Spoon and Seed Cultivates Breakfast Loving Customers
Over a half century ago, history was made when the Russians launched Sputnik into space. In June of 2015, history of the culinary kind occurred when the “spudnut” made its appearance on Cape Cod. These homemade donuts, crafted with fresh local potatoes, are one of the numerous “must tries” on the menu at the Spoon and Seed, located in the most incongruous of places: an industrial park in Hyannis. Owner-chef Matt Tropeano plucked the recipe from a back issue of Saveur magazine many moons ago and finally tested his first batch when he and wife Andrea opened their breakfast and lunch eatery last summer. Already, the spudnut has generated a lot of buzz and a local fandom.
On my first Spoon and Seed visit, a nearby table–sensing we were newbies–insisted we order one as our breakfast appetizer. Judging by the fact that our waiter nodded his head in approval at what I thought was a strange pre-meal request, I was game. I only hoped I wasn’t bogging myself down before the main event. One bite and I understood; a delicious sugar-coated crispy exterior housed a surprisingly light interior.
I resisted the urge to devour a second, and I’m glad I showed some restraint, as the meal that followed was a masterpiece: two beautifully poached eggs and thinly-sliced house-smoked pork loin rested atop a homemade English muffin, sauced with just the amount of real hollandaise and the added bonus of an addictive side of smoky tomato salsa.
Breakfast is my favorite meal and I am smitten with eggs prepared in any manner. I also subscribe to the theory that a satisfying breakfast is the foundation for a positive day. The Spoon and Seed is somewhere I can envision myself as a regular, and after chatting with owners Matt and Andrea, learned that is exactly the type of customer they aim to cultivate at their homey, rustic cafe.
Before their dream of ownership became a reality, this thirty-something couple each built a very solid and impressive resume of restaurant work. Matt, the son of Italian immigrants, first cultivated a passion for the restaurant business as a teenager working at his cousin Jerry Gaita’s Ristorante Primavera in Millis, Massachusetts. There everything was homemade, from the sausages to the pasta, and ingredients gathered from families’ gardens where commonly used in the dishes. He credits his experience working there for ultimately shaping his career.
While a student at Bridgewater State, Matt had the revelation that he was on the wrong career path and decided to pursue the culinary arts. A respected coworker recommended the program offered by Newbury College as the one that would offer him more of a real world culinary education, and Matt took his advice. In addition to his studies and cooking for his cousin, he held a job at the now-defunct upscale Bay Tower Room high above the hub of the Financial District in Boston. There he met and fell in love with coworker Andrea, a Massachusetts transplant from Colombia. From Boston, they headed to Dallas where Andrea had family.
Their year in Texas was a successful time for both of them professionally. Andrea garnered experience working for a great hotel, and Matt was hired as a saucier for chef David McMillan, at Nana, within another luxury Dallas hotel. His year under McMillan impacted him tremendously. “I came to Dallas feeling pretty good about myself and my experience, but I realized I hadn’t been cooking real food yet. This guy put me in my place. I felt I gained five years of growth and education in that one year. I visited the James Beard House in New York City with him and another sous chef, and we spent one night in the Village cooking and representing our restaurant. I walked from Midtown to Battery Park, and I was like a kid in a candy shop in awe of all the restaurants. I think it just cemented for me the goal that Andrea and I had fostered to eventually live and work in New York City.”
Upon arrival in Manhattan in 2003, Andrea’s credentials opened doors and she became the only female server at Aureole, the legendary Charlie Palmer’s flagship four-star restaurant. Andrea was the primary breadwinner while Matt landed employment at Fiamma under the direction of Michael White, acclaimed chef and restauranteur. Although all part of his culinary education, Fiamma had more of a corporate feel and Matt yearned to work for more of a “quintessential, old-school style kitchen.”
Six months later, he received a phone call from the chef at the bastion of French classic cooking, La Grenouille, to come in for a “stage,” basically chef-speak for “come in and show us what you’ve got.” That day exposed him to a culinary world he wanted desperately to be a part of. At La Grenouille, he experienced a workplace with an attention to detail and high standards that truly excited him. Matt explains, “If we were roasting meat that night, we would spend the day butchering the whole animal. Everyone that worked there wanted to be the best of the best and was incredibly disciplined.”
Eventually, the relationship soured between owner and executive chef and they parted ways. La Grenouille brought in a replacement from France and Matt was eager, as he put it, “to take a bullet and learn from this guy.” However, accustomed to the more balletic pace of French dining versus the “rock and roll” frenzied onslaught in New York, this chef decided this was not his cup of tea and after a week was a no show. An in-house interim chef was appointed until he too moved on to open his own place. Matt, along with his coworkers, gathered to hear from owner Charles Masson who would be appointed to the post. When Masson announced Tropeano as the new executive chef, a stunned twenty-four-year-old Matt shook his hand and went to the men’s room to throw up.
Recovering quickly, his confidence kicked in and he realized this was a job he could do. His years of training under his cousin had imparted Matt with the organizational skills and attitude to succeed in the restaurant world. The cooking and knowledge of flavors he knew he would absorb over time and with experience. More daunting was overseeing staff, many of whom were twice his age.
As Matt became acclimated to his new position, restaurateur Masson prayed that The New York Times wouldn’t pay a visit until Matt was more seasoned in his role. Over the next several years, many Michelin chefs came and tasted his food and offered their critiques. Matt always welcomed the feedback and used it for self-improvement. Eventually in 2009, the Times did come calling and La Grenouille, under young executive chef Tropeano, garnered an impressive three-star rating. Critic Sam Sifton proclaimed that La Grenouille is “the last great French restaurant.”
After eight years at the helm, Matt was suffering from burnout. He reflects that this would have been the “perfect job for me in my forties. There were some wonderful perks. We were closed Mondays and also for the whole month of August. I had nothing but respect for the owner.”
In 2011, he transitioned to La Silhouette, a contemporary French American upscale venue opening on the West Side of the city. He evolved his cooking style further, but the vibe and design of the place did not fit well with the locale and it was not a hoped-for hit despite some good reviews. The long work hours, including those spent commuting from their home in New Jersey, continued to take a toll. Matt realized it would be too daunting a task to ever open his own place in Manhattan. After reassessing the quality of their lives, and the fact that their children were getting older, the Tropeanos decided to take advantage of a job opportunity Matt had been offered. His bakery in Manhattan, Pain D’Avignon, also had a location in Hyannis, which housed a bistro in need of an executive chef. Hoping to inject some New York City into old Cape Cod, Matt was offered the job.
The family took a leap of faith and returned to Massachusetts. Matt’s parents had relocated to East Falmouth, which was an added bonus. Matt brought his expertise in French-style fare to the kitchen of Pain D’Avignon. In addition to many of the purveyors he had relied on in Manhattan, he began to use produce from some of the local Cape farms and began building relationships with the growers. After a year and a half at Pain D’Avignon, he was restless and considered opening his own place. A coworker led him to an available vacant space tucked in amongst a slew of commercial properties in nearby Independence Park.
Formerly the site of Murph’s Recession and Porky’s, the property suffered from almost three years of disuse. Luckily, Matt and Andrea were visionaries who could look beyond the grime and see that this place had some good bones. The kitchen equipment was there but was in need of serious elbow grease. Matt had read an article about a chef who opened a restaurant for approximately $13,000, and it inspired him to try something similar here. Matt’s father Alfonso also saw the hidden potential in the property, so in April of 2015, with the physical space acquired, the evolution of the Spoon and Seed began.
Matt relied heavily on his superhero and jack-of-all-trades Alfonso Tropeano to help keep the remodeling budget low. Together, they tore out the dirty wall-to-wall carpeting, leaving the exposed concrete. The bar was dismantled and repurposed to form a breakfast counter inside the front entrance. Pallets were wired from the ceiling as shelving to house Matt’s extensive cookbook collection as well as display vintage kitchen memorabilia. Alfonso crafted tables from the old floorboards of a house in Sandwich, and church pews salvaged from a fire provided some bench seating. Exposed beams and Mason jar lighting contribute to the simple feel of the room.
Andrea’s mother Clemencia traveled from Colombia to lend her talents to the project. She laboriously stained and stenciled the tabletops. Her artistry is also apparent on the neatly worded blackboards detailing the source of their local food products as well as signs denoting the fresh baked goods. Lime green borders give the room a pop of color that provides a visual break to all the wood tones. After a few months of heavy duty cleaning and some inexpensive upcycling, Spoon and Seed opened their doors with little fanfare and no advertising.
Matt offers the story behind selecting a name for the restaurant. “As a chef, I have a real obsession with kitchen gadgets and tools. The spoon is always an important one to any cook as it’s used to baste, taste, and flip sauce with. Every good chef has their favorite one. The ‘Seed’ part was easy. We wanted to be simple, farm to table inspired. A seed represents so much: a restaurant business spawning from a seed represents rebirth, reinvention, and evolution. All things we believe are components of a good restaurant. Our children’s names are Sophia and Sebastian, so it was nice to have the S and S connection.”
The Tropeanos knew that if they made great food with good quality products, people would come. Matt’s goal to stay sustainable was to offer simple food at an affordable price. He describes his menu as “blue collar with a delicate touch.”
The relationships Matt began building with the local growers and suppliers three years ago are apparent here. Matt says, “Initially, I’m sure these farmers were wary of this guy from New York and they thought, who knows how long this guy will be here and when he’s leaving.” He feels he has now earned their trust and vice versa. He has a lot of faith in his team of farmers and the quality of their produce: Cynthia Cole (Wannabee Farm, Barnstable), Tim Friary (Cape Cod Organic Farm, Barnstable), Jeff Deck (Not Enough Acres Farm, East Dennis), Dr. Ron Backer (Surrey Farm, Brewster), Cape Abilities Farm (Dennis), and Meetinghouse Farm (West Barnstable, where Matt grows a lot of his own produce in the community garden).
Three raised beds in front of the restaurant provide almost all of their fresh herbs and some vegetables during the growing season. The seasonal catch of the day is courtesy of Emerson Torres at Reel Time Fishing in Barnstable. One glance at the menu speaks volumes for Matt’s incorporation of local ingredients. The breakfast sandwich special, for example, features pea greens grown at Nauset Middle School, duck eggs from Bill Kaser (Brewster), Cape Cod Organic Farm pork belly, potato from Not Enough Acres Farm, and bread made in house.
Matt’s workday typically begins around five am (and as early as four am in the summer). All baked goods are made in house: breads, biscuits, rolls, muffins, scones, cookies, and the infamous spudnuts. Adding to the workload, Matt is a fan of smoking meats, and even tomatoes, which impart a wonderful flavor to many of his recipes. The smoker is frequently loaded with sausages, chorizo, kielbasa, and pork. He is worried that they may need another refrigeration unit to handle all the meats that they are brining, like the whole beef shoulders they buy to make corned beef.
Matt jokes that sometimes he has anxiety attacks about all the prep he has to do and is grateful for his wonderful support staff. He is a firm believer of promoting from within and is a willing mentor for those eager to learn. As he explains, “It takes a lot of hands to do what we do here.” This detail-oriented chef even favors making his own staples. As he explains, “Growing up Italian, we learned to preserve everything from the garden and I’m trying to take that even one step further.” Last summer, he purchased about thirty pounds of habanero peppers from Not Enough Acres Farm that he subsequently fermented to preserve. They are used as the base for his popular hot sauce, which retails at the Spoon and Seed along with featured jams (the mixed berry with ginger is my favorite), local honey, and Beanstock Coffee.
Coffee plays a key role at the Spoon and Seed. Born in a small, coffee growing region of Colombia, Andrea is passionate about the power of a good cup. One sniff and she can distinguish between the various grinds. “A bad coffee can ruin your best meal and can overpower the most wonderful food. You need a good balance.” She is happy with their choice of Beanstock Coffee, a small, locally roasted product and, although I am not a connoisseur like Andrea, I agree it’s a wonderful complement to my meal. Varieties available include Colombian 100% Organic, Sumatra Organic (stronger), and Wellfleet Blend Decaf.
Spoon and Seed covers comfort food with a distinctive flair. Some of the savory breakfast items feature fresh duck eggs. Duck eggs are a jacked up version of chicken eggs, containing a much larger yolk. Offering a richer taste and texture, they are higher in fat and protein with a higher concentration of omega 3 fatty acids and may be a viable option for many with egg allergies (check with your doctor first).
One special called Breakfast in Barcelona showcases a sunny-side-up duck egg atop crispy porky belly, sausage, and grilled chicken saffron paella-style rice. My husband favors a more traditional dish: the scratch-made Vermont cheddar biscuit with scrambled eggs and thinly sliced, smoked pork loin. Other hits include a frittata loaded with mozzarella, peppers, onions, and house-made smoked chorizo with a slice of grilled focaccia bread or the cheesy grits (crispy pork belly, slow cooked red beans over decadent cheesy grits) topped off with an overeasy egg. The daily omelet highlights whatever the local farms or garden has to offer.
For those who prefer sweet to savory, there’s Spoon and Seed’s version of French toast: thick-cut homemade Challah bread smothered with caramelized bananas and whipped ricotta. A favorite of both kids and adults are the buttermilk pancakes that can be enhanced with blueberries or chocolate chips.
Dispelling the notion that the Spoon and Spoon is strictly a breakfast spot are the equally tantalizing selections from the lunch menu: homemade soups, fresh unique salads, crafted sandwiches, and entrees offer a variety of options. On a recent visit, the daily specials included a house-smoked pastrami with pickled onions and local sauerkraut on a scratch-made toasted bun, a curry-dusted grilled local cod over a tossed spinach, and romaine salad garnished with apples, cashews, feta and balsamic vinaigrette. Menu staples include a freshly ground in-house Spoon Burger made from Pineland Farms (Maine) beef or the Hippie Burger, an herbed chickpea patty, pickled red onions, roasted red peppers, feta, and hot pepper yogurt sauce on house made focaccia. All sandwiches and burgers include house cut fries.
Their slogan, “Cooking and serving with love,” is one embodied by the entire staff. Andrea’s warm personality and graciousness makes all who enter feel like welcomed friends. During the weekdays, Matt estimates over ninety percent of their clientele are from the surrounding business community. On the weekends, they are experiencing a more diverse cross-section of Cape Cod residents and visitors as word spreads about the Spoon and Seed.
Moving forward, the Tropeanos will let the business dictate the direction they follow. They are in the midst of a multi-year lease with the opportunity to extend. They are working with the Board of Health on procedures that will allow them to offer outdoor dining during the upcoming summer season. This will help increase their capacity from the current fifty. Hopefully, their application for a liquor license will be approved soon. Although they want the emphasis to remain on food, they would like the option of offering a mimosa with brunch or a cold beer or wine with lunch. Currently, they have been granted a one-day license for special occasions like the wine dinner they recently hosted in conjunction with Cape Cod Package Store. Events like this allow Matt and Andrea to further showcase their talents as restaurateurs.
For now, living up to their name, the Spoon and Seed is constantly reinventing itself. Matt is already pondering what his next culinary hit will be. Will his habanero hot sauce, or maybe his new dessert, the PB&J Sandwich (maple sugar cookies, peanut buttercream, caramelized bananas, sweet ricotta and honey), eclipse the spudnut in popularity? All I know is, if Matt makes it, it will be amazing.
Spoon and Seed
12A Thornton Drive, Hyannis
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 7 am-2:30 pm
Saturday & Sunday 7:30 am-2 pm