The outlying towns of Cape Cod are an environment far removed from New York City. There are trees instead of skyscrapers, calm instead of chaos, the lazy chirp of crickets in place of car horns. While the Outer Cape (anything above the elbow) may seem too rugged trip for the civilized city slicker, especially when it comes to food, fear not — there’s no reason to stock up on a weekend’s worth of bland sandwich makings from the Hyannis Trader Joe’s before departing the Lower Cape. Throughout Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, and Orleans — the five towns that dot the great expanse of National Seashore — there are plenty of places where you can get a taste of the traditional and the innovative, the country cooking and the New England refinement that define Cape Cod.
Mornings, often cool and cloudy on the Cape, provide more reason than normal for a piping hot cup of coffee and a pastry. Provincetown, the last port up the isle, boomed with commerce in the 19th century, and that influence can be spotted — and sampled — right off the pier at Provincetown Portuguese Bakery. The old family recipes here include a gluttonous and glorious fried confection called Malassada, a huge deep-fried disk of dough sprinkled with a light sugary coating that eats like a yeast doughnut — sweet and chewy. For a spicy twist on your average egg, cheese, and meat breakfast sandwich, try the Portuguese Extravaganza. The extravagance? Linguiça, the spicy cured pork sausage in place of ham or bacon nestled between fluffy eggs and toasted sweet bread.
In Wellfleet, you’ll find vestiges of a colonial past and historical markers around every corner, but this haven for oysters is not immune from sweeping culinary trends. Case in point: Sun Bird Food Truck, open for lunch every day off of Highway route 6, is a departure from the tried and true lobster rolls and clam bakes of yesteryear. Sun Bird serves local fish tacos with citrus-y coleslaw, a roasted pork shoulder sammy with pickled onions, and greens picked at a nearby farm down the Cape, as well as daily specials. Coming in the fall is the brick-and-mortar Sunbird Kitchen in Orleans.
Nearly every restaurant you pass along Route 6 claims it serves the best seafood on the Cape, and you’ll spy enticing early-bird specials and lobster roll deals, too. Only a select few are actually worth writing home about. Among them are Arnold’s in Eastham and Catch of the Day in Wellfleet. Arnold’s was originally a drive-in clam bar, and it has the no-fuss attitude you associate with the beach. Paper plates on red cafeteria trays are piled high with fresh oysters, clams, and some of the crispiest onion rings around. Catch of the Day sits off the main road and is a seafood market as well as a restaurant. A good place for a happy hour, it serves half-price buckets of shellfish from 3 to 5 p.m, crunchy fried seafood sandwiches for lunch, and, of course, the classic lobster dinner (bib included). Best of all, you can don your cut-off jean shorts and t-shirt, a combo that is practically mandatory as seasonal dress here and totally acceptable dinner outing attire.
Orleans is home to three ice cream shops, and the post dinner sweet treat is something of a Cape tradition. The Ice Cream Cafe does soft-serve and “hard serve” — homemade scoopable ice cream. It also has non-dairy options for the lactose intolerant people in your party, and low-fat, non-sugar options for those watching the waistline. This place reeks of old Cape flavor with banana splits, Adirondack chairs on the lawn outside, and a cherry on top of every hot fudge sundae.
As far as after-dinner drinking goes on the Outer Cape, things are pretty quiet, with one big exception. Provincetown has a thriving gay nightlife scene with cabaret shows nearly every night of the week in the summer and plenty of dance clubs and bars. The Atlantic House, which local lore has it is the oldest gay bar in the country, was opened as a tavern in 1798, and has now expanded to multiple spaces, including one area with a fireplace and jukebox, a dance floor, a large outdoor patio, a leather bar, and a restaurant.