Bear in the Boots Gastropub
On a corner of Main Street in Falmouth, a team of fun-loving foodies go the extra mile to create innovative comfort food that wouldn’t be out of place in trend-setting Brooklyn.
The chalkboard sign above the warm, open dining room says it all. “We’re not making rocket science here, we’re making good food done right.” Alongside a quote from luminary chef Daniel Boulud, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Instagram-handle attribution is the next Anthony Bourdain. But as you tuck in to your meal, you’ll realize that the down-to-earth words from Joe Ellia, executive chef at Bear in Boots Gastropub, ring true with every bite.
Known for comfort food like fried buttermilk chicken and Bavarian bratwurst and pretzels, the Gastropub keeps things interesting with “what the chef ’s having” daily specials and a taco that changes weekly. While the menu tilts toward the carnivorous side, it also features vegetarian-friendly ramen, seasonally-inspired salads and pasta bowls, as well as scallops and swordfish. For traditionalists, there are burgers and pizzas, but that’s going to be a milk-fed beef patty with jerk sauce or a duck prosciutto pizza with shaved Brussels sprouts and rosemary. The chefs also say they’re happy to oblige customers requesting something totally unique. They like a challenge.
But it’s not just the innovative menu. What sets Bear in Boots Gastropub apart is that almost everything, from the buns to the ketchup to the ricotta to the microgreens, are made (or grown) from scratch, in-house. Whatever can’t be made on the premises or in the small garden out back is sourced as closely as possible, meaning that the chefs go on weekly expeditions to the Falmouth Farmers’ Market (in season), order directly from local farms like Cape Cod Organic Farm, and get meat and cheeses from purveyors that source only within New England, such as from Maine Family Farms. Animals are purchased half or whole and butchered by chef de partie Niklas Bruce, who says his German heritage gave him the confidence to create delicacies like duck breast bresola, a 240-day aged lomo de cerdo, lamb salami and boar sausage links.
“From the charcuterie board to the ‘treats from the kitchen’ specials, we’re able to tell our customers where everything comes from, and every ingredient that’s in it,” says Ellia, who’s helmed the Gastropub since it opened in May 2012. “Being a scratch kitchen and sourcing local means we can stand behind our product when people have allergies or concerns about where their food comes from.”
Ellia says that commitment to quality is possible because they’ve attracted a clientele—and staff—that supports the Gastropub’s mission. “It’s not worth checking our morals to save time. We end up working off the clock sometimes because we care so much about what we do, but we also have customers that come in a few times a week because they love the food,” Ellia says.
Given free reign by owners Kate and Gates Rickard, who Ellia describes as “genuinely good people”, the four chefs have taken on projects like gardening, curing meats and baking bread.
“We want to give our staff a platform to show off their talents and give back to the community,” Ellia says, nibbling on a skillet-baked cookie that pastry chef Matt Wood has just pulled from the oven. He declines to eat more than a piece, noting that he and the other chefs are running the Cape Cod Marathon in a few weeks, with the goal of raising $10,000 for the Falmouth Service Center. They also ran the Falmouth Road Race and hold an annual “Stuff the Loft” toy drive to benefit the Service Center. “It’s a small town,” Ellia acknowledges. “We have to look out for one another.”
Giving back to the community is personal for Ellia. A graduate of the Upper Cape Cod Regional Vocational School culinary arts program, the Falmouth native worked for several years at the Ridge Club in Sandwich, Chatham Bars Inn, and Oak & Ember in Mashpee. But five years ago, burnt out by the restaurant business, Ellia spent a winter on unemployment, helped in no small part by the Service Center. He was considering his options when he happened to pass by Bear in Boots, which was undergoing extensive renovation from its past iteration as the Roo Bar.
“I just started talking with Gates about the range they were putting in, and he offered me a job on the spot,” Ellia recalls. “We’re definitely on the same page.”
At Bear in Boots, even the decor has a handmade, personal touch. The tables were made using wood reclaimed from a dock in Boston Harbor and wine crates from the Rickard family wine collection; the black and white photos on the walls are mostly of the Rickards’ children, parents and friends. An observant diner might notice up to 30 decorative squirrels strewn throughout the restaurant; the squirrel, along with the “bear” and “boots” in the stained glass at the front entrance, come from nicknames the Rickards gave to their three children.
With wall-size picture windows overlooking Main Street, blonde wood and red checkered napkins give the dining room an inviting atmosphere. Ellia takes pride in the description “homey hipster” to describe the restaurant, which offers live music from a loft perch on weekends, monthly cooking classes, seasonal farm-to-table dinners, and occasional movie screenings and charity events.
“Some people love that we’re not a typical Cape Cod restaurant. Some people feel the opposite,” Ellia says. “If it means we’re setting new trends, I’ll take it.”
Raising the bar means creating a network of resources that restaurateurs can draw from year-round, says Ellia. That’s why he, along with other local industry leaders, created a local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. From helping each other out with staffing, brainstorming ideas, holding competitions or achieving certifications, Ellia says the newly-formed group will make for a stronger Cape Cod restaurant scene.
Creating strong bonds inside and outside the kitchen is what makes restaurant magic. On their days off, Ellia and other staff members tour farms that they’d like to highlight on the menu, or travel to Boston or Portland for a culinary safari through multiple restaurants. They blow off steam (or, as Ellia says, ADHD), by shooting hoops in the side alley or watering the daikon seedlings.
The magic is evident at showtime. Just before 5 PM, the chefs change out their T-shirts for black chef ’s coats and line up in the open kitchen. (Diners have been known to wait for the bar stool seats along the line to open up so they can converse with the chefs as they work.) During the October Farm-to-Table Dinner, the dining room transformed into a farm-style setup with long rows of tables that prompted conversation among strangers, not unlike a Thanksgiving dinner with long-lost relatives. The convivial atmosphere erupted with the first pour of wine; the camaraderie was interrupted only when Ellia came out to announce the first course: stewed beef from Seawind Meadow Farms over pillowy root vegetable dumplings.
Farmer Laura McDowell-May of Seawind Meadow Farms said she and her family enjoyed a good year on the Dennis ranch, where they raise two dozen longhorn cattle, as well as pigs and chickens, on just ten acres. “Everyone was fat, happy and pregnant,” she told the 40 or so attendees as they enjoyed a London broil, prepared sous vide and served over parsnip puree with a drizzle of kalette pesto.
For those not in the know, kalette is a cross between kale and Brussels sprout—a specialty at Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth, which supplied the vegetables for the night. I had watched sous chef Ricky Smith prepare the familiar-yet-foreign leafy green earlier in the day. Whirling around in a Vitamix, it looked so simple—but the taste added a brightness and pizazz to what might have otherwise been a heavy dish.
With eyes bigger than our stomachs, we eagerly gobbled up the dessert, a puff pastry filled with Silverbrook apples and graced with a chai gelato (all made expertly in-house by Woods). It was just the right end to an early fall dinner: spicy, sweet and surprisingly light.
The four-course farm-to-table meal was paired with wine or beer, but on a regular night diners may have a hard time choosing from the extensive lineup of craft beers on draft, many from New England breweries. There’s an equally stunning array of Scotch and whiskey, as well as craft cocktails that the bartenders dream up (try the housemade “Fireball”, a spiced barrel-aged whiskey). For those who prefer wine while their partner prefers beer, Bear in Boots hosts a monthly “Beer vs. Wine” dinner, a prix fixe menu paired with four-ounce pours of both beer and wine. Diners are given scorecards to rate each drink, and the winning alcohol is featured at a discount for a month.
“It’s the perfect date night,” Ellia says.
Bear in Boots Gastropub
285 Main Street, Falmouth
508-444-8511 / bearinboots.com
Open Wednesday-Saturday at 5pm