It’s that time of year. Daydreams of iced tea and ice cream cones, clam rolls, gazpacho, and vichyssoise.
Let’s get out of the city.
Cape Cod? Beautiful, certainly, and although not generally regarded as a place for serious gastronomic adventures, there are plenty of places for memorable meals.
To repeat, much as I love it, the Cape is not really a destination for true foodies. Even in Provincetown, with its reputation as an artist’s colony and gay mecca, the menus can be heavy on the too complicated. In this corner of the world they often err on the overly ambitious side. Fish that was just caught that day doesn’t really need too much done to it; it doesn’t cry out for elaborate additions.
But bearing this fact in mind, and still thinking about food, what could be a better incentive for some travel than the lobster mashed potatoes at Mac’s Provincetown (85 Shank Painter Road, 508-487-6627)?
This large and stylish restaurant is part of the new and successful Mac’s group (two other restaurants in nearby Wellfleet and four fish markets—Wellfleet, Eastham, Truro, and Provincetown). Located very much out of the center of town and across the street from the local supermarket, Mac’s is undoubtedly the most un-Provincetown establishment in what is otherwise an artistic and bohemian stronghold. It’s the kind of place you’d perhaps expect to find elsewhere—a place where the bar is at center stage, the TV is blasting sports, the crowd is drinking lots of beer in bottles, and the noise factor is substantial.
Despite the ambience and the cost, Mac’s does serve up some excellent seafood. Both the fish and the vegetables are fresh and well-prepared. And, as pointed out, the lobster mashed potatoes are truly exquisite—easily worth putting up with the frat-party ambience and sometimes less than first-rate service.
Another Provincetown restaurant worth writing about (and one that is far more typical of the town) is Bayside Betsy’s (177 Commercial Street, 508-487-6566). For the longest time this was a place I’d avoided, a place universally belittled by locals. But all that has changed. Recently under new ownership, Bayside Betsy’s is very much what people are looking for when they come to this part of the world. One reviewer on Yelp exactly expressed my own sentiments: “Great food, generous portions and good prices . . . it’s on the water, friendly staff, very good choice.”
Bayside Betsy’s is the place to visit if you want an excellent lobster roll, perfectly made cocktail, and an obscenely delicious dessert (the coconut cake is unbelievably good). Also worth mentioning are the steaks and the pastas. It’s all served beautifully by a cheerful, friendly, and campy staff. Definite green light. Indeed, this could have been the place Patti Page was singing about.
Understandably popular with locals and tourists alike, Fanizzi’s (539 Commercial Street, 508-487-1964) is a moderately priced destination that boasts comforting views of the sea, a first-rate, caring and professional staff, and an extremely extensive menu. That menu can, indeed, sometimes be too extensive and some of the things sampled (like “Mom’s Best Meatloaf”) were disappointing. However, if you stick to the basics (like a perfect hamburger served on an English muffin or the suggested fish of the moment), you’ll be quite happy. Another word of advice: try to go at more or less off-hours. As mentioned, Fanizzi’s is popular and can be quite crowded. Part of the joy of this place is the open, on-a-boat-like feeling and the center tables are cramped. Kind of spoils the whole effect.
The food at Napi’s (7 Freeman Street, 508-487-1145) may not be remarkable, but the ambience certainly makes up for it. You could be just about anyplace in New England while having dinner at Mac’s; at Napi’s you could only be in Provincetown. Located on a charming back street, the place is brimming with hanging plants, carousel horses, ecclesiastical souvenirs, and some works by local artists. This eclectic decor is understandably popular with children and the early bird menu keeps local seniors happy.
Cafe Heaven (199 Commercial Street #10, 508-487-9639) is another place that could only be in Provincetown. The food is absolutely delicious, fresh, and beautifully presented. It makes you wish the place was open for more than breakfast and lunch. BUT—and it’s an enormous BUT—some of the staff can be remarkably hostile and even vicious. A casual reading of some online reviews tells the tale far better than I can. “Google User” commented, “Jaw-dropping hostility toward families with kids. But food’s good.” And a Yelp reviewer from New Jersey wrote, “Please, by all means avoid this restaurant if possible. . . . Our trip to P-town would’ve been so much better without this experience.”
In an earlier edition of this website (“Breakfast in America and Other Memorable Meals,” Issue Twelve, May 13, 2013) Englishman Alan Ross discussed his favorite eating places in America. On this eclectic list was The Lobster Pot (321 Commercial Street, 508-487-0842), a bustling, tourist-friendly place that serves up a brilliant take on the Portuguese classic kale and sausage soup starter. Ross wrote: “Slap bang in the middle of town, this is the place to enjoy seafood at its finest—particularly the namesake lobster cooked in many different ways. Opt for a whole one and you’ll be supplied with some lethal-looking cutlery and a necessary bib—enjoyment is a messy business! They also do the best Bloody Mary you’ll find anywhere.”
Other spots worth mentioning: Squealing Pig (335 Commercial Street, 508-487-5804), an understandably busy pub that serves very good meals . . . Ciro and Sal’s (4 Kiley Court, 508-487-6444), an old standby that is somewhat inconsistent but that has one of the most charming and romantic ambiences on the Cape . . . and Tin Pan Alley (269 Commercial Street, 508-402-8487), a new and happening place that tries harder.
Down Route 6 a bit is the sleepy little hamlet of Truro and it is in Truro that you’ll find the sophisticatedly rustic Blackfish (17 Truro Center Road, 508-349-3399). This atmospheric and welcoming restaurant manages to evoke a very Cape Cod ambience without being anywhere near the water. It boasts a certain formality, a genuine graciousness. But, as previously mentioned: be careful when ordering. Cape restaurants tend to overdo.
In Wellfleet, a very good bet is the Bookstore & Restaurant (50 Kendrick Avenue, 508-349-3154). Facing the Bay, the view is pleasant and the food, if you stick to basics like oysters and lobster rolls, is delicious—fresh and simply prepared. Try to plan your visit when the adjacent used bookstore is open; it’s a real treat for those who enjoy a good browse. Also in Wellfleet and certainly worth a mention is the delightfully unpretentious Lighthouse Restaurant (317 Main Street, 508-349-3681). This is a local place where locals actually go. If you want a simple, well-prepared meal served in a welcoming atmosphere, it would be hard to do any better. The breakfasts are especially noteworthy and there’s never even a hint of “attitude.”