Tradition and nostalgia run deep on Cape Cod so lobster rolls and fried clams will always have a place at the table, but a new generation of chefs is serving food that meets demand for fresh, high-quality produce grown on local farms and prepared in a way that’s healthy and creative.
Ironically, it’s one of Cape Cod’s old guard that’s leading diners down this path. The venerable Chatham Bars Inn has fully committed itself to farm-to-table dining with the establishment of an eight-acre farm in Brewster that grows enough produce for the inn’s four dining concepts as well as other area restaurants and community sales.
At the inn’s marquée STARS (Chatham’s only five-star restaurant), Executive Chef Anthony Cole talks daily with farm manager Joshua Schiff to plan menus that focus on produce fresh from the field including a signature farm salad. Chatham oysters, Cape Cod scallops and other regional meat and fish are featured alongside fall favorites like carrots, wild mushrooms and squash. In season, find a table at the farm with Chatham Bars Inn Farm dinners, where guests dine crop-side with grass beneath their feet and lights swaying overhead.
Chef Jason Montigel, owner of Clean Slate Eatery in West Dennis, shops regularly at the Chatham Bars Inn Farm for his highly-imaginative prix-fixe menus. With space for just over a dozen diners and one or two nightly seatings, Clean Slate has the atmosphere of an intimate diner party and the advantage of access to one of the Cape’s most innovative new chefs. Two tastings menus (traditional and vegetarian) change monthly and always features the freshest local and regional meat, fish and seafood and plant-forward plates like carrot tartare with smoked apple mustard, pickled ginger, crispy shallots, olive oil-poached Thumbelina and ground cherries.
One of Montigel’s outstanding desserts may include an apple fritter with Ginger Gold apples, Vermont cheddar, cinnamon ice cream and fennel caramel.
Two chefs who worked at Clean Slate, Brandon Baltzley and Laura Higgins- Baltzley, have made the leap to a brave new concept, The Buffalo Jump, which in pure farm-to-table fashion serves a multi-course seasonal tasting menu right at East Falmouth’s Coonamesset Farm.
The pair invite guests to stretch the boundaries of local food, back to the days when Cape Cod was inhabited by tribes of Wampanoag Indians who may have eaten grilled beach rose, bison tartare, and fatty liver and sweet fungus tautog (a native Atlantic fish). Along with Cape Cod’s cultural history, The Buffalo Jump’s menu reflects the culinary influences of its chefs’ travels. A focus on hyper-local ingredients from forest, farm and sea translates to signature Carolina rice bowls with stewed octopus, wild onion kimchi, cranberry leather britches and radishes, or veggie burgers with seaweed and root vegetables. The Buffalo Jump has strong community bonds and includes a nutritionally-superior kids’ menu and a special nighttime menu for adults who want to bring their kids to dinner at the farm.
Daily walk-in breakfast and lunch includes recognizable but interpretive takes on standard fare like rice flour waffles with roasted sunchoke butter and cream and lemon verbena-vanilla syrup. Try granola with goat yogurt and green strawberries, or vegan chili with wood-grilled vegetables.
New in 2018, The Pheasant on Main Street in Dennis offers New England coastal farm-to-table fare by Chef Toby Hill, formerly of Pain d’Avignon and Brewster Fish House fame. In the tradition of the former landmark Red Pheasant, the new iteration in the same historic farmhouse serves Cape-centric food with contemporary updates. A crudo starter plate brings you the pure flavors of daily local seafood simply dressed with olive oil, Maldon salt and fresh herbs. Charcoal-grilled skewers feature local squid and farm-fresh fare stars in plates like seared scallops with local sautéed string beans, garlic-sesame hummus, mustard greens, brown butter, herbs and lemon.
Casual, family-friendly and unfussy, Chef Jamie Sparrow’s Sunbird in Orleans is a bright addition to the farm-to-table scene on Cape Cod. The loungy atmosphere invites you to choose a seat at a small table, a family table or the bar or window counter. Originally a food truck, Sunbird knows the value of efficiency so if seats are full at this walk-in-only restaurant, the staff will gladly pack your meal to-go. Sunbird serves breakfast and lunch, Sunday brunch and dinner in a playful style that’s nevertheless serious about healthy, wholesome food, and fresh local ingredients often free of gluten and dairy. The grain and seed bowl is a nutritional powerhouse of quinoa, heirloom beans, organic greens and seasonal veggies and pickles. Surprises abound in familiar but inventive and entirely compatible flavor blends like a squash and shells option with basil pesto, cherry tomatoes and pistachios or rhubarb ‘crumble’ with sweet sesame ice cream. Sunbird’s popular Pho noodle bowl features fresh herbs, mushrooms and a savory veggie broth.
Ceraldi in Wellfleet joins Chatham Bars Inn as a relative elder among the young upstarts, having opened in Wellfleet in 2014 after a year of operating as a pop-up in Provincetown. Ceraldi offers two nightly seatings in view of the open kitchen where Chef Michael Ceraldi creates a different seven-course prix-fixe menu every day that’s sourced almost wholly from Ceraldi’s restaurant garden, its staff forager and local farms and fisheries. Ceraldi’s sublime location on Wellfleet’s waterfront matches the experience of its food, which is prepared with the simple premise that good food should come from the soil and sea around us.
Through its menu, Ceraldi tells a story of Cape Cod that’s more indigenous than the ubiquitous fried seafood found elsewhere and, like others in its genre, supports local farmers.
Not all fried seafood is created equal, of course, and Eric Jansen, chef/owner of Blackfish in Truro, is renowned for his buttermilk-fried oyster appetizer at Truro’s premier farm-to-table fine destination. To Jansen, cooking with local ingredients felt natural long before it became trendy. At Blackfish and his two others locations — Crush Pad, a mobile kitchen at the Truro Vineyards, and the burger genius Local 186 in Provincetown — Jansen sources ingredients concentrically, starting with Truro produce and expanding to other farms throughout the Cape, the state and the region. Dinner is served nightly at Blackfish, where appetizers like roasted baby beets with tarragon-whipped yogurt, truffled hazelnuts, beet chips and orange may be a prelude to panko-crusted sole with cauliflower mash.