Power Dining on Cape Cod: A Day In The Life of a Serious Eats Editor
Some people think we've got it easy here at Serious Eats World Headquarters. "You get paid to eat things and write about them, how awesome is that?" people tell me. And yeah, it's a pretty sweet gig, I have to admit. But it's got a downside, and it comes in the form of early morning road trips, thousands upon thousands of calories, dozen-donut taste tests, and the occasional bad sandwich.
Doesn't sound so bad? Say that when you're sitting in front of your third pile of fried seafood of the day, after having had four breakfasts (and three lunches)!
Now I'm not gonna try and claim false credit here. This ain't the most hardcore day of tasting that a Serious Eats reporter has ever done—that distinction goes to New York site editor Carey Jones with a record of 23 restaurants and 64 distinct dishes tasted in Salt Lake City in 24 hours—but we did come in at a very respectable 16 over the course of 1 1/2 days, with 38 distinct dishes tried (for the sake of this tasting, we define a distinct dish as anything that we are required to take at least one bite out of).
Wanna see what it's like to spend a day in the shoes of a Serious Eater? Here's a play-by-play of each and every bite that myself, an old college friend, a three and a half-month-old puppy named Hambone, and Slice Queen Meredith Smith ate during 40 hours of research on Cape Cod.
5:15 AM, Somerville, MA, Meredith's couch
Alarm goes off. My built-in automatic snooze filter shuts off the alarm before brain kicks in.
I roll out of the couch and let dog out to do his business while I take a quick shower followed by some last minute research on the stops we're going to make. Aside from contacting the PR reps for the city of Provincetown, I've spent the last few days scouring online reviews, reading back copies of local newspapers, inquiring on messageboards, and getting advice from my advanced spy network (aka my Facebook fanbase) to narrow down the list down from hundreds of possible restaurants to a more manageable size.
Care is taken to make sure we hit every major region of the Cape as well as a good cross-section of traditional Cape cuisine.
I'm hungry, but I know that eating anything at all would be a mistake at this point.
6:30 AM, in the car, cruising down 93 towards Quincy
About to get onto Route 3 to cross the Sagamore bridge onto route 6 and the Cape. This'll take us all the way to Provincetown. The idea is to get to P-town in time for breakfast(s), then slowly work our way back to Hyannis, hop a ferry to Nantucket where we'll spend the night, then head back to Boston the next day making a few more stops between Hyannis and Sagamore. But before we get there, we've gotta hit...
8:30 AM, stop 1: Fleming's Donut Shack, Eastham, MA
This Eastham favorite fries their own yeasted and cake donuts every morning in flavors ranging from traditional glazed and powdered to their sour cream batter and lemon-filled versions. We order a half dozen while Hambone impresses the locals by peeing next to the lawn chair on the grass outside. Donuts in hand, we take off.
8:37 AM, stop 2: Hole In One Donut Shop, Eastham, MA
Meredith had given a call to her cousin who happened to be spending the week on the Cape right in Eastham. With synchronized watches, he had simultaneously ordered donuts from Hole In One across the street. With multiple locations, a longer line, and cleaner facilities seems like a shoe-in. But Fleming's takes it for their lighter texture and superior flavor.
Cousin Ed is packed up with 18 half-eaten donuts to take home to the family while Hambone contemplates his tail with an assertive glare.
An interesting thing about Route 6: all along its length, you'll find identical competing shops across the street from each other. South side has a seafood shack? So does the north. There's a dude selling inflatable alligators and body boards on the south side? You can bet your water wings there'll be a guy on the north as well. It's all because during the height of the season, traffic on Route 6 makes left turns impossible, effectively slicing the island in half.
Back to breakfast.
9:16 AM, stop 3: Cafe Heaven, Provincetown, MA
Cafe Heaven is small—about twenty seats—and there are no dogs allowed inside. We contemplate taking shifts watching the dog on the street while simultaneously eating breakfast #3 inside, but the owner offers to let Hambone play in the back yard with their own four-month old puppy while we dine. We gladly accept and taste some very fine eggs benedict (mustardy real hollandaise, perfectly poached eggs, freshly baked English muffins), and French toast with smoky, small-batch maple syrup and berries. Our waiter is ruthlessly efficient.
9:53 AM, stop 4: Provincetown Portuguese Bakery, Provincetown, MA
Aside from breakfast sandwiches and basic provisions, the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery specializes in stuffed flaky pastries and fried foods. With hambone securely tied up next to one of the many French bulldogs on the street, we ordered a malassada—essentially a large disk of fried dough coated in sugar. Slightly greasy and the oil could have been fresher, but still, any excuse to each fried dough for breakfast.
It's the first of many fried foods to come. We steel our reserve while Hambone attends to groupies.
10:12 AM, stop 5: Paws & Whiskers, Provincetown, MA
Never has a puppy been so fawned over by strangers than this little one cruising the streets of P-town. We decide to reward him for good behavior by buying a couple of dog treat cream cheese sandwiches for him from Paws & Whiskers (I taste them first and approve). Also on our receipt: a doggie pizza, which we'll save for first lunch.
11:07 AM, stop 6: Sweet and Savory Escape, North Truro, MA
Slice Queen Meredith wants to check out a few pizzas while we're out here. Sweet and Savory escape makes theirs in a Wood Stone oven. Unfortunately, they don't fire it up until 11:30. We decide to drive down to Wellfleet for some oysters while we wait, hit traffic on Route 6, then turn right back around just in time for the pizza. It's good. Very good, in fact. Fresh sauce, good salty cheese, nicely charred crust, though the crust could have had a bit more puff around the edges and more texture.
Hambone gets his first taste of doggie pizza and enjoys it immensely.
11:47 AM, stop 7: PJ's Family Restaurant, Wellfleet, MA
We'd heard good things about PB Boulangerie so drive over to check it out only to find a group of bikers dejectedly peering into the shuttered windows. Apparently, they are closed on Mondays. Rather than losing our dignity and joining the desperate crowd, we turn tail and recoup our losses with a small order of impressively crispy, grease-free, whole-belly fried clams from PJ's Family Restaurant.
Less impressive is the too-bready chorizo-stuffed quahog and the golden retriever giving Hambone the evil eye as he licks up a clam. I use my carefully trained abdominal muscles to reorganize my belly a bit to make room for what's to come.
12:28 PM, stop 8: T-Time Driving Range, Eastham, MA
Turns out I was a little too successful with my stomach reorganizing, and feeling a bit peckish after our light first lunch, we spy a beacon in the distance: a truck with the word HOT DOGS emblazoned on its side. Parked in the lot of the T-Time Driving Range off the side of route 6 in Eastham (near 3 acre road), they serve respectable steamed Franks—Kayem natural casings, to be exact—with a slew of toppings. We'd've preferred the cheese melted on our chili and onion-topped dog, but the chili was a great, warm-spiced Texas-style (the Texas-style that comes from New Jersey or Michigan, not Texas, that is).
Hambone is luckily feeling a little sleepy after his doggie pizza and doesn't notice the hot dog entering the car. I don't approve of cannibalism.
1:17 PM, stop 9: Friendly Fisherman Resturant and Fish Market, Eastham, MA
"We're here for your onion rings," I announce to the nice young lady behind the window at this roadside fried fish joint. "And a happy Fourth of July to you, sir!" is her cheery response. A+ for good cheer. The nice thing about dining at the cape is that since service staff only work sseasonally, they all tend to be young and bright-eyed with none of the jadedness that an old-hand waiter would get after years of slinging fried fish.
The onion rings are indeed good. Sweet, oniony, crisp, and grease-free. The fried fish sandwich with tender, flaky haddock is great too, despite the Miracle Whip-esque tartar sauce. Rachael Ray declared the lobster roll at the Friendly Fisherman to be the best on the cape. Our pick? Chatham Fish Market in Chatham.
Hambone waits patiently while we test our food, then absolutely insists on sticking his head through the put-your-face-on-a-lobster-body mural. How could we say no to him?
1:57 PM, stop 10: Box Lunch, Eastham, MA
Provisions—that is, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and the like that you can bring with you to the beach seem to be a thing on the cape. Box Lunch is a successful chain of wrap stores that offer a few dozen varieties from a half dozen locations on the cape. Why it's successful is a mystery to us. Even two minutes after purchase, our B.L.T. pita wrap has become soggy from tomato juice. What chance does it fare if we were to take it all the way to the beach with us?
It falls apart at the slightest provocation. Even hambone turns his head and scoffs. Better off making your own sandwiches. Time to find a burger to take our mind off of things.
2:19 PM, stop 11: Cobie's, Brewster MA
Cobie's has got the feel of a Cape restaurant—the kind of place you can imagine the kids hanging out at over the summer, or the family driving down the street to grab some fried clams, lobster rolls, and burgers. The fried seafood looks decent, as does our burger, but biting into it reveals a different story.
It's got the texture of a sausage patty—oddly juicy and springy—and the distinct aroma of pre-formed, frozen patties. A big skip (though we got some quality sit, stay, and shake training for Hambone done with the leftovers). Two wasted bites in a row! Luckily, redemption is at hand at...
3:14 PM, stop 12: George's Pizza House, Harwich Port, MA
George's Pizza House. Did you know New England's got a pizza style all its own? Greek pizza—that's pizza dough allowed to rise in an olive-oil lined deep dish then baked with plenty of cheese and herb-heavy sauce—can run the gamut from greasy, stale, and nasty (the usual), to downright transcendent. The pizza at George's, which they bake fresh to order (you've gotta wait about 15 minutes) are in the latter category. One of the best examples of the form we've tasted.
Hambone is surprisingly calm considering that he's about to embark on his first maritime adventure. See, we've got a 4:15 ferry to Nantucket to catch, and traffic to Hyannis doesn't look great.
4:12 PM, Hyannis, MA
We arrive just as the ferry to Nantucket is pulling into the wharf. We still had four restaurants left on our list, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow. For now, we're Nantucket bound to spend the night at New York editor Carey Jones' place. We spend the night eating sushi and watching fireworks while Hambone harasses Carey's dog Stanley. Fresh asparagus and poached eggs are for late breakfast, followed by a quick stop on the beach where Hambone chats up some local ladies, then it's back to the mainland to continue... eating.
4:07 PM, stop 13: The Naked Oyster Restaurant, Hyannis, MA
We're not snobs here. We don't need fancy food, white tablecloths, and expensive wine to have a great time, but after all the fried seafood and a poor burger, we felt like we were in need of some redemption. We get it at the Naked Oyster in Hyannis. A half dozen briny oysters grown specifically for the restaurant right off the cape, a great heavy cream and sherry-based oyster stew, and a decently juicy (though overpriced) Kobe burger kick off our second day of eating.
Hambone is content just dunking his face in his water bowl to ward off some of the 90°F weather.
5:13 PM, stop 14: Kream 'N' Kone, West Dennis, MA
A 58-year-old institution in West Dennis, Kream 'N' Kone has expanded well beyond the small roadside restaurant it once was into a seafood-frying juggernaut churning out a massive volume of whole clams, scallops, oysters, shrimp, fries, onion rings, and the like. Fast turnover is a good sign for fresh seafood, and Kream 'N' Kone doesn't dissapoint.
As we settle into our three-way platter with oysters, clams, and scallops, we realize once again that if there's one thing they know how to do on the Cape, it's fry seafood. Great briny oysters, tender whole belly clams. The onion rings are a bit greasy and don't compare to the exceptional ones at Friendly Fisherman, says Hambone. At least I think that's what he said. Either way, I agree.
5:46 PM, stop 15: Retro Burger & Ice Cream, West Yarmouth, MA
Finally, a burger of note! They've got two sizes (the smaller, four to five-ounce is perfect for me), hand pattied fresh daily, well seasoned, and cooked to order on a griddle. These are summer burger stands the way they're supposed to be: juicy, beefy, and simple. The outfit is only two years old, but I hope they have many more to come.
And of course, there's only one way to finish off two days worth of fried food and burgers...
6:17 PM, stop 16: Four Seas Homemade Ice Cream, Centerville, MA
Ice cream. Not just any ice cream, but Four Seas ice cream. Once of the three oldest ice cream shops in New England, they've been churning top quality flavors for nearly eight decades. This is good stuff, and they've got the local following and long lines to prove it. Their vanilla is killer, but we're even more impressed by their coconut, which actually tastes like... coconut, rather than the sun-block flavor most coconut ice creams have.
7:15 PM, Boston-bound on Route 6
We briefly contemplate adding a few destinations to our journey. After all, we completely missed Captain Frosty's in Brewster, the Lobster Trap in Pocasset, the new Ten Tables outpost in P-town, not to mention the unfortunately closed PB Boulangerie. But Hambone expresses a deep desire to get back home as soon as possible, so we give in and head back.
The world is a big place and there are many dishes to eat, but I think we're going at a pretty good pace here.
The Restaurants We Tried
Fleming's Donut Shack
4680 State Hwy, Eastham, MA 02642 (map)
Hole In One Donut Shop
Multiple locations. We went to the one at 4295 State Hwy, Eastham, MA 02642 (map)
199 Commercial St # 10, Provincetown, MA 02657 (map)
Provincetown Portuguese Bakery
299 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA 02657 (map)
Paws & Whiskers
259 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA 02657 (map)
Savory and Sweet Escape
316 U.S. 6, Truro, MA 02666 (map) 508-487-2225
PJ's Family Restaurant
2616 State Highway Rte 6, Wellfleet, MA 02667 (map)
Hot Dog Cart in lot of T-Time Driving Range
4790 State Hwy, Eastham, MA 02642 (map)
Friendly Fisherman Restaurant and Fish Market
4580 State Highway, Eastham, MA 02642 (map)
Multiple locations. We went to the one at 4205 State Hwy # 2, Eastham, MA 02642 (map)
3260 Main Street, Brewster, MA 02631 (map)
George's Pizza House
564 Massachusetts 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 (map)
The Naked Oyster
410 Main St, Hyannis Port, MA 02601 (map)
Kream 'N' Kone
961 Main Street, West Dennis, MA 02670 (map)
Retro Burger & Ice Cream
44 Massachusetts 28, West Yarmouth, MA 02673 (map)
Four Seas Ice Cream
360 South Main Street, Centerville, MA 02632 (map)