Orleans Public House
Megan Peno pours olive oil into a mixture of Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, garlic and chives to create the dipping sauce for the evening’s bread. Nearby a dozen ramekins of crème brûlée sit cooling to room temperature. A tall bandana-wearing cook strolls over to check on one of the neatly-typed prep lists hanging from a clipboard adjacent to a cubby full of herbs and spices. It’s only fifteen minutes until the start of a Saturday dinner service at the Orleans Public House, and an almost Zen-like calm prevails.
Just over two years ago, empty nesters Ed and Patti Lynch were looking for something different to do. Patti, from South Hadley and the daughter of a restaurant owner, and Worcester native Ed met while students at Framingham State College. After a four-year Marine Corps stint, Ed was scooped up by the Marriott Corporation, starting as a catering manager and then moving into the Courtyard division where he helped open new properties. Ed’s job eventually landed them in Maryland where they raised two lacrosse-loving sons. After twenty-five years out of state and with a desire to return to Massachusetts, they settled in Eastham on a parcel of land Ed’s father purchased in 1957 and constructed three homes on. His sister and father were already living year-round on what he affectionately refers to as the “Lynch Compound,” so Patti and Ed moved into the original cottage.
Ed, along with a few business partners, was interested in investment opportunities on the Cape. Weighing several options, he came across the space formerly occupied by Rosina’s Cafe in Orleans. He liked that the town appeared interested in future development. Gaining his partners’ approval, wheels were set in motion and the Lynches were quickly and intimately thrust into development and running of the Orleans Public House (OPH).
In late June of 2013, the OPH opened its doors just as the summer season was hitting its stride. The first kitchen hire was grill guru Steve Nidweski, veteran of many a Cape Cod kitchen. The Lynches credit him with being a huge part of helping grow their business. The first months were spent trying to organize, and in September, Ed brought chef Mike Riordan into the fold. Ed explains, “We were trying to determine what we wanted to be when we grew up and Mike is the one who helped us figure it out!”
Riordan was born into a dual restaurant-owning family. Paternal grandparents opened the Fairways in Eastham in the ‘70s as well as the original Hole in One Donut Shop. His mother’s parents were proprietors of Betty’s Place in Eastham. Not classically trained as a chef, Riordan learned by osmosis. As a Nauset High student, Riordan was part of a group of friends that still remain close today, all with ties to the Cape Cod culinary community: Diego and Sasha Gerardi (owner of Gerardi’s Café); sous chef Joe Caivano; Lucas Dinwiddie (Halycon Farms); Brooke and Dave Currier (Orleans Bowling Center and BBQ) and most importantly, his wife Noelle (who, coincidentally, was our server during our visit to Gerardi’s Café last fall).
After high school, Riordan moved to Florida, working restaurants in Tampa and Miami before eventually drifting back to the kitchens of Cape Cod. Ironically, he spent his 21st birthday working at Rosina’s, in the same kitchen he oversees today. Over the years, he has developed a relationship with many local farmers, including Ed Osmun of E&T Farms. Ed was a local source of produce and greens for years, and Riordan was excited to learn he was branching out into farming shrimp and would be the first on Cape Cod to do so. This also explains how we ended up on the doorstep of the OPH. Oftentimes, when deciding which restaurant to feature, the editors of Edible Cape Cod listen to their farmer friends. In the winter 2014 issue, Larry Egan penned an article on E&T Farms’ new operation, titled “Cultivating Crustaceans.” Chef Riordan contributed an accompanying recipe and suddenly the OPH was on our radar as one of the few Cape restaurants serving up this local treat. Curious to discover what other treasures this restaurant has to offer, we headed to Orleans.
Situated at 15 Cove Road, off Main Street in Orleans (look for the Land Ho which sits on the corner of 6A and Cove Road), this charming cottage has a bright red door and soft gray shingles. A graphic white and black sign sports their fleur-de-lis logo with the words “Culinary Tavern” above. When researching Orleans, owner Patti Lynch chose the symbol as a way of connecting to the history of the town and its French ancestry. The building boasts a rarity in Orleans: a rear deck area that hosts The Scrimshaw patio lounge and raw bar. A bright blue-and-green-striped awning offers coverage over an inviting twelve-stool bar as well as tables for al fresco dining. During the summer months, the raw bar offers mussels, littlenecks and the local E&T Farms shrimp cocktail, subject to availability. In season, the space is open daily at 3:00 p.m., and full menu is available after 5:00 p.m. when the restaurant side opens.
The interior single-story dining space is bright and modern, highlighted by white subway tiles, wood floors, wainscoting and some navy banquettes as well as free-standing tables that can be reconfigured to accommodate large groups. A small bar area is segregated from the dining space and we pop in to quench our thirst.
Wielding a shaker, newly appointed front of the house manager Matt O’Hare deftly concocts a few cocktails for our sipping pleasure. We quickly discover he is a fount of great ideas with an encyclopedic knowledge. His attention to detail becomes apparent as he explains his choice of glassware while pouring the signature fleur-de-lis martini, a potent blend of vanilla vodka, elderflower liqueur and a sparkling wine float. O’Hare describes the coupe as a “sexy glass”, one that is less prone to breakage, spillage and offers a more uniform temperature and retention of flavor.
O’Hare’s twenty-six years of both back and front of the house jobs has made him a versatile and vital member of this “dream team.” After one particularly hot summer season where the kitchen thermometer hovered around 120 degrees, he decided to shift permanently to the front of the house, describing it wryly as a “different kind of rigor.” His goal is to implement the philosophy of bringing “bartending back to the bar” by ending a reliance on pre-mixes. Many of his plans are labor intensive, but he believes that experimenting with seasonal ingredients is worth the extra effort. A simple syrup made from lavender from Harwich’s Cape Cod Lavender Farm and another deriving all its sugars from fresh watermelons are messy to concoct but a welcome enhancement to a summer beverage. Despite his creativity, O’Hare bristles at the overuse of buzzwords like “craft cocktail.”
“Anyone can rim a glass and throw a garnish in it,” he states. O’Hare’s goal is to keep things recognizable yet in a new and interesting way. Many of the techniques being used at the bar are becoming interchangeable with those in the kitchen. His wine list is ever evolving, and as a fan of boutique wines he feels there are numerous great growers he plans to expose guests to. In addition to a rotating selection of New England beers, the OPH boasts a list of beer cocktails and shandies perfect for warm weather indulging.
Before we get overly comfortable on our bar stools, head chef Mike Riordan approaches the bar. Dressed informally in a black tee shirt and sporting a bristling ginger beard, Riordan places a platter in front of us with the evening’s special: four glorious, head-on grilled, fresh E&T Farms shrimp atop lemon asparagus risotto garnished with Halcyon Farms pea shoots and dressed with light herb oil. All thoughts of ice flows in the canal this winter disperse at this vision of spring on a plate.
Like O’Hare, Riordan is not a fan of labels and prefers the use of the term “culinary tavern,” versus that of “gastropub.” “The whole idea of this allows us the freedom to pull from all different cuisines so we are not American, Italian, French, etc.…we are a pub!” Within this realm, Riordan incorporates the best of local ingredients while building a relationship with many local farmers, including Ed and Betty Osmun (E&T Farms), Jeff Deck (Not Enough Acres), and Lucas Dinwiddie (Halcyon Farms). He understands that farmers enjoy the markets and want to spread themselves out. “They want to be part of the community and not just grow and sell for a few designated restaurants. Farmers do not like the stress of having their name attached to a menu item unless it is to their standard of perfection.” For this reason, he tells the farmers, “When you have something, let me know and I will use it.” He saves room on his menu to integrate fresh produce in this way.
Riordan sees a Cape audience that identifies perfectly with what is being served up at the OPH. He believes that today’s public is more educated about food due to the popularity of the Food Network, farmers’ markets and dining out in general. He wants to broaden his clientele and show everyone that food is fun. “We want the guy in the suit and tie and the construction worker next to him both to be excited by what’s put before them to eat and drink. We do not want to be known as a ‘pinky up’ establishment but want everyone to come in and feel comfortable.”
For this reason, Riordan chose to not have his cooks wearing chef ’s jackets despite the fact that many have fine dining experience. His emphasis is on the flavors and not on the knife skills. He often gently reminds his staff, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of being really good.” He loves reinventing bar snacks by putting a modern spin on them. “Years before this place existed, my wife and I would stay up late and make list of all the bar staples like nachos, buffalo wings, tater tots and we would figure how can we can recreate them using different techniques.” Riordan delights in pairing many of his appetizers with homemade dipping sauces and condiments.
Stomachs rumbling and drinks in hand, we settle into a booth and allow server Megan to help guide us in selections from the current spring menu. Memorable appetizers included some tender Cape Cod Bay mussels with a mustard cream as well as a refreshingly light scallop ceviche brightly dressed with a blood orange reduction, spring radishes and avocado. On my next visit, I will be sure to order the ever-popular crispy “hog wings,” mini pork shanks coated in a homemade buffalo sauce that catch our eye as they are presented to a nearby table.
The menu offers a selection of salads as well as sandwiches (which can be ordered with Parmesan truffle fries for a slight upcharge and look extremely binge-worthy). On the entrée side, our selections included bouillabaisse (a mountain of seafood—cod, shrimp, scallops, mussels—along with leeks and fennel in a delicate saffron stock); the most humongous pan-seared scallops (right off the boat courtesy of Orleans Seafood, as is the bulk of the seafood here) resting on a cauliflower purée with heirloom carrots and peas; Asian fried chicken (crunchy outside with a moist interior, in a curry coconut broth nestled with jasmine rice); and for me, the shrimp special featuring those local farm-raised babies!
If you are wondering if there’s a discernible flavor difference between these local shrimp versus the typical imported variety, it’s like comparing the taste of a ripe, freshly picked strawberry to the plastic-wrapped ones sold in the local supermarket. Honestly, these shrimp were far superior in taste with a wonderful firm texture, making this one of the more memorable dishes I’ve sampled.
Other menu options showcasing cuisines from around the globe include house-made ricotta gnocchi with a short-rib ragout, and the popular shrimp Pad Thai, the flavor of which was tweaked right up until the day it appeared on the menu. A humble Riordan expounds, “I don’t consider myself to be a natural cook like my wife Noelle is. I’ve had to work really hard to make things click. In my mind, every dish is a work in progress until the day the menu comes out. I’m always thinking of how I can make it faster and yet make it taste better.” There are no shortcuts in this kitchen, however: no proteins are ever pre-cooked and no vegetables sit in a steam table. Most everything is made from scratch, including all the stocks (veal, chicken, fish, vegetable, beef, even duck and lobster in season), gnocchi, sauces, and desserts (with the exception of gelato).
Riordan is excited about his summer offerings. Worthy of a return trip: a trio of lobster sliders adorned with crispy fried shallots and a turkey burger served with a sweet soy aioli and house-made kimchi (jars of fermenting cabbage line the downstairs pantry). However, the piece de resistance of the summer menu has to be their version of lobster mac and cheese. Riordan culled the recipe for a lobster stock from the French Laundry Cookbook, which inspired this crowd pleaser. Suffice it to say, it involves dissection of a whole native lobster for each serving: the tail is split and held aside, claws and knuckles are lightly cooked, and bodies are used to create a really rich stock made with tarragon, tomatoes, carrots and cream. The pasta is cooked in the stock reduction along with the knuckles and claws, then it’s combined with a decadent blend of grated cheeses topped with the grilled lobster tail and a layer of bread crumbs. A quick browning in the oven completes the process. There is balance to the dish with real lobster in every cheesy, rich bite.
If the lobster mac and cheese is the crowning jewel of the Orleans Public House, then owner and petite powerhouse Patti Lynch is its heart and soul. In addition to handling the garde manger station, she makes all the desserts—each season will include chocolate, custard and fruit selections—and the gnocchi (ricotta during my visit). She also tends the restaurant’s herb garden and is learning the social media aspect of the business from O’Hare. She is a huge proponent of community involvement and due to her husband’s military background, the OPH is a drop-off spot for Cell Phones for Soldiers.
Chef Riordan is the president of the Patti Lynch fan club as all the small details she handles allow him to focus more energy on bigger projects. “She is the first one in the morning doing many of the more mundane tasks like lining the trash cans and boiling eggs for the salads. What she does, allows me to do what I do even better. I am given the freedom to work here as if this is my own place. Without Patti I honestly don’t know if I could do it.”
The admiration society is mutual. There is a trust here between owners and chef. As Ed Lynch says, “Let the people who know what they’re doing, do their job.” The Lynches feel fortunate with the staff they have assembled. Though Ed is mainly the supportive “numbers guy” of the business, he enjoys doing a little table-touching to garner feedback from guests. Lynch says they have worked really hard to set the right culture at the OPH so people want to work here.
Riordan muses, “It’s all about coming in, working hard and having fun doing it. Let’s face it—we have all worked places where we’ve been sitting in the parking lot deciding whether we want to go in or not. Here we don’t ever want anyone to feel this way. I know I don’t.”
Orleans Public House
15 Cove Road, Orleans
508-255-0285 / orleansph.com
Open daily in the summer starting at 5:00 pm, outdoor
Scrimshaw Patio Lounge & Raw Bar opens daily at 3:00 pm
Vanessa Stewart has spent almost four decades in the restaurant business, where she worked almost every job imaginable. Her forte is as a “libationist”, and nothing exceiters her more than not only a restaurant, but a bar that incorporates the freshest of ingredients.