Cape Cod is the perfect summer road trip destination for busy people. About a three-hour drive from Fairfield, Connecticut, the towns of Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, hold good news for food lovers. On a recent three-day getaway, my husband and I sought casual-but-good waterfront places where shorts fit the dress code. We discovered inspired and classic renditions of New England fare.
Woods Hole is where the ferry leaves for Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s a destination in itself. The quaint gray-shingled town rests on a spit of land, where on a recent idyllic summer day, sunlight sparkled on the water, and breezes blew stress away. Ah, vacation.
Place to grab lunch before the ferry or stick around and enjoy the sunset: Quick’s Hole
If you want to talk like a Cape Cod-er, add the word “wicked” to your lexicon. If a Cape Cod-er says something’s “good,” it means it’s OK. “Wicked good” means really, really good. Quick’s Hole’s tag line is “Wicked Fresh.” At this hip, laid-back, fish shack, California surfer meets New England fisherman meets local farmer. Order at the counter and grab a seat. We perched around a high top on the patio overlooking Woods Hole harbor. The ferry is a short walk away.
Beer-battered cod taco – golden chunks of moist fish nestled on slivered cabbage, pickled onions and pico de gallo – was embraced by a warm corn tortilla. Crunchy and wet, soft and fresh, utterly happiness-inducing. The coleslaw was a standout, with an unexpected citrus kick. Local beers included Cape Cod Brewery’s India Pale Ale, Berkshire Lost Sailor IPA and Berkshire Steel Rail IPA.
Landfall Restaurant, Wood’s Hole: Traditional Waterfront Dining
My husband wanted a place that had nautical “&!*!” hanging from the ceiling. But no plastic lobsters. When he was a kid and discovered the lobsters weren’t real, it really bummed him out. The Landfall Restaurant fit the bill – colorful buoys and lobster pots hanging from the rafters of a big, wooden room made from salvaged wood from schooners, and stained-glass windows from mansions and grand hotels. Nothing plastic about this place. It’s a Cape tradition, run by the same family since its inception in 1946. The menu features traditional seafood – broiled or fried scrod, French fries and coleslaw.
Landfall has got the inside-outside thing down. A long row of open French doors faced the harbor. Gentle sea breezes washed the room. The wait for a prime, harbor-front table was 10 minutes on a recent Wednesday lunch. No problem. We sat at the bar and enjoyed a draft Cape Cod IPA, made in nearby Hyannis. It had a strong citrusy-pine hop flavor with a crisp dry finish. Refreshing and delicious.
Our waitress, Lindsey, was friendly and efficient. We ordered steamers and reacquainted ourselves with peeling the dark skin off the creepy-looking siphons, swishing the clams in the broth to get the sand out, and then dipping them in melted butter. Clams live in tidal flats; you’re probably going to eat a little sand. Wash it down with beer.
Wicked Pizza, Mashpee: Where Else to Get Wicked
My friend Pete who lives on the Cape says there’s no question that Wicked Pizza makes the best pizza in the area. These Neapolitan “fire-kissed” pizzas are made with organic pizza dough and as many organic ingredients as possible. They offer a selection of 20 wines by the glass and 12 micro brews. This place is on my “next time” list.
Lobsterville Bar & Grille, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard: Foodie Discovery
After disembarking from the 45-minute ferry ride, we wandered Oak Bluffs’ quiet gingerbread cottage grounds before attacking the gaudy Victorian main drag, Circuit Ave., in search of a restaurant. Few menus inspired until we crossed to the harbor. A quick glance at Lobsterville Bar & Grille’s menu, and the sound of Johnny Cash on the stereo system, drew us beneath the tented patio. We nabbed two stools at the counter facing the dock and the harbor (good people-watching!) and ordered a draft of Loose Cannon IPA (hoppy, grapefruit flavors with an undercurrent of malty sweetness), made by Heavy Seas Brewery in Maryland.
Our handsome, dark-eyed waiter, Ryan, said everything was as good as it sounded and executive chef Raymond Schilcher had made a name for himself.
The “absolutely from scratch” chowder was summery and light-textured (no floury roux). The clam broth was touched with cream, drizzled with chili oil and dashed with minced chives. Big pieces of tender clams and hunks of potato provided the meat and potatoes.
Stuffed clams are the most abused dish in all of New England cooking. Happily, Lobsterville’s “Stuffies” were that rare thing: good. With a goodly amount of chopped clams enhanced by a fluffy, clam-broth-infused stuffing redolent of fresh thyme, they were topped with meaty slices of bacon.
Pig Wings are a succulent invention – pork shanks cut into rib-sized pieces, braised, then deep-fried and coated in a sticky, spicy, sweet, chipotle-pineapple barbecue sauce. Beet micro greens and fresh mint were more than pretty plating. They were fresh, lively and bright.
We wouldn’t have ordered oysters, if Max hadn’t stepped from the raw bar to tell us about local Katama Bay oysters, raised off Edgartown. Max, affectionately known as the “muthershucker” by Lobsterville’s staff, delivered the most pristinely shucked oysters we’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Within the shells’s deep cup, silvery bivalves lay submerged beneath the oyster’s clear liquor. Not a drop of the precious juice wasted. And nary a fleck of shell or sediment marred them.
Max was taught by oystermen like Kaps, a Martha’s Vineyard legend who runs Krazy Kaps raw bar concession on Lobsterville’s front patio. Both men compete in the annual Agricultural Fair in West Tisbury. Kaps is a champion. “It’s not just about speed,” Max said, “We are strictly judged on cleanliness and juicy-ness.”
The Katama Bay oyster tasted salty, mildly mineraly and mildly sweet. A squirt of fresh lemon was all it needed.
The lobster roll was full of big chunks of house-cooked and picked lobster and sliced celery, dressed in a light, lemony-tarragon mayonnaise, served on a toasted and buttered over-sized hot dog bun. Homemade potato chips were excellent: crunchy, substantial and just-salty.
Ryan, our charmingly voluble waiter, studies restaurant management U Mass Amherst. Too bad we weren’t staying overnight; he highly recommends Alchemy, a large, high-end Parisian bistro in Edgartown. It’s a regular summer haunt for CTbites Editor in Chief Stephanie Webster who waits all winter for the Alchemy Mojito and the "Chef's Salad" featuring mashed potatoes…yes, you heard her right.
Also in Edgartown is the renovated Harbor View Hotel ‘s two restaurants, Water Street and Henry’s Hotel Bar. Water Street serves “contemporary Vineyard cuisine” using produce from Island farms and line-caught fish from nearby waters. On a previous trip, I enjoyed a meal at Water Street and the intimate Henry’s Hotel Bar. They both offer water views.
After dinner ice cream: Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream is an honored family tradition of our friends who grew up summering on the Cape. For them, it’s Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream in East Falmouth. The flavors of the decadently rich and creamy ice cream are seasonal and classic. Their six-year-old son’s favorite is black raspberry. His dad got fresh, seasonal peach. I went for coffee. Smitty’s has outdoor picnic benches (sometimes slightly sticky) and a big, oak-shaded front yard where kids can run off their sugar high.
Hey CTbites readers, what restaurants do you like on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard?
Quick’s Hole, (open late May to late October for lunch and dinner) 6 Luscombe Ave., Woods Hole, MA 02543 508-495-0792
Wicked Pizza, South Cape Village (Directions for GPS only), 680 Falmouth Rd., Mashpee, MA
Landfall Restaurant, (Open April –November for lunch and dinner), 9 Luscombe Ave., Woods Hole, MA 508-548-1758, www.woodshole.com/landfall/
Lobsterville Bar & Grille, 8 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard , lobstervillemv.com
Alchemy, 71 Main Street Edgartown, MA 02539, (508) 627-9999.
Water Street, The Harbor View Hotel, 131 N. Water St., Edgartown, MA, (508) 627-3761
Henry’s Bar Hotel, The Harbor View Hotel, 131 N. Water St., Edgartown, MA, (508) 627-7000
Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream, 326 E. Falmouth Highway, E. Falmouth, MA 02536, 508-457-1060, no website.