Is it possible that the best lobster roll in New England is in — get ready for it — Falmouth, and not in Maine? That was the discussion at our table at Quahog Republic, which sounds like something out of “Family Guy” but is actually a bar in a Falmouth strip mall. The place is famous for its Bloody Mary, made with vodka infused in house with sundried tomatoes, poblano peppers, and elephant garlic, served with a crispy strip of bacon instead of a celery stalk. A worthy beverage, for sure. But the lobster roll steals the show.
They call it the Monsta Lobsta Roll. This two-fisted triumph features 10 ounces of chunky tail and claw meat with the lightest touch of mayo. It’s big enough to share, served with hot drawn butter if you like (you’ll like), plus a scoop of tangy slaw and some salty fries. Lobster roll connoisseurs, put this place on your short list.
Lobster rolls notwithstanding, Falmouth has plenty to recommend it. The second-largest town on the Cape, it is made up of eight villages, with 11 harbors, 30 ponds, and 68 miles of coastline — the most shore and coastline of any town on Cape Cod. Given that 101,000 people visit in summertime, adding to the year-round population of 33,000, nobody would call it a hidden gem. But, as one Cape resident put it, “you have to want to go there to get there!” Meaning, to reach Falmouth from points north, you have to head due south on Route 28 from the Bourne Bridge and keep going, heading toward Vineyard Sound and land’s end. The Cape’s other vacation hotspots are located to the east, situated along the arm of the peninsula toward the curled fist of Provincetown.
“It’s one of those quintessential Cape Cod towns,” says Todd Bidwell, whose family has been coming to Falmouth for three generations. Bidwell, who lives in Falmouth year-round, is general manager of the Island Queen ferry (running between Falmouth and Martha’s Vineyard.) “Falmouth is a truly welcoming community with a small-town feel — I adore it,” he says. “And we’re bordered by water nearly all around, so there are water views everywhere,” adding to the vacation vibe. Here are a few of our Falmouth favorites.
Good eats in unexpected places
We’ve already raved about the killer lobster roll at Quahog Republic (508-450-4111; www.quahogrepublic.com.) For the Cape’s best burger, try the juicy half-pounder ($12) at Red’s (named after Red Auerbach) at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel (508-540-9400; www.seacrestbeachhotel.com), a local fave. Bidwell recommends the Drunken Sailor burger at Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub (508-548-0285; www.liammaguire.com, $13.95), served with Irish whiskey sauce. Another sandwich worth seeking out: the Cubano at Quicks Hole Tavern (508-495-0792; www.quicksholewickedfresh.com) in Woods Hole, a perfect marriage of roasted pork and pickles on ciabatta. Or grab a beer and their signature bar snack, pig candy (house-smoked pork shoulder braised in maple syrup and the house spice mix).
An unassuming Cape-style house is the setting for C. Salt Wine Bar & Grille (774-763-2954; www.csaltfalmouth.com), a standout in the fine dining category. Chef/owner Jonathan Phillips (former of Tosca and the Square Café on the South Shore) fills his 20 tables (plus those at a second outpost, TGC Grille) with inspired dishes like tuna tartar, a swordfish “chop” served on the bone, and a stellar wine list, including a variety of options by the glass.
But your best meal on the Cape may be one that you create yourself, at a cooking class at Bear in Boots Gastropub (508-444-8511; www.bearinboots.com) in Falmouth Center. This foodie darling specializes in made-from-scratch everything and has become a must-eat thanks to dishes like duck confit poutine and grilled Caesar salad. So you know you’re in good hands when you sign up for a cooking class ($45 per person). Or just show up for brunch, arguably the best in Falmouth.
“The Falmouth food scene is expanding at a staggering rate,” says Gates Rickard, co-owner and executive chef at Bear in Boots. “Just a few years ago, the options were few,” he notes. “But the town has begun seeing a renaissance of restaurants.”
Where to soak up the sun, sunsets, and scenery
Among Cape Cod’s beloved bike trails, Falmouth claims the Shining Sea Bikeway. The 10.7-mile paved pathway was named in honor of Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful” (from sea to shining sea) and it’s a beauty, traversing cranberry bogs, beaches, and harbors along its route from North Falmouth Village to Woods Hole.
We could write an entire article on Falmouth beauty spots. Two delightful hideaways (undiscovered by most visitors) are Spohr Gardens (508-548-0623; www.spohrgardens.org) and “The Knob,” a.k.a. Cornelia Carey Sanctuary (www.qhpt.org/quissett_maps.htm). The former is a six-acre garden on Oyster Pond, formerly private but now open to the public, planted with more than 100,000 daffodils, along with day lilies, azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas. Also spotted on the property are nautical artifacts (bells, anchors, and so on), collected by Charles Spohr during his lifetime.
A short, woodsy walk leads to the Knob, a wonderful knob-shaped peninsula with exquisite views of Buzzards Bay and Quissett Harbor. This walk, a favorite of locals and birders, is alive with birdsong. Go early or late to snag one of the few parking places off Quissett Harbor Road.
For unrivaled sunsets, and a lovely beach walk at any time of day, head to Old Silver Beach, off Route 28A and Quaker Rd. If you’ve brought a treat from Maison Villatte (a primo patisserie on Main Street in Falmouth center), even better.
Cape Cod classics found here
Nothing says “summertime” like a stroll around town, followed by an outdoor concert. There’s free live music on Thursday nights at the Harbor Band Shell, and Friday nights at Margaret E. (Peg) Noonan Park. The latter is also the site of free family-friendly Movies Under the Stars on Wednesday nights from late June through August. If you’ve got kids in tow, don’t miss a visit to the Carousel of Light, featuring 32 horses and two chariots carved by local artist Lance Shinkle, on the grounds of Mullen Hall School (www.carouseloflight.org). And you don’t have to be local to cheer on the hometown team, the Falmouth Commodores, as they take on contenders in the Cape Cod Baseball League (www.capecodbaseball.org).
Tempted to stay? We’ll add one final recommendation: the Sea Crest Beach Hotel (508-540-4111; www.seacrestbeachhotel.com; rates range from $248 to $439 in season), set on Old Silver Beach in North Falmouth. With its nautically themed guest rooms and cottage, this property feels delightfully old-school vacation-y, and you can’t beat the aroma — a combination of salty sea air and burgers on the grill at Red’s. For more: www.FalmouthChamber.com; 800-526-8532.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.