Though we’re surrounded by water on Cape Cod, few people catch their own fish. The seafood in our markets and restaurants, even if caught by a Cape-based fishing boat, was most likely landed elsewhere—or worse, landed on the Cape, trucked to Boston, and then trucked back.
But thanks to the Fishermen’s View, an innovative sea-to-table restaurant-market at the Sandwich marina, Cape Codders now have access to locally-landed seafood. From the high-ceilinged dining room or breezy outdoor patio, diners can watch all manner of barges and boats pass through the canal—some of them stopping to offload the day’s catch—while enjoying a plate of lobsters, scallops or crab cooked fresh to order.
“You can actually point at the boat the fish came from while you’re eating it,” says Bob Colbert, who founded the Fishermen’s View with his brother, Denny Colbert. “I look around the room and feel so proud that I can say, ‘That’s ours. We caught that’.”
The Colbert brothers came into the fishing business in a roundabout way. The Plymouth natives both graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy with engineering degrees and started fishing commercially on the side to pass the time between stints on board oil tankers. Months turned into years, during which the brothers purchased their own lobster boats, the F/V Miss Julie and Virginia Marie, and later expanded to sea scallops with the F/V Chelsea Girl. Eventually, the Colberts hired captains to handle most of the fishing while they got their hands dirty with boat maintenance and business administration. With more time on land, it wasn’t hard to notice a shuttered up old building right on the canal, an old fish freezer plant that was torn down in 2008.
Seeking a new, local market for their seafood, the brothers hit upon the idea to open a retail storefront at the vacant lot on Freezer Road. Negotiations went slowly, and even fell through. But in 2015, the opportunity to purchase the building came up again.
Bob, who admits his last service job was during high school in 1979, said he and Denny had no desire to open a restaurant at first. But after they were approached by a Boston-based restaurant group with a generous offer, they realized that a waterfront dining establishment was too good an idea to pass up. They declined the restaurant group’s proposal and started working with the Town of Sandwich to obtain the necessary permits themselves.
Another brother, Tom Colbert, came on board as the retail/wholesale manager. Bob’s multitalented daughter Elizabeth Colbert quit her job as a clinical researcher to join the team as chief operating officer. Working at breakneck speed to renovate the building and train staff, the Fishermen’s View opened to the salivating public in August 2016.
While most of the scallops, lobsters and crabs—even the occasional mahi mahi—come from the Colbert’s own boats, they also source seafood from other fishermen in the marina. With an in-house seawater tank that can hold 26,000 pounds of live lobsters and crab—conveniently the same size as a boat hold—they can ensure a steady supply of fresh fish in both the restaurant and the market.
“All fishermen want to be fully integrated. And all restaurants want access to the product right off the boat,” said Bob. “We’re taking out the middleman. We are the middleman.”
As a fisherman himself, Bob is keenly aware of the disparity between market prices and the per-pound rates fishermen are paid at the dock. Because of its position as a market-restaurant, Fishermen’s View is able to pay a higher rate than most, he says.
“If our boats don’t catch it, it comes from another boat in the marina or from our connections in Gloucester or New Bedford,” says Bob. “Fishermen want to work with us because we pay more per pound. We know how it feels and we’re glad to be able to do that.”
Eventually, Bob says the plan is to wholesale a wider variety of fish. “We’d like to eventually help make Sandwich a fishing port, but we’re going to take it slow and see how much interest there is,” he says.
For executive chef Scott Robertson, the chance to helm a kitchen with direct access to the ocean “is a chef’s dream.” While he’s no stranger to opening restaurants (the Fishermen’s View marked his sixth), the close collaboration with the source of his main ingredients is unique, he says. Sometimes that means getting a text message from an offshore boat about the day’s catch in the morning and creating a special in time for dinner; sometimes it means introducing lesserknown species like Jonah crab or octopus to Cape Cod diners.
“I believe in [the Colberts’] vision. These are the kind of opportunities that drive and inspire me,” says Robertson.
From the cornbread flecked with kernels fresh from the cob to the made-in-house pickles and potato chips, Robertson admits his “high-volume scratch kitchen” takes more time and effort than using readymade ingredients. But to him, it’s worth the satisfaction that comes from delivering authentic sea-to-table meals to locals that know a fresh chowder from a canned one.
“My goal is to give people something they’ve been eating their whole lives and really taste it for the first time,” Robertson says. “People are looking for that connection to the water. They’re not coming in here for something from a frozen package.”
From the beginning, Robertson and the Colberts knew they wanted to stay open year-round and engage a local following. And if the busy dining room on a Sunday afternoon in March was any indication, they are having no problem accomplishing that goal.
“Before we opened, we took a look around at what other places were doing. We saw lots of high pricing, geared to tourists who aren’t coming back,” said Robertson. “To me, it’s about creating a place where people want to go again and again.”
With its extensive lunch and dinner menu, diners are likely to be back for second helpings. We were intrigued by the Jonah crab, which Bob noted is plentiful in New England waters but is usually destined for export. It makes a subtle appearance throughout the menu as an option on the grilled cheese and in the whipped potatoes, or as topping on a salad or nachos. The Jonah crab cakes, served with house-made Old Bay tartar sauce, pickled onion and fresh horseradish, are also popular. The deep-water crabs are also served steamed with drawn butter, or stuffed in haddock with potatoes and Brussels sprouts. We enjoyed the black-tipped claws from the raw bar, served cocktail-style on ice. Helpfully scored for easy opening, the delicate white meat was fresh and sweet, not needing anything more than a squeeze of lemon. It whetted our appetite for the heavier dishes to come, including the creamy Jonah crab and artichoke dip.
Robertson recommended a scallop appetizer special that will likely become a permanent fixture on the menu: raw scallops seared ever so slightly with a torch to melt the honey Dijon glaze onto the glistening morsels. Sprinkled with dried garlic chips, bacon bits and Granny Smith apple, the sweetness of the scallops was balanced perfectly with an earthy tartness and satisfying crunch.
We were intrigued by the sound of the “knuckle sandwich”, basically a lobster BLT that uses parts of a lobster that are all too often thrown away. The meat was succulent and brinier than claw-only lobster roll would be, but we found that to be a welcome contrast to the buttery bread—especially accompanied by crunchy, tangy in-house pickled vegetables and perfectly cooked fries.
As good as the sandwich was, however, we had to put it aside for the distracting Lobster Fra Diavolo. We’d personally picked out the two-pound lobster from the tank out back, and watched as Robertson cut it—still alive—with a deft vertical swipe. With the antennae still moving, he painted the insides with a garlic butter spread and set the lobster on the grill. It emerged again served with shrimp, mussels and littlenecks on a bed of linguini and tomato sauce. This decadent dish will certainly satisfy the deepest seafood cravings, but is probably best enjoyed by at least two people.
Vegetarians and landlubbers will not go hungry at the Fishermen’s View. An admitted “steak and potatoes man”, Bob recommended the steak and fries or sirloin surf & turf. Our server said his favorite dish overall is the roasted beet salad, and with quinoa, kale, corn, and garnishes, it was indeed a welcome contrast to all the seafood. Diehard locavores will delight in the Chatham mussels in almond-lobster broth, the Narragansett calamari and Ipswich clams. With summer shimmering on the horizon, the F/V patio is the perfect happy hour setting for buck-a-shuck Cape oysters and a cocktail made with cranberry juice sourced in West Wareham.
For those who prefer to cook at home or dining super al fresco with some takeout chowder, the Fishermen’s View market offers a wide assortment of fresh and prepared seafood. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., live lobsters and crabs don’t come any fresher, with other seasonal delicacies coming in at a close second. The crab cakes and bluefish pâté are made in-house, while Centerville Pie supplies the clam and lobster pies made with Fishermen’s View seafood. The market is also a great place to pick up locally-made artisanal products such as Foss Sauce, honey from E & T Farms, 4 Seas Ice Cream, and farm produce during the summer months.
The Fishermen’s View
20 Freezer Road, Sandwich
508-591-0088 / fishermensview.com
Open daily for lunch and dinner.