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A Vacation Adventure In West Dennis
On Cape Cod
by Don and Peg Doman
When I was making plans to visit Cape Cod, in my mind I always saw my goals as having fun . . . and eating lobster. In the end we had lots of fun and I had lots of lobster. Sorry, but we didn't eat the 17 pound lobster above. We were there for the funeral of many of his relatives, however.
For nearly ten years, our friend Al Burrage of West Seattle has been asking us to join him in his cottage in West Dennis at Cape Cod. We were finally able to schedule a trip to Massachusetts and not surprisingly, we loved it. Al rents his cottage, The Mainstay, out during the "season" but visits Cape Cod before the season and then again after the season to first prepare the cottage for guests, and then to close the cottage for the winter.
The cottage is a three bedroom home that features a glassed-in porch as well and an outside shower for getting rid of sand and salt before entering the house. The home has a crushed shell driveway and walkway. Typical of Cape Cod homes it has a cedar pole fence across the front and down one side of the yard. It's painted a fresh looking aqua with maroon shutters. One bedroom has twin beds and two bedrooms have a double bed. The kitchen has a dishwasher, range, refridgerator, and microwave. We can attest that it is very comfortable. The Mainstay was our center of operation, while we were on Cape Cod. Each day we would venture forth to places like Boston, Wood's Hole, Provincetown and then return to The Mainstay.
While Al lives in West Dennis he has plenty of opportunity to visit with people and scout out good places to go. Once we arrived Al kept up a steady litany of places we could go and things we could do and should do. Even when we ignored him he still made suggestions. We took him up on most of them . . . and never found a bad one.
One of the best places to find reasonable priced local goods is at the local thriftstore. We scored big at Fisherman's House Thrift Shop. Al bought a miniature brass cannon for $2.00, and Peg bought two framed handmade lace collars. She was thrilled. Al finally prevailed on a suggestion and took Peg to Cuffy's of Cape Cod. The two of them brought back purchases of a couple of hundred dollars . . . or so it seemed. Eventually we had to purchased another suitcase to accommodate souvineer shopping.
I managed to confine my souvineer shopping to The Music Meister and the Christmas Tree Shops. Al loves bargains. For the wives of my friends I bought Tee Pee Dreams herbal tea. I bought my golfing buddies a Cape Cod golf ball each and a box of rattlesnake repellant, which contained some odd little bundles of aromatic herbs and spices. I'm not sure what they do, but I never saw a snake nearby. I gave a box to the son of a friend on his way to a party in Seattle. He held one of the bundles up to his nose. I warned him, don't let the police search you. I don't know that either the herbal teas or the snakebite repellant had anything to do with local Indian heritage, but the gifts were bought in Massachusetts, which should count for something.
Generally, each day started off the same. I would rise earlier than Al or Peg. I would turn on the coffee maker and then sometimes go for a drive or a walk. Returning I would knock on Al's door and he would be up in a jiffy and ready to go. I knew we would probably have a big lunch and a big dinner, so breakfast I wanted to keep light . . . but within reason. My first breakfast in West Dennis was at the Good Friends Cafe, which is only a few yards from the local post office.
I never like to eat at national chains. I prefer local establishments. You never know what you'll find. Al had eaten at the restaurant before under its old name, but never at the Good Friends. I saw on the menu something called "grilled bread" and I asked the waiter, a young man named Thiago (I hope that's spelled correctly, I'm not sure with the accent and all) what it was. The bread is homemade by his father, who was a cook at a different restaurant before the purchase of the Good Friends where he is now cook and owner. It was excellent. A good hefty slice is cut and then grilled until warm and aromatic. It's served with a dollop of butter on top. There are three kinds of grilled bread: apple, cinnamon raisin, and cranberry. I ordered both the apple, and the cranberry. The bread was good without the butter. It was delightful with the butter. It was good dunked in coffee. It was good just plain grilled. I shared the apple grilled bread with Al, but never offered the cranberry to him. I REALLY liked the cranberry. Sometimes they use the bread in their French toast. I'll have to try that another time.
I ate at the Good Friends my last day in West Dennis by myself. Again, I just wanted a little something. I ordered the corn beef hash expecting something from a can. What I got was homemade corned beef and onions. I don't think there was even a potato anywhere in sight with it. While I was wolfing it down, I almost ordered some hashbrowns to mix in. When I walked in and sat down, Thiago asked if I was waiting for my friend. It had been a week since I had been there and he remembered me and Al. Now, that is why I like small, mom and pop, family run cafes if I can find them. Another meal or two and I would have been behind the counter helping my good friends Thiago and his papa out at their Good Friends Cafe. Very nice.
As we left the restaurant a couple drove up and asked us directions to Dennisport. Al complied. I think this is funny because as we drove all over the cape we often had to consult maps and get our bearings. Driving is a constant state of confusion on the Cape. When I left the restaurant a week later by myself I saw a man with his car parked and the hood up. The license plate showed that he had been an American POW (I'm guessing in World War II). I drove up beside him and asked if he needed assistance. He said he didn't need any help. He had the engine belts replaced and his wife complained that they were squeeking. The Vet, with two hearing aids, couldn't hear them, so he had to open the hood and stick his head down near the engine. We had a nice chat. If it hadn't been my last day, I would have begged him to tell me stories of his military career.
One of Al's favorite places to stop is the Music Meister. Owner Lew Taylor has access to DVDs galore. He only has some in stock, but can order almost whatever you need. Knowing how much I love classic TV and movies, Al wanted me to meet Lew. I was reluctant. Al told me what a great guy he was. He told me how Lew used to be on the rodeo circuit. I didn't care. I had other things to think about. I pulled into the driveway of the local library instead of the Music Meister because I saw that they had WiFi. Unfortunately, they were closed. I was disappointed. Al said, let's go visit Lew. He's the board president for the library . . . small towns . . . don't you just love 'em? We pulled in to the parking lot of The Music Meister. It was after closing hours. Lew and his wife Kathy, an expert seamstress, were still there.
Lew confessed that I could connect in the library parking lot with my laptop, but I didn't bring my laptop to Cape Cod. I was hoping for a WiFi Cafe. Lew said, "I don't think you'll find one on the Cape. We're kind of low-tech out here." Peg and I consoled ourselves by looking over some Celtic CDs that Lew had for sale. Peg bought three and headed towards the car to listen to Maura O'Connell (one of our favorites), while I talked to Lew about Celtic singers and groups. I went outside and Al and Peg were looking at a tree with long pods on it. None of us knew what it was.
Al went back in to talk to Lew. He didn't know what the tree was either. Later Kathy called with the name, Catalpa. We stopped in to see Lew several more times. Once before he opened, once after he closed and twice when he was actually open. He was always friendly and always helpful. I was looking for a song I had heard in the background in the feature film, Saint Ralph. It was a Canadian film and I thought the singer was probably Celtic. Lew searched and gave me the news: Jack Ingram from Texas. The song was Goodnight Moon.
Al keeps a car at West Dennis. He loves (and tolerates) the car and when he leaves for the season he parks it between trees so anyone wanting to steal it would have a tough time towing it away. I think Al's car is safe. The car has a few rust problems and is covered with pollen and mildew. Peg took a ride with Al in his Mercedes and she compared it to one of my favorite cars from our past, my old 1955 Rambler . . . it wasn't a compliment. Peg always referred to my '55 as "that dirty, ratty, stinky, loud little Ramber." You can take a bus out to the Cape, but I do suggest that you do need a car to take full advantage of the Cape's wonders. We rented a car from Alamo at Logan (the Boston Airport) and exceeded a thousand miles on it in just over a week.
As I mentioned, I felt it was my job and goal to eat lobster while in New England. Al took me to Swan River Seafood Restaurant and Fish Market. Their lobstermen catch fresh lobster daily on Cape Cod. You could eat at the restaraunt or buy from the market, but even at the market you could order your seafood cooked. For example you could tell them which lobster you wanted and tell them when you wanted it cooked. You could then stop in and pick it up and take it home thereby enjoying your lobster in your own kitchen or dining room. Swan River had a great selection of fresh seafood AND they also offered cooked lobster meat. While we were there it was priced at $29.95 a pound. This seemed a little pricey to me, but we went to some other market and they offered cooked lobster for $5.00 more per pound. I thought about the possibilities for several days and then we returned to Swan River on the way to lunch. I pointed out which tail I wanted and Peg did the same. She picked a smaller one . . . a much smaller one. I sat in the car and ate mine. Peg had two bites, shared a bite with Al and then took the rest of her lobster home. This was the second best lobster I had in Massachusetts. It was big, tender, and sweet. The snack costs us about twenty dollars, but it was well worth it.
The open sign seemed to always be in the window, but they were only open if the owner's green van was in the parking lot. The owners of Marathon Seafood (Peggy and Teddy Stoilas) are Greek, hence the name. Like many places on the Cape you order at the counter and then the food is brought to you. Since I had just eaten a lobster tail I chose the fried oysters. They were small, but there was a ton of them. Al chose his usuall scallops and Peg ordered lamb . . . she likes lamb and it's always best to order lamb at a Greek restaurant. If we had been back in Tacoma, Peg would have taken the bones home to make broth. As it was, the bones were picked pretty clean. Teddy and Peggy were friendly and happy to please.
I can generally find where I am going. If I've got a map I can get there. This philosophy doesn't lend itself to traveling on Cape Cod. Confusion reigns. For example the town of Dennis is made up of five villages: North Dennis, South Dennis, East Dennis, West Dennis, and Dennisport. Towns and villages blend together. We set off on an adventure one day to visit NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service
Northeast Fisheries Science Center at Woods Hole. We wanted to see the NOAA Aquarium. We knew where Woods Hole was. We could see Woods Hole on the map, but like NOAA on the ocean, we had to submerge ourselves in the countryside to find Woods Hole . . . only to find the aquarium closed.
We enjoyed our drive in the country. We saw many rock walls, which reminded us of Minute Men and Lexington and Concord. We saw many shops and Inns. The road through the country side dipped and climbed through lovely cool, green lush growth. The only frustration was the long search.
Once we found Woods Hole, we still had trouble finding the aquarium. We ended up following an arrow out of town half a mile into a residential area. We drove back and found the arrow again. It was on the building where the aquarium was! We peeked in the windows, and Peg walked out to the harbor behind the facility for a few pictures. It just never occured to us that an aquarium would be closed on Saturday. We should have visited the internet site for details. We enjoyed the ride back and ended the evening with a movie.
I don't know how many times I drove past this sign that greets visitors to West Dennis. The sign promises $12.99 lobster at Sundancer's. Everytime I saw it I thought to myself, we should eat there. They have a deck that looks out to the water. They have music several nights a week. They have a river cruise most afternoons. Oh, well. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices . . . and leave adventures for the next visit.
Al was determined that we would eat in one night. Like Peg and I, he loves to cook. Al was in charge of a simple meal. I bought salad makings, and some fresh greenbeans. We had prawns, scallops (cooked to absolute perfection), seafood pate, clam stuffing, rice and white wine. We stuffed ourselves silly. We ended up with scallops and prawns leftover. There was food everywhere. Al looked around and said, "It looks like the food fairy visited my home and puked." We sipped a little more wine. Two days later Al got up at five in the morning and made himself a rice and scallop snack . . . then went back to bed. He didn't join me that morning for breakfast out.
I really loved the mornings on Cape Cod. The bogs and estuaries change with the tides and the fog. I would visit the same places day after day and was never disappointed.
I was also rarely disappointed in our choices for meals. Al and I dropped Peg off at a laundromat one morning and then returned as she was finishing folding her clothes. There are two shops nearby we decided to visit and tucked in by them was a little cafe. The waitress was funny and friendly. The food was excellent. I had a tuna Ceasar salad. I asked if it was from a tuna fillet or just out of a can. "Tuna salad made from a can," was my answer. It was excellent. I might make it on my own one day. Al had a Reuben sandwich on a "bulky" roll. He had to ask about the bulky. It was chewey and yet soft. The corned beef and cheese spilled out. He managed to eat it all.
It's always tough to live up to high expectations. Al highly recommended Captain Parker's Pub for dinner. He raved about it. We saved it for our final meal in Cape Cod. The food was good, but the restuarant was loud, we were seated by the door, and the waitress was abrupt. She also forgot to serve us bread with our meal. On the plus side, however the food was good. I followed Al's advice and ordered the seafood pasta. The seafood included lobster, prawns and mussels in a heavy cream sauce. I wouldn't have thought the mussels would work with the cream sauce, but they were excellent. I had to walk over to the service counter and retrieve a table dispenser of cheese. This irritated me. Al's scallops were great. He knows what he likes. Peg ordered mussels, which surprised me. Like mine they were wonderful with a nice broth. I had to catch the waitress, though and ask for bread, so Peg could enjoy sopping up the broth with the bread. This is one of the joys of ordering mussels or steamed clams. Broth and bread are major requirements. The three of us shared an apple crisp with vanilla ice cream.
After finishing our meals at Captain Parker's Pub, we walked behind to the parking lot to the ZooAquarium. Peg sat on Flipper to rest in the cool evening breeze. Our eight days on Cape Cod had worn us out. Even though we had cut our activities to almost nothing for the last day, we were all still tired. I think we were all a little sad that it was almost over as well.
We returned to The Mainstay and packed our bags. I dropped off to sleep about eleven. My alarm was set for 3:30 AM. We left West Dennis about 4:15 AM and left the Cape in the driving rain. We left Cape Cod, but our memories will take us back anytime.
I think Al was a little lonely when he woke up to an empty house (I think there was still a full refridgerator, however) that Thursday morning. We hadn't even picked up our baggage at Sea-Tac when we had a call from Al on Peg's cell phone. The flight on Alaska went well. Excellent service from friendly people . . . just like most of our stay in West Dennis on Cape Cod.