Vacations—we all dream of these respites from the hum-drum of everyday life. BUT, sometimes the Powers that be, alter your preconceived notions…
Chatham, Mass is often referred to as the elbow of Cape Cod in the area described as the lower portion of the peninsula. We were fortunate to rent a Cape Cod style cabin for a little over a week in late-July around my birthday time. Built in 1965, it is situated in a secluded tree-filled lot boasting an awesome expansive back deck—complete with views of shooting stars—overlooking Oyster Bay River which feeds into Nantucket Sound; just a short car ride to Hardings Beach (shown below).
Back home in Southeast PA, the forecasters warned of a dangerous heat wave that would engulf the area for days soaring well into the 100s just as we left for the Cape, where luckily for us, we were supposed to enjoy more moderate temps in the high-80’s, turning to the mid-70s later in the week.
So for the first four days, it was vacational bliss, lounging on the beach with cool breezes and dining at some of Chatham’s finest restaurants. BUT THEN, the cool front came roaring into town in the form of at least two strong F1 tornadoes touching down right near us.
It was a late Tuesday morning and aware that thunderstorms would be rolling in during the afternoon, we decided to take a car ride into town and check out shops, ogle some gorgeous mansions, and then head over to Harwich to see where our ferry ride was going to depart for Nantucket Island the following morning. (It departed, we didn’t.)
No sooner had we pulled into our driveway when both of our cell phones sounded tornado warnings to take cover immediately. Honestly, we weren’t too concerned because we had received similar notices over the past few months, so we just shrugged it off. WRONG! By the time we navigated the steep steps to the house, extremely gusty winds made it a struggle to get through the side door. I wondered out loud where we should take cover as there was no basement access, which was locked with the owner’s personal belongings.
Within seconds, huge trees were practically bending over backwards, debris was flying all around us, the front door blew open and we lost power. After 15 or 20 minutes the worst seemed to be over so we began to assess the damage. Not good. Our staircase exit from the cabin down to our vehicle was blocked with half of a tree. Russ navigated out to the street only to find the cross street blocked with more large branches and downed wires. On his way back to the house, a delayed dropping branch hit his car windshield, smashing it enough to render it undriveable. Now what?
In the meantime, my sister Lolly and her husband Paul had been traveling from Michigan with a camper and were scheduled to roll into town that very afternoon. We still had spotty text and cell phone access so we were able to communicate with them, as they sent us photos of the widespread destruction. Because of downed trees and wires, it took them hours longer to finally reach our street. But as mentioned, it was impassable, so we met them down at the end of the road.
The cabin is behind the downed trees and wires and up a hill. Lolly tries to get phone reception in order to find an operating campground with power to set up their camper.
What can I say? A stunning vacation had turned into a bit of a nightmare, but we squared our shoulders and decided to make the best of a bad situation. It was serendipitous that my sister and her husband toted a small portable generator with them. So once they settled in at camp, they came back, navigated through the mess to our cabin with the generator, cables, candles, a solar-powered light and a gas can in tow. Now we could at least keep the refrigerator and our tech hub going, plus see in the dark.
First on our minds? Something to eat of course! Their was a charcoal grill that we used the prior night, and with hamburgers and hotdogs on hand, we fashioned a simple dinner by candle light the first night without power; followed the next night by steak and baked potatoes (initially microwaved in their camper) the next evening.
Pre-tornado meals: My birthday breakfast on the back deck. A spatchcocked grilled chicken.
Grilled rib-eyes by candlelight. Paul, Lolly and I enjoy an after-dinner glass of vino.
Here’s a blow-by-blow pictorial of the meals enjoyed on the Cape:
First dinner was enjoyed at Bistro on Main where we started with a nice dry, chilled Rosé and some crusty bread with a melted garlic butter.
Russ chose a bowl of their absolutely delicious Clam Chowder, of which we both agree, probably the best we’ve ever had! Then he went all out with a night’s Special of Baked Stuffed Local Lobster, a 1 1/4-pounder brimming with clams, lobster, chorizo and herbs served on roasted fingerling potatoes with grilled vegetables and drawn butter.
I was seafood all the way too with my choice of another Special, Seafood Penne Pasta Diablo. However, not a fan of clams (except in their chowder) or mussels, I asked them to substitute extra shrimp and scallops, which was not a problem. The ginormous bowl came laden with shrimp, scallops, lobster, salmon, cod, roasted vegetables and herbs, and a crostini slab smothered in a spicy red diablo sauce. (I doggie-bagged more than half of it home.) A perfect meal to start the vacay!!
Our second night was a birthday celebration for me at the elegant Chatham Wine Bar & Grill. The evening commenced over a bottle of French Sauvignon and were treated to an amuse-bouche (below, top) along with crusty bread and a triangle of room temp butter topped with finishing salt.
Our first choices included, for me, Lobster Ravioli, forest mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, parmesan foam and a sourdough crumb topping. Mr. Russ selected their Carpaccio Panzanella with Snake River Farms wagyu beef on herbed focaccia and blistered heirloom tomatoes. We were getting into the groove for sure…
For main entrées we kept in theme with me choosing the Lobster and Scallops prepared with butter poached lobster tail, seared scallops, and broccolini over cavatelli with a garlic froth and lemon peel purée. And since Russ started with the wagyu beef, he continued with Wagyu Beef Duo consisting of Snake River Farms wagyu strip steak and braised short rib with rosti potatoes, onion, mustard and creamed kale. They were literally works of art on a plate! Even though it was my birthday, there was no room for dessert…
The next three nights we grilled at the cabin, two of which were out of necessity because of storm damage. During that time however, Lolly and Paul picked us up for lunch and drove us to a part of the Cape that dodged the bullet and still had restaurants up and running. That’s how we ended up at Land Ho in Orleans.
We arrived at the parking lot by 11:20 only to find out they don’t open until 11:30, but what’s 10 minutes when you’ve got all day? Apparently many others had the same idea because by the time they opened their doors, it was a packed house. To be honest, we were not sure why? While the interior was a visual trip of signs, license plates and chalkboards listing the day’s specials, the food was mediocre at best—except for my spinach salad with grilled chicken which was very good.
With electricity finally back two days later, the street now passable, and the temps in the mid-70’s with low humidity, Russ and I headed for the beach while Lolly and Paul decided to sightsee in town, with promises of meeting up for dinner at the Talkative Pig—like every other establishment, also located on Main Street, just in the other direction. It seems most of the restaurants in Chatham do not take reservations and this place was no exception, so we had about a 15 minute wait outside until our names were called.
Unfortunately, we’re not sure THEY had power back because it was quite hot inside. They must have been running their appliances on a back-up generator which didn’t have the capacity to also power the AC. Regardless, the place was packed.
Our dining guests chose the beautifully plated Bruschetta as their appetizer, while Russ was on a mission to try yet more Clam Chowder. It seems each couple was on the same page as far as entrées with Lolly and Paul opting for the Shrimp Scampi and Russ and I splitting a Wood-Fired Pizza, with the seafood in this case being half anchovies for Russ.
That evening we bid adieu to my sister and her husband as they were leaving the Cape early the next morning for adventures in other states as they made their way back to Pure Michigan. However, we welcomed Russ’ son Dan and his girlfriend Tina who trekked in from outside of Boston later that night.
After fetching our car, which had been towed off the Cape to Plymouth for repairs, we spent a lazy afternoon at Harding’s Beach. To celebrate Tina’s milestone birthday, we made a res at Pisces, which is located just across the street from The Talkative Pig. (The owner of our rental property highly suggested we dine there.)
We actually had made a reservation at Pisces for Tuesday evening with our other guests, but that’s the day the tornadoes hit, and most folks, and businesses were in survival mode so obviously that was a no-go.
However, so glad we got the chance to check it out—the food was fabulous!! After Dan and Tina ordered cocktails and Russ I selected a bottle of wine, we got down to business in making our appetizer and entrée selections. While doing so, we were served a basket of homemade focaccia accompanied by a delicious bean spread (which was so good we asked for seconds).
The Cheese Course was all that Tina needed to see. On a slab of slate were three handpicked cheeses each paired with an accompaniment, house made shortbread cookies and bruschettini. Dan was in a greens mode and chose The Pisces Salad, with crisp hearts of romaine tossed with house made Caesar dressing, toasted garlic croutons topped with marinated white anchovies and shaved ricotta salata.
Russ and I couldn’t resist the Fresh Maine Lobster and Corn Chowder finished with white truffle oil and chives. Simply Divine!
Our main courses, in no particular order: Tina (not a seaffood fan) = Grilled Statler Chicken marinated in herbs and garlic, served with black truffle sachetti in a wild mushroom Madeira cream sauce and sautéed garlicky spinach. Dan = Oysterman’s Spaghettini consisting of freshly shucked oysters in a light parmesan cream with bacon, spinach tossed with thin spaghetti and finished with garlic and butter toasted panko.
Russ = Mediterranean-Style Fisherman’s Stew brimming with sautéed shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, scallops and cod in a spicy lobster broth, finished with cilantro and fresh lime, and served with garlic and butter toasted panko. Lynn = Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon and Sea Scallops with pumpkin and butternut squash ravioli in a Thai curry coconut sauce topped with fresh asparagus.
Our meals were outstanding! And when we got the tab, our waitress told us that the rental owner called Pisces in advance and graciously picked up quite a substantial amount toward the total. WOW, what a pleasant surprise that was!
Instead of dessert at Pisces, the group wanted to get ice cream at the infamous Buffy’s (way on the other end of town, on Main Street of course). Apparently you haven’t lived until you stood in the long line at Buffy’s then enjoyed your treat on the pink bench…
Also, I need to give a shout-out to Mac’s Chatham Fish and Lobster joint practically just around the corner (on Main Street no less) from where we were staying. On both our first Friday night in town, and last, we enjoyed some wonderful seafood both as eat-in and take out. However, it seems on that first Friday, the entire Cape had the same idea because it took nearly an hour to wait in line to the ordering counter—there is no waiter service whether you sit inside or out. You even had to stand in that line if you called in an order!
But the food is worth it. Some of our delicacies included Local Cape Littlenecks, the best clams Russ has ever eaten; Fried Oyster Cobb Salad, delicious Garlic Fries, Lobster Tostada (which I ordered both times!), Pulled Chicken Banh Mi (Tina), and Blackened Tuna Sandwich.
OK, so maybe a few tornadoes wasn’t that bad after all. That unexpected punch from Mother Nature was softened by the wonderful food and gorgeous weather (for most of the trip). If you ever get onto, or back to, the Cape, I hope I’ve inspired you to try out a few of these splendid eating establishments. Just keep in mind that the ones that do take reservations, make them well in advance; while the others, be prepared to shoot the breeze with your friends while waiting for seats…