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Looking for Some Flavor, Outer Cape

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Had lunch at Bookstore twice recently and it was not good..every dish was kind of tired, as was the ambiance and the staff..kind of worn out. The bartender poured so much hot pepper or tabasco in the bloody maries they were undrinkable. We also had dinners at Mac's Shack (forgettable) and the "under new management" Winslow Tavern (regrettable, despite glowing review in the Cape Codder). Ditto a recent disappointing meal at Blackfish. It seems like many of my favorite spots on the (Outer) Cape never, or rarely, change their menu during the entire season and by the end of the summer everyone on the staff, from the front to the back of the house is so bored and can't wait until they close..

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  1. I had a very tasty clam roll at PJ's in Wellfleet the other day. And, the staff was very cheerful…

    1. What you describe is often typical this time of year. Keep in mind that most of the places you mention have been open since April and have just gone through a very demanding 12 or more weeks of massive crowds, demanding (and often grumpy) tourists, and know that relief is coming soon after Columbus Day when they close for the season. Staffs are often stretched thin from the week before Labor Day when the college kids leave back for school, often without notice. I would say that staffs aren't bored exactly, just burned out. It was this way in the 70s when I worked at a few of the better Cape restaurants, and is still true today. Changing a menu in the midst of the summer madness is a bad idea for any restaurant. Just the nature of a seasonal resort area I guess. That said, not every place is as you describe so it's not fair to paint everyone with a broad brush.

      12 Replies
      1. re: CapeCodGuy

        I am surprised but so many bad experiences...why not try Sol? Or head down to Pisces in Chatham (not outer Cape but you have exhausted all recs I would have made ...)....maybe P Town to Red Inn or Victors?

        1. re: CapeCodGuy

          Sorry, there is no excuse for poor service and food that you pay good money for.

          1. re: chervil9

            She said the service was "bored" or "worn out", not poor. And she's bored with the menus as they haven't changed all summer. Restaurants are under no obligation to change up the menu in their busy season. To do so would be a disaster. Waitpeople and chefs are human beings. You try going balls to the walls for 16 weeks straight smiling at people who demand the world and you'd burn out too.

            I once had a customer pick up his prime rib by the bone and shake in in the air (bloodying my white starched shirt in the process) screaming, "I'm important in NY! I DEMAND service right NOW!" Sure, not typical behavior, but not too far from the norm in peak season either. You would think most people would be easy going and relaxed on vacation. It's often just the opposite. I always cut people slack this time of year. After Columbus Day, the year round places get back into their groove while the seasonal ones are all closed.

            1. re: CapeCodGuy

              Wellt " tired...undrinkable...forgettable....regrettable..disappointing.", implies much more than just "bored" servers.

              1. re: chervil9

                can't please everyone I guess.

                1. re: CapeCodGuy

                  Well, what are restaurants in business for, if not to please, stimulate and excite their clientele? If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen, as they say. The restaurants I was referring to, with the exception of the Bookstore which used to be an exceptional pub, are high-end. Not to change your menu for 6 or 7 months is not acceptable, when seasons are spanned. If you are only in business for half the year it seems you ought to be able to take the pressure and give pleasure, because that is what you do! The customers who come in to splurge in September or October are no less worthy than the ones who came in April or May..
                  It's sad to me that a place like Cape Cod, endowed as it is with the bounty of sea and land, cannot match the beautiful ingredients with cooking that is as creative and inspired as one would hope. I'm sorry, but the bar seems to be set a little bit on the low side.
                  "Seasonal" is not an excuse, it's a challenge. There is a seasonal restaurant in Rockland Maine called Primo that is probably the best in all of New England. It's so good you practically have to reserve a year in advance!
                  Phelana, we went to Sol many times this year and had some wonderful meals and a lot of fun. I guess we do go out quite a bit and love to try new places as well as frequenting the ones we love. I was lamenting, truly disappointed in the meals we have had lately, wondering if any other hounds felt the same way or not.

                  1. re: alfresca

                    Try Fin .. You won't be disappointed..

                    1. re: alfresca

                      You're just learning now that the majority of our 1,100+ independently owned restaurants are uninspired and mediocre? That fact hasn't changed in decades and likely never will. I wish we could attract the talented chefs that work in NYC or even Boston, but we don't.

                      There ARE a few gems. But every now and again even the best ones have an off day. Demand perfection every time and you're guaranteed dissatisfaction. Too many disappointments? Then stop patronizing. It's an easy formula. The only high end restaurant that I read about in your post was Blackfish, and yours is the first negative report of this season. It's reasonable to chalk that up to an off night.

                      Year round restaurants will often change their menus for the seasons. Seasonal places rarely do as they struggle just to do a decent job with what they have. Just how it is here. Ever been to 28 Atlantic? It's seasonal. The menu doesn't change. I'll put it up against anything in New England. But that doesn't invalidate my point. See how easy that game's played?

                      1. re: CapeCodGuy

                        What are Mac's Shack and Winslow Tavern? And PB Bistro which I didn 't mention in this post because we hadn't been there yet, but that was the worst though for different reasons than the ones I mentioned.

                        1. re: alfresca

                          Mac Shack does a nice job on sushi, albeit nothing truly extraordinary. The rest of the menu is above average, but higher prices doesn't necessarily equate to fine dining. I guess compared to Arnold's or Moby Dick's it is, but as compared to 28 Atlantic, or say, The Regatta in Cotuit, it is decidedly not. Winslow's Tavern I admit I have never patronized, but I also have never seen it rec'd here as fine dining and a quick perusal of their menu online, with burgers and lobster rolls, grilled sword and the like, it too appears above average instead of high end. PB Bistro? First time you've brought this up in this discussion. Never been to dinner there. All reports have been dreadful so I won't go hoping for a pig in lipstick experience.

                          Bagleman's post below makes my points better than I did. He's 100% spot on.

                      2. re: alfresca

                        "Well, what are restaurants in business for, if not to please, stimulate and excite their clientele?"

                        The KEY word is BUSINESS. The restaurants are in business to make profiy. If they can please, stimulate and excite their clientele, that's wonderful for the clientele, BUT not the reason to be in business.

                        McDonald's certainly is a sucessful business. Does it please, stimulate and excite their clientele? I think not unless the client if a three year old getting a Happy Meal. But they serve a purpose, fast feeding the masses with standardized offerings and certain standards.

                        You appear to be a local on the Cape. I used to be a home owner on the Cape who spent about 6 weeks per year there, never more than one week at a time. You want seaonal restaurants that are open only 6 months to change menus. This is unrealistic. The help at these seasonal restaurants are of a limited supply. Some are college kids who can't arrive before Mid-May annd bail out before Labor Day. Years ago there were plenty of Irish workers who had no language barrier. The last few years we used our home in Hyannis, the restaurants were largely staffed with Eastern European workers with a poor command of the language.
                        Over more than 50 years vacationing on the Cape, I'm am sorry to say the on-Cape workers are a sorry lot and unreliable. They have a bias against the tourists and are surly hospitality workers and unreliable. They can't really afford to live on the Cape and give great service on 6 months' wages per year.

                        And most importantly, to tourists come and go and the menu looks fresh in September to the Labor Day Guest who was not on the Cape for July 4th. My wife and kids woud often want that same meal Columbus Day that they had when we were on the Cape Memorial Day. Returning tourists have the expectation that it will be available and are highly disappointed when it's not.

                        Yes, year round Cape foodies may suffer, but the seasonal restaurants on the Cape make their money from the tourists, not the residents. If the tourists are not satisfied, that seasonal restaurant will not reopen next May.

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          ditto MVI

            2. We just got back from our annual September trip to Eastham, and found the opposite of the OP's experience, for the most part. Even at the shackiest of clam shacks, service was friendly and efficient, with the exception of a very bored - looking hostess at Pearl.

              As for the menus- I might feel differently if I were a year 'rounder, but for many of the places we go to more or less regularly(at least during the 3-5 weeks we spend on the Cape each year), we often order favorites, but usually something on the specials menu appeals if not.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JenJeninCT

                Good post. I think what often happens is people coming down from the cities often have expectations that they should get similar quality of food/prep/service as they get at home. It just isn't possible, with a few exceptions, in a seasonal locale such as Cape Cod. I too wish it were otherwise, especially after returning from a few great meals in Boston or NYC, but I've experienced the local scene long enough to know better.