I grew up in eastern Connecticut and became fairly familiar with Cape Cod as a kid. My wife grew up in northern New Jersey, vaguely remembers one family vacation to Hyannis when she was little, but never ate a lobster roll until our first trip together to the Cape in ’93.
Ten Cape Cod vacations later, we’re no experts by any means, especially now since we live 1,000 miles away in suburban Chicago. But we know what we like. From July 30 to August 5 of this summer, we leaned hard on the old standards. We’ve carved out our own little niche in the Eastham area: The Sheraton Four Points (pricey, but has an indoor and outdoor pools, which is ESSENTIAL when preschoolers are tagging along; Cape Cod National Seashore (Nauset Light beach is our fave, Coast Guard is great, too); stops for ice cream and beach lunches are nearby, too. And then there’s our ace clam shack.
But there’s more to eating on the Lower Cape than Arnold’s, to be sure.
In fact, we were very excited to get another crack at one of our all-time favorite Cape restaurants, Aesop’s Tables. A week before our trip, however, while trying to make a reservation, my wife found out that Aesop’s closed after the ’04 season and re-opened at Winslow’s Tavern, a restaurant by the same proprietors of Moby Dick’s. Winslow's reviews have been good, but we were too stunned by the news. We’ll miss Aesop’s.
We went with another old favorite, a place we first enjoyed as 23-year-olds in ’94: The Impudent Oyster just off the main drag in Chatham. I know, I know. The Impudent Oyster was new and exciting back when polyester was in fashion, but hey, this place has reportedly done its thing quite well for decades. OK yes, there were quite a few AARP members eating there with us. Along with a handful of their snooty, entitled twenty-something grandchildren. But the Impudent Oyster, which has a pleasant and casual feel even as it sits in the heart of the wealthiest town on the Cape, was buzzing on this Thursday night. My baked oysters appetizer was sumptuous. My wife raved about the mussels and said the appetizer could have been her dinner. She also ordered the filet and lobster tail. I enjoyed the spicy and creamy Santa Ana Scallops, which were laid upon a bed of fresh spinach. The twins nibbled on the fish and chips off the children’s menu. But my wife and I did not enjoy the $3 extra-plate fee or our waitress’ stone-faced demeanor through most of the meal, as if she were waiting for the boys to pelt her with bread at any moment. (The twins, by the way, were on pretty close to their best behavior.) I mean, give us a break. A full $9 kids meal at IO is too much food for one 5-year-old. Know when to waive the stupid plate fee. We had even bought a $50 bottle of wine with dinner. Show some discretion. ... But this certainly doesn't take away from the fact that we had a very satisfying meal at the Impudent Oyster.
We were at Finely JP’s the night before. We’d noticed this place since the mid-90’s, back when it was a little gray box of a place off Route 6 in Eastham. But for whatever reason, we never made it in. Eventually, word spread beyond the locals that this place was the real deal. They don’t take reservations and I started reading that it wasn’t always the easiest place to get a table. Well, this was the year we made it, and the place was fresh off a major renovation. Finely JP's hadn't opened for the season until July 4th weekend.
We were in the parking lot at 4:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the doors are unlocked each evening. And once inside we enjoyed the comfortable, airy, and modern décor. (FYI, the restaurant did not fill up until about 6:15 pm, not unreasonable at all, we figured. But then again, it was a Wednesday night.) I dove into the native seafood bouillabaisse, which was full of local scallops and mussels and such. My wife was blown away by the roasted pork tenderloins topped with green apples and goat cheese. Our five-year-old twins stuffed themselves with buttered bow-ties. Service was attentive and friendly enough. We’re glad we finally made it inside! And we'll be back.
This was the week just about every part of the U.S. was scorched by 90+ degree days. We definitely lucked out. I can’t remember the last time we had four consecutive perfect beach days on the Cape. Two of our four beach days at the CC National Seashore we brought along food purchased at the Box Lunch at Eastham. At $14 for three wraps, the price was right. And the lunch was good, too. The twins shared a ham-and-cheese wrap, and they cracked me up when the questioned the white American cheese! I had a chicken salad and avacado wrap one day, the roast beef and bleu cheese wrap on another. My wife had the turkey and cranberry sauce wrap one day and loved it. She wasn’t so thrilled with the seafood salad wrap, not knowing until it was too late that the sandwich was laced with Krab, and not crab. C’mon! Krab on the Cape?!?
But I can’t help keeping this one lasting impression of the Box Lunch (and this is certainly not exclusive to that place. It seems as though everyone behind a Cape Cod counter struggles to hide his or her contempt for the tourists). And one of these days I’m going to drop a note into one of those obnoxious “Tips” jars next to the register. And it will read, “Here’s a tip: Stop snarling at the summer people. Many folks are spending very good money this week for the privilege of being glared at by you. Smile, please.”
Two beach lunches from the Box Lunch were enough for me. The next two days, our mid-day meals would come from The Friendly Fisherman on Route 6 in Eastham. What a find this place was!
The Friendly Fisherman's lobster rolls are colossal!! Unbelievable!! Staggering!! The meat, laced with gobs of mayo, was a staggering heap of ecstasy sitting atop a perfectly toasted hot dog roll. The first few bites had to be taken with a fork!! “Addictive and expensive,” was a description highlighted in a review that was posted on a wall at the take-out area. Indeed. Wow. Better than sex. Seriously. Two of these babies will set you back $31 (each sandwich is served with fries). It’s worth every penny.
On our way off the Cape on Friday the 5th, we stopped at Captain Frosty’s on Route 6A in Dennis. As I pulled into the crowded lunchtime parking lot, I thought about the incredible food I enjoyed during the week. Next time we're out here, I promised myself, I’d finally try to get a seat at the Brewster Fish House. ... And it'd been too long since we'd eaten in P-Town ... And we didn't make it to Wellfleet's main drag or its pier ...
My sons and wife were pretty much fished out at this point – hot dogs for the boys and a bacon cheeseburger for her. But I’d driven past this place countless times over the past decade. Quite a few Hounds swear by Frosty’s lobster roll. And Frommer’s hails it as one of the Cape’s best. So I ordered a lobster roll ($11.25 sans fries or chips) plus a Coke.
“So how is it?” my wife asked as I devoured the thing. I was starved and I was leaving the Cape. This was a moment too bittersweet to savor. The sandwich was vaporized in four bites. Captain Frosty’s uses maybe one-third the amount of meat used for the Friendly Fisherman freak-of-nature lobster rolls.
“Well?” she asked. Hmmm, I thought to myself. Superb. The bun was toasted. The lobster salad didn’t have too much mayo. And there were no foreign particles such as celery. I shrugged. “It’s a lobster roll,” I said, as if I eat these things every day.
Yup, just a regular nondescript lobster roll on the Cape. And most certainly worth a thousand-mile car trip.