Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Find Your Slice of the (Clam) Pie in Cape Cod

Every year, my friend Laura and I take a weekend trip to a place we’ve never been. Last year, it was the capital of cool: Austin, Texas. This year it was the capital of summer: Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

You could say our theme is simply a “girl’s getaway.” But more accurately, it could be called a “girls’ gastronomic fling.” From start to finish, our itinerary is dictated by where and what we will be eating. And as a requirement, we do not consider the impact on our waistlines. That’s life back home – and this is a fling, after all!

Given that we’re both known for having a raging sweet tooth, our first stop was naturally Four Seas Ice Cream, known for its homemade Peppermint Stick ice cream. If you can think of something that tastes more like summer than this winsome pink scoop, I’d like to hear it. But trust me – you won’t. It was the most refreshing thing ever.

Unfortunately, it only made us hungrier, though. After dipping our toes into the surprisingly warm waters of the Nantucket Sound, we made our way around Lewis Bay to The Raw Bar (not the famed original location in Mashpee, but the Hyannis “Hyline Location,” referring to where you catch the high-speed ferry to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard). Our mission: to consume what I’d read was “the best lob-stah roll on the Cape.”

Now, everyone has an opinion on that, but the lobster roll here is known for two things: a ridiculous amount of fresh lobster meat and a hefty price ($25). I can confirm both. But as I’d come to find out, it’s also known for its “purist’s” presentation: the only ingredient beyond lobster and the roll? Mayo. That’s it.

If you love the taste of lobster unadorned, this could be your dream meal. For me, though, it was incredibly bland. I mean, would a few fresh herbs mixed in with the mayo hurt? Or what about a little butter on the roll? (You see buttered rolls in other places, but “not on Cape Cod,” a local told me, indignant at the very suggestion.) I tried to feel nonchalant about disliking a signature item – but I was now a little desperate to try another.

Despite the rough start, it wasn’t long before I’d happily devoured some of the other favorite eats and drinks on the Cape. In touristy, gay-friendly Provincetown (aka “P-town”), prior to an unexpectedly hardcore bike ride through sand dunes, humid forests and cranberry bogs, we wolfed down all manner of lobster delights at the famous Lobster Pot at the wharf. Lobster bisque. Lobster ravioli. Lobster salad. All very tasty.

In Chatham, a charming, walkable village on the Lower Cape that was our misty home base for the weekend, the non-stop tour of Cape specialties included the stuffed quahog (a yummy clam appetizer baked with cheese on the shell) at The Red Nun (named after a type of channel marker, not a pious woman), the crab cakes, calamari and clam chowder at the boisterous Chatham Squire, a local institution that’s one of the few places to stay open late, and a cold pint of Cape Cod Red Ale and Wachusett Blueberry Ale, micro-brewed locally and in Western Mass, respectively.

The piece de resistance, however, was the Clam Pie at the unbearably cute Marion's Pie Shop. This may not sound appetizing to you. It didn’t to me, either. But after ingesting way too much saltwater taffy (in flavors ranging from Beach Plum to Cranberry) from the Chatham Candy Manor, I wanted something that wasn’t sweet.

Trying to look past the beguiling pastries and fruit pies, I asked Marion what pie put her on the map. “Clam pie,” she said. No hesitation. Huh. I bought one, figuring I’d bring it back on the plane for my seafood-loving partner, Kevin. And I got an Orange Citrus Roll, the largest I’d ever seen, to split with Laura. (Some things, especially a sweet tooth, never change.)

Little did I know how good it would smell heating up that little six-inch Clam Pie in the oven – or how the thick, buttery crust would be among the best I’d ever tasted. As for the insides? Perfectly seasoned, nicely textured (no chewiness to the clams) and not a whiff of fishiness. For someone who only came to appreciate seafood in her late twenties thanks to an early hang-up about “fishiness,” I was beginning to truly believe Kevin when he said fishiness only happens when fish isn’t fresh. I tried more seafood dishes in a 48-period in Cape Cod than probably ever in my life, and not one of them was “fishy.”

As if I need anything else to make the place seem dreamier. As a parting image, check out the little outdoor seating area in the back of our B&B when we arrived. The couple had two champagne flutes in hand, as if ready for their photo shoot. Life is just too good here.

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