A Week in Eastham, Cape Cod (Part 1: Arnold's)
When my wife and twin sons and I moved to Chicagoland from New Jersey in 2002, we vowed that we’d make it back to the Cape every other year. Well, we were true to our word from July 30th to August 5th, marking our second vacation to Cape Cod in four years.
Our first trip together to the Cape was in ’93, and since then we never thought twice about the five-hour-or-so hike in the summer up to New England. The Jersey Shore, less than an hour away, simply never appeared on our radar screen. Now we're 1,000 miles away and can't imagine ever giving up the Cape for good.
Even before kids, we always played the Cape casually, hitting the beach most days, doing a Route 6A shopping day, walking downtown Chatham one day, catching a CCBL game in Orleans or Y-D, maybe taking the ferry to the Vineyard (but often maybe not), maybe taking a quick flight out of Hyannis to Nantucket, (but often maybe not) ... and ALWAYS enjoying the heck out of our favorite seafood shack, Arnold’s off Route 6 in Eastham. I swear, one week we ate every lunch and dinner exclusively at Arnold’s!
After all these years for us, Arnold’s is still our ace. The nightly lines running out the door last week proved it. We treated ourselves to a lunch and two dinners there this year: My wife tallied two 2-pound lobsters and a lobster roll; I had a lobster roll, a fried seafood platter, and one night had a dozen oysters on the half shell; one meal we shared whole fried clams (simply devine) and another we had a small box of those giant, juicy fried scallops ...
Our twin 5-year-olds loved the clam strips, the clam chowder, the grilled cheese sandwiches. Indeed, the clam chowder is still as good as it gets at a Cape shack. The lobster chowder is worth a try, too. In fact, after a couple spoonfuls of trying mine, one of the twins declared the lobster chowder was better than the clam.
The onion rings are still to die for. Just amazing.
I’ve read two or three times on message boards how some people knock Arnold’s off their list because the food is “too greasy.” That’s never really been an issue for us. In fact, I’m trying to think of ANY fried seafood shack that doesn’t stain the paper plate at least a little bit. I mean, c’mon pal, it’s a friggin’ seafood shack, not the dining room of the Chatham Bars Inn ...
It doesn’t matter how long the line is at Arnold’s – there is always an open table for you by the time your food is ready. Always. The same is not true up Route 6 at Moby Dick’s in Wellfleet (which is a tremendous seafood shack in its own right. At Moby’s you wait in a long line to order your food, then you pick it up on a tray and carry it to a table. Once you get to the table, a waitress checks up on you. Arnold’s is the classic you-get-your-food, you-eat-your-food, you-throw-away-your-garbage-in-a-trash-can-when-you’re-done joint) ...
Two Arnold’s criticisms worth noting: 1) I remember not being thrilled at all the year (was it 2000 or 2001?) they added calamari rings to the fried seafood platter. The following year they were gone, and I was pleased. But this summer the squid returned – rings AND legs. Hey, I like calamari as much as the next guy. But on the Cape, plenty of folks get irritated by filler. 2) I’ve read and heard people say Arnold’s might just serve the best lobster roll on the Cape. Unfortunately, it’s not true. It was probably the same year the squid reared its ugly head when Arnold’s switched from hot dog rolls to larger sesame-seeded sub buns for its lobster rolls. The lobster salad is scrumptious as always – delicate pink and red meat with a touch of mayo, nothing else. But all that bread, plus two decent-sized leaves of romaine lettuce really gets in the way. Let’s just say we’re hoping for the day they switch back to the basic hot dog roll.
Great report, except for the information about Moby Dick's. We have been eating there many years, including three times this year, two weeks ago. The way it works is you wait on a long line, ( they sometimes come around with treats, such as clams) you place your order, giving them your name,you bring your chowder and drinks to the table, if you want them first, and then you are shown to a table. There is never a wait for a table, because the long line regulates the flow into the two dining rooms. Once seated, the (friendly) wait staff brings you your food. Almost always, one of the owners comes around and checks on your table to how you are enjoying your meal and to see if you neeed anything else. They will chill any wine or beer that you bring in, but most important their food in delicious. Some years they have seemed to be more expensive than other seafood shacks, but they seemed to be pretty close this year in price to the other similar places. The lobster were a little expensive, if I recall. Some of the things we ordered were the whole belly fried clams, fried scallops, and a broiled scallop and other fish dinners. My husband does not like lobster and I didn't get one because I am a very thorough lobster eater and I am usually still picking away at it when everybody at the table is finished and waiting for me. Oh , also the staff at Moby Dick's also cleans the table, so you are assured of sitting at a clean and not sticky table. We used to eat at Arnold's. but haven't for many years. A favorote of ours for years used to be the Clam Shack on rte 6 on the road to Lecount Hollow Road, which has been gone now for several years. We used to love the Indian pudding and slice of watermelon that they served with dinners.
Leslie, I'm glad to hear my last experience at Moby Dick's, in August of '04, was an anomaly. The place was so packed that night, the four of us had to stand around with our drinks and steaming food on our trays for a good five minutes as we waited for an open table. Moby's gets packed for good reason -- it's a Cape landmark with very loyal followers.
Thanks for your feedback.
ML, you're klling me, just killing me. We haven't been able to get to the Cape for a few years now, and I've been jonesing for Arnold's fried clams to the point that I've been dreaming about them and actually considered making a day trip (9 hours driving in total!)....Sigh. We've always tried to go there at an "off" time, like 3 pm. There's still a line, but not so bad and it moves quickly. Too greasy? Well, to be honest, that's kind of the point...As for Moby Dick's, the food isn't as good as Arnold's, and I find the set-up, as described above, annoying.
I enjoyed your post. I really like Arnold's clam chowder. I've never had their lobster roll, I'm thinking it's because they use mayo...I'm a butter gal! And I agree that their fried seafood does not have a greasy taste at all!
I also like Moby Dick's. I think that has more of the feel people want to eat seafood in. More of a shack feeling for those who haven't been there. But they keep it impeccably clean.