I don’t know this for a fact, but I would wager that the most popular place for Vermonters to get their beach fix is Cape Cod. Surprisingly, we had never been to the Cape for a beach vacation prior to this year. Since my sister Lynne lives in Virginia Beach, we often travel there in the summer, where I’ve been known to challenge myself to eat crab every day in some form or other—steamed with Old Bay seasoning, or in crab cakes, crab quiche, crab dip, crab salad, etc. (I blame my crab obsession on having grown up in Maryland.)
This summer, we decided to spend a week on the Cape as well, just the four of us, before Isabel leaves for college. We timed it so we’d hit the bridge by 8:30 on Saturday morning, before the hordes of others with weekly rentals, so we'd avoid the worst of the legendary traffic. Our destination, Wellfleet, is located far enough up on the “arm” so that the crowd thins out (we Vermonters tend to dislike crowds).
In addition to its art galleries and beautiful beaches, Wellfleet is famous throughout the globe for its oysters. I like oysters fine, but I don’t obsess about them like I do crab, although of course we had to try some. While we waited for a table at Mac’s Shack, we balanced plates on our laps and slurped them down raw.
No lemon, no sauce; just pure, clean, opalescent oyster. Nothing tastes more unequivocally like the ocean than that.
We ate at Mac’s a few times during the week, twice at Mac’s Shack and once at their takeout restaurant down on the pier, which serves humongous lobster rolls (ok, not from the Cape, but just a little farther to the north). Usually I wolf these down, but this one was so brimming with lobster meat that I saved some of it to have on a salad for lunch the next day on the beach.
And a beautiful beach it is. Thanks to JFK who had the foresight to establish the Cape Cod National Seashore, its palatial dunes have been preserved.
Spotting seals just beyond the surf was a daily occurrence,
and long walks provided opportunities to encounter a variety of seabirds
and scuttling crabs (alas too small to eat).
One spot that I have to admit I’m glad was allowed to be grandfathered in so it could remain within the National Seashore is the illustrious Beachcomber at Cohoon Hollow Beach. This quintessential beach bar (though it claims to also be a restaurant) is the ideal spot for a cold drink after climbing up the path on the dunes following a day at the beach.
Other highlights? A single, perfect seared sea scallop (from Mac’s) that I had as an appetizer.
Takeout clam chowder from multiple places, which vied with the lobster salad on the beach for the best lunch.
The Wellfleet farmers market, with its distinctive vendors
and some that reminded us very much of home.
And, near and dear to my heart, PB Boulangerie’s authentic French pastries for breakfast (thanks, Carolyn H., for the tip about that!).
We ventured up to Provincetown one afternoon,
and had some excellent steamed clams with linguine, which to me is one of those dishes that only tastes good when you eat it on the coast. Just a few hours out of the water and accompanied by a few lingering grains of sand, these clams were plump with bright, briny flavor.
We also took the ferry out to Nantucket and spent a night on this fabled island.
We had been to Martha’s Vineyard a few times before, but never Nantucket. The entire island is a National Historic Landmark, the largest National Historic Landmark District in the contiguous US. Its architecture is exquisite,
although sadly its beaches have severely eroded. Our superb meal at Oran Mor was the best of our vacation. All four of us had the same main course: succulent striped bass with pancetta, chanterelles, and new potatoes in a pool of buttery corn chowder, topped with a playful garnish of spicy popcorn.
It’s a dish I’ll fantasize about come January.