By Jayne Guertin
For many families and travelers, Cape Cod has long been a summer destination. Not that we need confirmation, but U.S. News ranks this sandy peninsula 15th in its listing, “Best Places to Visit in the USA.” There are ample opportunities for swimming, fishing, hiking, boating, and other outdoor activities, as well as a veritable potpourri of dining options from Plymouth to the tip of Provincetown.
And while the Cape may be known as one of the country’s most perfect vacation spots, it is increasingly becoming a place where – near gorgeous beaches, pretty marshland, conservation trails and quaint villages – many families and travelers are, literally and metaphorically, planting their roots.
The Cape’s landscape and climate lends itself not only to a laid-back lifestyle, but also to inspired dining menus that take advantage of a medley of fresh edibles across the Cape and its shores. Chefs are embracing the area’s rich biodiversity, and consequently, the food scene has increasingly become, you might say, one with the landscape. It’s a tableau of colorful and tasty goods sourced locally, which makes for a delicious, meaningful and satisfying dining experience.
Cape Cod’s top chefs are an excellent year-round resource for all things gourmand. So we recently tapped into that combined epicurean knowledge by speaking with four of the Cape’s pros – all of whom serve up land- and sea-inspired fine dining – about their restaurants and where they like to nosh in the off-hours.
Situated on Wellfeet’s waterfront, New York native Michael Ceraldi’s eponymously named restaurant, open May through October, offers a nightly, seven-course, prix-fixe dining experience. Ceraldi, whose cuisine changes every day, says, “Our menu is literally the landscape of Cape Cod. What’s available here is what I cook.”
Depending upon the season, Ceraldi might be found pickling the buds of pitch pine trees, foraging boletes (a type of porcini mushroom) from one of the Cape’s many forests, or hitting the farmers markets for off-the-vine produce and other comestibles.
Ceraldi’s farm-to-table commitment informs his own dining decisions. He’s drawn to food establishments with similar philosophies, like Truro Vineyards, which, aside from wine, makes a spiced rum with angelica root from Dave’s Greens in Truro, and steeped juniper gin using Vineyards-grown juniper.
“The rum’s fantastic,” says Ceraldi, who makes use of leftover, steeped botanicals to flavor his foods. “Soaked gin or rum spices make a nice brine for pork loin or a cure for fish,” he says. “And the vineyard is a nice place to stop for a drink.”
The Crush Pad, a food truck run by Truro’s beloved Blackfish Restaurant, often parks in the vineyard and has a delectable menu that features things like fresh lobster bisque, fried cauliflower with capers, lemon and Parmesan, and a cucumber fennel salad.
For the freshest bread, Ceraldi hits PB Boulangerie in Wellfleet, which, he says, “has the best baguette.” Although it’s a bit farther from Wellfleet, he also recommends Pain D’Avignon in Hyannis. And at the tip of the Cape, he loves the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery, which carries excellent breads, custards, pasties and more.
Ceraldi washes down such goodies with coffee from Brewster’s Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters (he stocks it in his restaurant, as well), which roasts their coffee on site.
“It’s fantastic,” he says. “And it’s attached to an apothecary, which has old-school tinctures and remedies. It’s a cool spot.”
For sweets, his family enjoys The Local Scoop in Orleans. Their homemade soft-serve includes ingredients found on the Cape, and they offer mix-and-match yogurt servings along with other treats.
Cape Sea Grille owner and executive chef Doug Ramler settled on the Cape after a long stint in Colorado restaurants, and later in Boston, at the famed (now closed) Hamersley’s Bistro, where he cooked with other chefs who have gone on to open successful restaurants of their own. He chose the Cape because of his love of fishing. He also finds the locals warm and friendly.
His Harwich restaurant makes use of the abundant sustenance found in the ocean and neighboring farms. On his late spring/summer menu are scallops, cod and dogfish. Throughout the season, which for him is nine months (though he operates a year-round licensed food truck), he serves everything from beef to lobster, clams, oysters and other seafood.
Ramler tends to frequent Hemeon Farm in Harwich for fresh berries, corn, cellar-stored turnip, Swiss chard and other fresh produce. And it’s a short trip from Ramler’s restaurant to Cape Cod Lavender Farm, where he finds exquisite lavender for his dishes.
When Ramler’s not in his restaurant’s kitchen, he likes to hit the Red Nun Bar & Grill in Chatham or Dennis for comfort food, which for him is a juicy burger. Because he’s always cooking, he says, “fast, easy and delicious is my go-to meal.”
But he also craves Bangkok Cuisine’s comfort food. He’s prone to stopping by the Hyannis restaurant to order the Tom Yum Noodle soup for lunch.
“The combination of broth, noodles and spice,” he says, “is consistently flavorful.”
For drinks, Ramler enjoys the Outer Bar and Grille, which is one of several dining options in Chatham’s Wequassett Inn, and is a must stop for cocktails and raw-bar bites.
The Grille overlooks Pleasant Bay, and has a spectacular view of the bay and Round Cove, in addition to gardens, a comfy, oversized fire pit and meticulous landscaping.
Ramler is also a fan of Snowy Owl.
“Fabulous coffee,” he says.
Ice cream is trickier.
“That’s a tie between Schoolhouse and Sundae School,” he says.
Both in Harwich Port, Schoolhouse Ice Cream has an enormous selection of homemade flavors. Sundae School, also making scrumptious treats, has two other locations, Dennis Port and East Orleans.
When asked about gastronomic jealousies, Ramler can think of only the creative fare served by Chef Michael Brisson in his Edgartown restaurant, L’etoile, which always makes Ramler want to return for more.
Walk into Chef Frederic Feufeu’s restaurant, Bleu, and you will be immediately transported to the City of Lights. The color blue, van Gogh’s cerulean blue, covers windows and walls, and creates an intimate Parisian atmosphere in this Mashpee eatery. Feufeu, who grew up in France’s Loire River Valley, attended a French culinary school and worked in Paris kitchens. He still has a thick Parisian accent, which only adds to the ambience. Feufeu came to the states on a student visa to work at New York City’s Rainbow Room, but after 9/11 he took stock.
“There’s a point in your life,” he says, “where you put things into perspective, you know?”
It didn’t take long before he, his wife and children moved to Cape Cod, where his mother-in-law also lives. He quickly found work in the restaurant he now owns. He says that the Cape’s landscape, climate and people, whom he describes as friendly and down-to-earth, echo that of his hometown, Cholet, near the Bay of Biscay.
While Feufeu serves up ne dining at Bleu, using local produce, fish and meat, he often craves comfort food like ice cream and cookies, or Brie cheese on a baguette. He, too, is a fan of Pain D’Avignon in Hyannis, and stops by frequently for baguettes.
Of his other cravings, he says, “You know, a good burger is the best thing. It really is. And sometimes the food I enjoy the most is food I don’t have to make for myself. I always want to say, ‘Thank you for making this for me,’ even if it’s just noodles and butter.”
His cravings usually lead him to Mike’s Pizza in Hyannis.
“They do a great chicken salad, that’s all I go for,” he says. “It’s toasted with bacon, mayo and shredded cheese and served with fries.”
Feufeu also enjoys the good food and “homey feel” at Skipper Restaurant and Chowder House in South Yarmouth.
His gastronomic jealousies revolve around pastry. All of the desserts at Bleu are made in-house, but he lacks classical pastry training.
“I watch (pastry chefs), and I can kind of figure out how to make (certain pastries),” he says, “but if you’re not taught by a professional then you’ll never make a good baguette. It’s an art.”
Though it took a long time, Feufeu has mastered his grandmother’s rice pudding, which he had to tweak using Arborio rice, akin to France’s starchy rice.
Executive chef Andrew Swain, a Falmouth native and Johnson & Wales grad, is the young owner of Rye Tavern, in Plymouth. The Tavern dates back to the 18th century and is set against tall pines and a quiet, six-mile stretch of dirt known as Old Sandwich Road – America’s oldest road. The interior dining area is rustic and charming. Outdoor dining is available in the warmer months, when patio tables are set outside near a large bar built under a pavilion.
Swain works closely with a number of certified organic farms in the surrounding area. He also maintains his own garden at the Rye Tavern, where he grows assorted vegetables, garlic, Swiss chard, varieties of kale and, says Swain, “always fresh herbs.”
When he has the chance to escape, he heads to Dillon’s Local, known for their chowder and cocktails. But Swain goes for what he describes as “an amazing pork loin dish.” He also frequents New World Tavern, in Plymouth, especially for a cold beer.
“They have an astounding draft beer list,” he says.
Non-alcoholic and gluten-free beer is likewise on the menu.
Of comfort food, Swain says, “Breakfast has always been my most comforting meal of the day.”
He ordinarily heads to Plymouth’s Water Street Café, winner of many local/Cape Cod breakfast and lunch awards. The menu is enormous and the food is great. Another morning favorite of his is Blue Blinds in Plymouth.
“For fresh juice and breads,” he says, “it can’t be beat.”
Like many chefs, Swain covets food that inspires him.
“Kogi Bar and Grill,” he says, “makes great ramen and sushi. I have made ramen bowls and sushi before, but not as good as theirs. I like the ramen concept because it’s a base to whatever your imagination can, well, imagine!”