, who is a sourpuss on his best days, pulled out his camera, grinned wildly, and appeared to take hundreds of seal photos.
731 MA-28, Harwich Port, 508-430-7772, www.monomoysealcruise.com.
Stay tuned: In the final leg of our adventure next week, we enter the bear’s den of the Outer Cape.