Every table has an ocean view at The Beach House Grill at the Chatham Bars Inn
Photo Credit : Courtesy of the Chatham Bars Inn
For decades, Cape Cod was seen as a vacation destination that offered every possible summer attraction … except a vibrant dining scene. Not anymore. Now that tourists have discovered the lure of shoulder seasons, restaurants have a more reliable customer base from spring through fall. And, as if making up for lost time, chefs have been flocking to the Cape, rediscovering the wealth of local seafood, importing every of-the-moment food trend (kombucha, burrata, hakuna matata), partnering with local farms, and figuring out the complicated economics of how to thrive in a seasonal market. Thanks to their efforts, the region is a food lover’s dream.
To complement Yankee’s 2019 May/June travel feature “63 Reasons Why We Love the Cape and Islands,” I’m sharing some of my favorite Cape dining spots. So when you start planning your own getaway, be sure to bring your appetite!
A few steps beyond the Beach House Grill’s patio is a sandy path down to the water, but the restaurant itself is perched high enough to capture sweeping views of Chatham Harbor. In addition to updated steakhouse fare, the Grill’s menu includes coastal favorites like fried calamari, quahog fritters, and steamed lobster with linguiça, corn, potatoes, and steamers. Executive chef Anthony Cole enriches these offerings with seafood from the Chatham Fish Pier and exceptional produce from the inn’s own farm. (These ingredients also take center stage at the more formal restaurant, Stars, in the main building.) Save room for dessert…and time for a postprandial beach walk.
Boris Villatte trained in Paris with the legendary Eric Kayser and Alain Ducasse, followed a wave of ambitious young French chefs to Las Vegas, and eventually landed in Falmouth, where he opened a bakery-pâtisserie. Here you’ll find all the classics: opera cakes, pain aux raisins, croissants, and éclairs. But don’t overlook the equally superb breads, which have raised the baguette game for every other baker in the region. During the peak summer season, waits can be long, but when the goods are this good, it’s always worth it.
Chef-owner Matt Tropeano grew up in Massachusetts but made his name in the kitchens of Manhattan. At La Grenouille, he earned a coveted three-star review from TheNew York Times. With a new family, however, came new priorities and the call of home. So at this casual Hyannis eatery, Tropeano serves the breakfast of your dreams: The challah in the French toast is house-made, the pancakes are fluffy and laced with buttermilk, and there are five kinds of eggs Benedict topped with real hollandaise. My personal fave: the cheddar biscuit with scrambled eggs, house-smoked pork loin, and homemade ham.
Since 1976, Sundae School has woven itself into the hearts and memories of generations of ice cream–loving vacationers. This is the kind of place where the strawberry, peach, and blueberry ice creams are made with seasonal fruit; classic New England grape-nut lives on; and the whipped cream is the real deal. New flavors may make their way onto the board, but the Endres family also knows that part of their magic is to make us feel as though some things never change. Locations in Harwichport, Dennis Port, and East Orleans.
Shayna Ferullo and Manuel Ainzuain fell in love in San Francisco cafés, and when they decided to relocate to the Cape, they applied their entrepreneurial mojo to opening the Cape’s most charming roastery. With its rustic-boho interior and comfy chairs, this Brewster spot may also be the friendliest, but don’t mistake the laid-back vibe for any lack of seriousness. This is top-grade coffee, sourced from small-lot growers and co-ops and roasted on-site. Coffee nerds love it, but fear not: You can also order a decaf with extra milk and sugar with pride.
I wouldn’t normally take this category quite so literally, but if it’s local/seasonal you want, why not head to an actual farm — in this case, Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth? This twenty-acre property offers pick-your-own produce, a CSA, and a farm kitchen where chef Laura Higgins makes prepared foods to go daily and serves a counter service breakfast and lunch most weekends, plus Jamaican feasts on Wednesday nights through the summer. Don’t miss the baked treats from Peck O’ Dirt Bakery available in the farmstand, where vegan and gluten-free options are always on offer!
What started out decades ago as a local fish market is now a destination restaurant, and as the Cape’s dining scene grows more ambitious, the Brewster Fish House keeps raising the bar. Yes, there’s perfect chowder, but also crudo and a New England spin on bouillabaisse layered with Maine crab and sweet lobster. Vegetarians and meat lovers are well cared for (as are gluten-free diners), but try not to miss chef Erik Schnackenberg’s many takes on monkfish (as a chop with pancetta and kale in autumn; as medallions with fiddleheads in spring).
Fans of Jonathan and Karen Haffmans mourned the loss of Vers in Chatham, but the ambitious modern American restaurant reopened in Orleans and it’s drawing visitors from both ends of the Cape. Jonathan Haffmans’s cooking could be described as painterly: Take one perfect ingredient, then layer on complementary flavors to achieve a perfect whole. And given how beautiful his plating is, the visual metaphor works. This is artful cooking, but never stuffy.
Where are your favorite Cape Cod dining spots? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2019 and has been updated.