Our seemingly never-ending trip that wallowed about a mix of urban and rural exploration was about to hit the road. It was time to hire another car and head southeast from Boston for another little adventure; one that was about to take us through five states, present us with some impossibly stunning scenery, induce a bit of a melt-down and offer a mixed bag of edibles.
The first leg of our journey took us to Cape Cod. Windswept, sandy, forested and naturally beautiful; this is the most easterly point in the state of Massachusetts. Our first stop was Sandwich, the oldest town on the Cape. It’s a small place with an equally small town centre; known for an activity that has been going on for generations. Glass-making.
We’re not all that keen on glass museums nor had the time to take a kayak tour around the estuaries, another Sandwich pastime. Instead we dropped into The Coffee Roost for a caffeine boost and a couple of berry scones. It’s a cute little place that’s friendly, seemingly family run and an ideal spot for blow-ins like us to renourish on home-made goodies. Kinda wish I’d tried the clam chowder.
A leisurely stroll around the town centre looking at antique stores, gifts and galleries, and we were back in the car on our way again.
We spotted a sign indicating the Sandwich Boardwalk and drove to see what it was all about. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting a small-scale boardwalk like Coney Island, sans the amusement rides and tourist tat.
In the space of a few minutes the weather turned from blue sky and sunshine to menacing clouds and blustering winds. Just enough time to walk the narrow boardwalk across marshland and sand dunes covered in flowering rugosa roses.
Rather than drive on Highway 6 we took the quieter 6A and Old Kings Highway; a road that meanders through the small towns and villages of Barnstable, Yarmouth, Denis and Brewster. It was that time of the year where bright orange pumpkins and flowering “mums” decorated peoples front yards, houses, steps and driveways. Talk about a colour explosion.
As the highway curved north up the “elbow” of Cape Cod, I drove us towards our lunch destination. Wellfleet. Had I not read about this town on a blog that I follow, I wouldn’t have known to veer off the highway to search out Mac’s Seafood down on the town pier. We did pull into a larger Mac’s Shack about a kilometre off the highway but I knew it wasn’t the one.
Mac’s on the Pier shares the same space as the seafood market and it seems to be a bit of an institution with locals and vacationers. A window, a large menu and a lot of fresh seafood up for grabs. Seating at Mac’s is either on the deck or out on the sand beneath brollies or the blaring sunshine. It was nice that the weather became sunnier as we headed north on the cape.
It was a trio of seafood dishes for us as we shaded ourselves and took in the grassy dunes and shimmering harbour. And then our order number was called. Small fried cod (11.99) and the first lobster roll (13.99) on this trip. The fish is just as it should be – flakey and juicy inside a crisp lightly crumbed coating.
The lobster roll was smaller than I was expecting. I guess being in the States had conditioned me to over-sized portions being the norm, but a roll 11cm long threw me a little. Not that I cared. I mean, look where we were. Sitting on sunny Cape Cod eating seafood by the harbour. As for the lobster, which was pretty generous by the way, it was beautifully fresh, juicy and lightly tossed in mayo dressing. A little lettuce, red onion – yes please.
We almost left without trying the whole bellied clams (18.99). This is fried food at some of its best. A small portion was actually big enough as my eating companion wasn’t all that keen on them. I, however, relished the crunchy little fella’s. Being whole bellied means the gastrointestinal tract is left intact, adding more of an “ocean” flavour to the juicy molluscs. A spritz of lemon and dunk into tartare sauce is all they needed.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Capes vacationers hotspot. Provincetown. Man, what a change from the quiet countryside. Driving in on Commercial street proved to be a bit of a stressful exercise. A one-lane road that heads to the centre of town with hundreds of people walking on the road. Pangs of road rage were welling inside me. Hmmm. It would have been wiser to take Bradford Street to get to our B&B.
Once we found our home for the weekend we hit the pavement and joined the throngs for a little exploration. The centre of town is a riot of rainbow flags, boutiques, tourist shops, restaurants and bars. This is one very popular seaside destination.
The Saturday Farmers’ Market was in wind-down mode when we stumbled upon its light scattering of vendors; a handful of folk peddling fresh produce, oils and a few other did bits.
Coffee was what we needed and Joe Coffee & Espresso Bar took care of re-injecting our body’s with the good stuff. The cafe is located at the west end of town, almost at the point where the bustle of Commercial Street ends and the quieter residential area begins. It’s still busy, however, as every indoor and outdoor seat seemed like P-towns coveted spot. No guesses why as the coffee is worth waiting for.
Heading further along Commercial Street is like stepping into an entirely different place. The hustle and bustle of the town centre gives way to quiet neighbourhood streets lined with gorgeous shingled houses, manicured gardens and an enviable waterfront location.
Located in the quieter West End is Sal’s Place, an Italian restaurant built over the lapping water; or sand flats if it’s low tide, overlooking Long Point and the lighthouse. The restaurant has been plodding along for more than 50 years, with a recent make-over that extends from a mahogany-rich Tuscan wine room at the front to the more relaxed open deck and dining room at the rear.
Local art adorns the rear dining room, dimly atmospheric with flickering amber candle holders with some very chirpy service thrown in. Neither of us was overly hungry so we settled on a couple of main courses.
Linguine alla Foriana (25) has some nice ingredients like walnuts, raisins and anchovies but the quantity of pine nuts was beyond generous. So much that it was verging on being a warm nut salad with pasta. Pine nuts must be cheap in this part of Massachusetts.
My craving for something rustic was squarely met with the pollo alla parmigiana (26), but sadly let down by a rather soggy and pasty crumb coating on the chicken breast with a lot of tomato sauce. Less is more, methinks, even with a parmi.
Not all that far from our Johnson Street bed & breakfast is a café we tried a couple of times. The Wired Puppy seems to be somewhat of an institution in these parts with its organic fair trade tea and coffee. Limited seating, free wifi, merchandise, house-made baked goods and a macchiato and cortado that may not parallel what you get at Joe’s, but it’s a good second best nonetheless.
P-town doesn’t have to be all about the restaurants, clubs, crowds and traffic. There’s a part of the cape that’s less than five minutes drive from the centre of town yet feels a million miles from anywhere. The Beech Forest is a tranquil and secluded place for the nature lover in all of us.
Walkers and bikers take to the tracks that wind up and down small hills, around marshy ponds with the occasional place to stop and read botanical signs or spot birdlife, chipmunks, turtles and foxes. It’s a magical place. The smell of the forest, the peaceful sounds and those beautiful colours and textures overhead and beneath the feet.
Back in town on our final day I made the suggestion that we stop into the Lobster Pot for lunch. We’d walked past it countless times already, with those red neons reminding us that we’d not yet walked through the doors.
I was quick to discover that many eating and drinking institutions grace the tip of Cape Cod and the Lobster Pot came as no exception. These guys are seemingly a magnet for their seafood and, looking around, everyone was tucking into it in one form or another. Their osso bucco even gets a seafood touch with clams. Hmmm, should’ve tried that one.
Taking a seat upstairs was like joining the dining throngs in a room that almost felt like an Aussie RSL. A relaxed atmosphere, understated décor, every age-group flicking through menu pages and a fine, lofty view over the pier and harbour.
In retrospect I’m wishing that we’d made more than one visit, so the few dishes we’d devoured are all I can attest for. Baked Portuguese clams (10) may have been a little gritty but the six local littlenecks were packed with buttery goodness. Linguiça (pork & garlic sausage), parmesan cheese and panko crumbs; grilled until golden. Yes please.
More Portuguese flavours permeated through the, you guessed it, Portuguese soup (5.5); a cup-sized serving of what Provincetown thinks how this hearty soup needs to be made on this side of the Atlantic. Potato, kale, kidney beans, linguiça and chourice. Oh, let’s not forget that packet of oyster crackers! The soup may have been pequeno but it packed some serious flavour.
And then there was this.
Clam chowder in a bread basket (11). An impossibly crusty bread roll that was, say, 14 cm round; top sawn off and ladled with one of the most freaking beautiful soups I’ve eaten. The chowder supposedly follows a traditional New England recipe. One that I desperately want. It’s even won awards. Why? Well, somebody is doing something right. Creamy without being gluggy, and layers of flavour that seem complex but really aren’t. This was one grilled cheese-topped swooning moment.
As the final afternoon of our P-town visitation took hold, the sun decided to show its sporadic glimmer prior to booze-filled cocktails overlooking the harbour from The Red Inn. And we thought the seats were coveted at Joe’s coffee shop.
Something tells me there needs to be a ticket-system for the front-row seats on the deck overlooking the outgoing tide and sunsets at the inn. They’re in high demand, I tells ya!
The sunset colours were impressive enough that one of the chefs even felt the urge to get out there and share it on social media. We, however, sipped on a dirty martini and one of the “famous tea-tinis”.
Dirty martini is common knowledge but the house signature was Earl Grey infused Plymouth gin with triple sec and a sugar rim. Interesting on paper, not so interesting on the palate. There was something missing but we couldn’t put our index finger on it.
As the light rapidly diminished we moved inside to a table and tucked into a bottle of local vino. Great drop, even if it was from industrial-strength glasses that are thick enough to be akin to beer mugs.
The food – smoked Long Island duck (34) done Creole-style, de-boned and served with a savoury bread pudding and an orange and peppercorn glaze. The duck was beyond generous and had an intense smokiness, equalled with a sugary sauce.
My blackened rainbow trout (28) is a rustic affair; served with Creole sauce, beans and mascarpone grits. Beautiful white flakes of fish and a Southern-spiced sauce that hit all the right spots. A bit stodgy, a bit pub-like, but just what I needed.