Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: A Cape Cod Innkeeper’s Innsider’s Guide to “Getting out There”
The questions over the Inn’s telephone come in all forms, but our favorite is always “How far is Barnstable from Cape Cod?” It’s a funny question, but fairly typical for someone completely new to our area. As an Innkeeper it’s incredibly fulfilling to help orchestrate a visitor’s virgin visit. Cape Cod has only one chance to make a good first impression, and we make sure it surpasses their expectations (of course, phone queries like that one gives one the feeling that there may not be many expectations…).
As hoteliers and innkeepers we point out the nearest restaurants and the best beaches. We’ll dole out fists full of discount whale watching coupons and recommend the ice cream parlors. But ask yourself this…when you are traveling do you want to just stick to the main attractions, or do you want to get a bit more “down and dirty” and off the beaten path?
Make no mistake. Restaurants, beaches and ticketed tours are an essential part of Cape Cod, but when you get to London do you spend all of your time at Piccadilly Circus and Harrods, or do you seek out an out-of-the-way tavern for a Bangers & Mash and local chatter? Traveling through a small Mexican village do you pass the local farmers market to get to the nearest supermercado chain? We as travelers want to experience something different, and perhaps get our picture taken doing what the locals do (with perhaps the exception of voodoo bloodletting with the African Zooti tribe or outrunning bulls in Pamplona—I’ll just grab a post card, thank you).
So what else can we offer besides tours, shopping, beaches and restaurants? Take half of the name Cape Cod. Cod fish is essentially what put us on the map! Where do these famous fish come from? Who brings them in? Everyone loves lobster (with the exception of the author who believes they’re basically tarantulas with strong lungs) but does the thought of how they get from the ocean floor to your plate ever cross your mind, or is the only thing on your mind “more butter, please”?.
Visitors head for where the food is, but what about where it’s caught or grown? With guests bound for Chatham I always mention the Chatham Fish Pier. I tell the guest that if they’re lucky they might see a fishing boat coming in with a full load (the “lucky” part is meeting the fisherman—many of them enjoy sharing stories and fish recipes). After mentioning the circus of seals that follow the fishing boats in, the guest’s day is generally set into motion. At the day’s end, it’s not uncommon to find them standing in the common area wearing their crisp, new Black Dog sweatshirt, holding bags from “Soft As A Grape”, and talking to the other guests…about the fish pier!
Recently we had a couple visiting from the mid-west whose mission was to suck down as many oysters as possible. “We can’t get decent oysters at home. We had Wellfleet oysters years ago—I can’t remember where we were at the time—but I can’t forget those oysters.” I asked them if they were interested in spending a morning working along side an oyster farmer and you would have thought I’d just ask them if he’d like to have brunch with Bono. “We can DO that?!” he asked excitably. I told them how my partner Ali and I had spent an afternoon “working” alongside John & Stephanie Lowell, the proprietors of East Dennis Oyster Farm (I put “working” in quotation marks because it was one of our most pleasurable Cape Cod memories to date).
With words like “antsy”, “itchy” and “bored” at the top of our list when being coaxed to go the beach, it was a nice alternative for us. We sampled oysters and learned about farming standing in ankle deep water, enjoying a cloudless sky and a gentle north-westerly breeze. John refers to this place as “working in the prettiest office in the world”.
Putting together an outing involving guests, oyster farmers, times and tides and sometimes feel as challenging as landing a helicopter on a lawn chair, but if you catch it right your guest will have the experience of a lifetime.
The folks at The Oyster Company Raw Bar and Grille in Dennisport have recently taken over the yolk of that helicopter and now feature organized tours of their oyster farm and have a calendar of days and times on their website. You, along with a dozen or so other pleasure-seekers are escorted out to the farm-- a remote and breathtaking part of Cape Cod Bay, and standing in anything from soft sand to knee-deep water you’ll learn all about the art of farming these sweet little badboys. You’ll have the opportunity to pick a half dozen oysters, and followed by a quick drive to The Oyster Company you’ll be furnished with your own oyster knife and gloves (which you can take home) and taught the proper way to open an oyster.
Assuming you’ve paid attention to your instructor and are not on your way to the ER, the moment has finally arrived…Take your oysters, grab your reserved seat at the bar, decorate them (the oysters, not the seat) with either cocktail sauce, mignonette—or nothing at all—and enjoy your freshly harvested oysters with a trio of carefully paired wines!
The Cape has countless outdoor activities such as this—some organized, and some not. Organized places are a breeze for you or your guest to find. We sell bars of locally made Summerhouse Soaps. Last month we had a guest purchase every bar of our Lavender Rosemary because she was, and I quote, “a lavender maniac”. She said that everything in her closet was lavender colored and that her dog was named Lavender…and then something about a room in her house dedicated to the herb (the details get a bit vague at this point while I’m mentally changing the emphasis of her self-issued title from “lavender” to “maniac” and praying for a distraction—a phone call, bees, fire, anything.) At my mention of the Cape Cod Lavender Farm in Harwich her eyes roll back into her head like a feeding shark. After fetching her a cold glass of water I handed her directions and off our lavender maniac went—dressed in her best purple pant suit with the scent of the herb wafting behind her like she was some bizarre Lavender Fairy from Lavenderville. As a guest service that one was a no-brainer, but to her it was a home run. D
Discovering our many family friendly farms such as The Cape Farm and Cranberry Company (also in Harwich) and the Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth (to name a couple), you don’t need an Innkeeper to help you get there, but sometimes guests might just need that little nudge to get them thinking beyond Cape Cod = Beach + Shopping.
Some culinary or agricultural guest adventures might not be wrapped up in a tidy package of website hours and Google maps. Veronica Worthington’s Herb Farm in West Dennis doesn’t come onto the radar screen quite as easily. You may not know her farm, but if you eat at many of the finer restaurants on Cape Cod you know her work…Mache, Mustard, Oakleaf, Squash, Chicory, Romaine…and she can teach the most educated horticulturist a thing or two on whatever she’s growing. When stopping by her farm one day she asked me “Do you know the history of lettuce?” My eyes instantly started darting from side to side looking for the quickest path to my car without trampling the Nasturtium, but just as quickly I was drawn into the conversation and eventually shared some of it with our guests. I have to admit, however, that sending someone-- a guest for instance--out to the fields to learn a from a farm girl like Veronica is hands down more entertaining than hearing it second hand from an innkeeper.
So, how does a concierge or innkeeper find out more about the places that might not have brochures on every brochure rack or big, goofy arrows pointing to their location on cartoon maps? You just have to get out there! Our farmers markets are a great place to start. You’ll run into local bee keepers selling honey, a Cape Cod lobsterman, a cranberry or blueberry grower, and various other artisans and farmers. They all share a willingness to leave a remote field, bog, smoke house or fishing boat--for at least one day a week--and step into the social scene to share some stories, information and recipes.
Many of our local growers and producers know that there are a massive amounts of visitors (many who now label themselves as “Foodies”), and are willing to take a few minutes of their day with your guests--providing you call ahead (I just heard a dozen farmers channeling me just now…providing they call ahead—PLEASE write that). Edible Cape Cod Magazine has a tent at the Mid-Cape Farmers Market in Hyannis and are a wealth of information on “visitor happy” agricultural destinations.
Another way is to get out there and shake hands with your local chefs. We recently sent a family of 5 out on a fishing charter and all came back with their own fish—freshly filleted on the boat as they pulled into harbor. “That’s terrific Dana!” I said to the wife, “Let us know if you need anything for grilling.” By her reaction you would have thought I told her that her favorite Chia Pet came down with a case of crab grass. “It’s my last day of vacation”, She groaned, “I can’t bare the thought of cooking.” I immediately called Bob Calderone, the chef/owner of The Barnstable Tavern. Not skipping a beat, Bob agreed to turn their catch into dinner that evening. Bob is one of several chefs we know on Cape Cod who will accommodate a family arriving with salty hair, fish in hand, and an I conquered the Cape waters glow across their faces (wait a minute…I hear more voices...ah yes, providing they call ahead). That same day our guest’s bounty was treated to a delicious fresh herb and white wine funeral, I got a bear hug from Dana, and they had a memory they will never forget!
Every year in September Cape Cod celebrates something incredibly important and unique only to our area. The Cape Land and Sea Harvest (CLASH) is a 4-day Cape-wide event that envelopes the very essence of culinary and agricultural tourism. It’s a celebration of our farms, herb gardens, cranberry bogs, breweries, wineries and restaurants--and the folks who keep them thriving. It’s a chance for farmers, growers and food artisans to say, “Come on over to my place”.
CLASH brings in guests from around the country, and as innkeepers not only is it a great marketing opportunity for room sales, it’s also a great time for us to “get out there” and find out who can host the next traveler we get who might just want to experience something more. It’s a weekend to visit your local restaurants that are featuring a “grown locally” menu especially tailored for CLASH. These are the chefs who will be the most willing to cook your guest’s fish, or create a salad with their freshly harvested greens and vegetables.
To add culinary and agricultural adventures to your guest’s itinerary all you need is a passion for the hospitality industry. The recourses are already there! Allow yourself some time to do a bit of incredibly fun research, and then enjoy adding a whole new dimension to your guest’s visit. Get them to experience a large piece of what the Cape is celebrating these days. So get out there, and start enjoying Cape Cod!
Tom Dott is co-owner of the Lamb and Lion Inn in Barnstable. Prior to moving to Cape Cod he and his partner ran a 4-Diamond restaurant that specialized in “all things local”. Tom promotes “culinary adventures” to Inn guests, is a regular contributor to Edible Cape Cod magazine, and won an Eddy Award for Best Feature Length Editorial in 2007.Back to Cape Cod Travel Guide Stories