Putting Woods Hole on the Culinary Map
Situated at the crosscurrents of science and sailing culture, Woods Hole is a natural dining destination. But for years, the restaurant scene has been seasonal, catering to tourists whose idea of seafood hovers in the realm of shrimp cocktail and flash-frozen scrod. In short, the dining experience has been more about the view than the menu.
All that is set to change this season, as Woods Hole welcomes a new restaurant to its Water Street strip. Following up on the locally-sourced ethic first championed in the village by Quicks Hole Tavern, the Water Street Kitchen & Public House—located alongside of the village’s iconic Eel Pond drawbridge—is poised to usher in a sea-to-table, farm-to-table revival. The restaurant co-run by a native daughter, promises a return to local roots and high standards, both on the menu and as part of the year-round fabric of the community.
The first sign that change was afoot on Water Street was the bold white lettering on the chalkboard sign outside the old Fishmonger: Looking for Good People Who Like to Cook.
This informal help-wanted ad underscores the community-centered values of John and Molly Wilson, the proud husband-wife owners of the Water Street Kitchen & Public House.
“The front of the house is an ambassador for the kitchen,” Molly says while taking a break in the tastefully renovated waterfront dining room. “There’s a beautiful gesture in feeding people. Our idea of having a restaurant is to make people feel special and welcome.”
That ethic has been fueling the Wilsons since they met at Pittsburgh’s famed Mediterranean restaurant Casbah, where Molly served and John worked the line. “We had the idea and dream to do it for ourselves,” Molly said. “It was just a matter of finding the right place.”
A few years after meeting, they married in Molly’s hometown of Woods Hole and left for a honeymoon to find their dream destination. By the end of their travels, the couple realized that community support is as important an ingredient for a successful restaurant as fresh produce and pleasant views. So they returned to Woods Hole, and while scouting out jobs, started the wildly popular Pop Up Bistro, serving themed “tasting menus” in diners’ homes.
“That’s when the idea and dream started to feel real,” Molly said.
John soon took the helm at the then-new Quicks Hole Tavern, later moving on to The Glass Onion, while Molly managed the dining room at the Woods Hole Golf Club. But their dreams wouldn’t stay on the back burner for long. Over the winter of 2015, with the help of about 40 “offline crowdfunders”, they purchased the Fishmonger, a Woods Hole institution since the late 1960s. Though they felt a new name was important to usher in a new era, the Wilsons say the “Public House” part of their restaurant will keep the original Fishmonger vibe alive.
“Our motto is ‘think globally, eat locally’,” Molly said. “We’re incorporating the influences of where we’ve traveled with where we are now.”
The Cape-centric menu is available as appetizers, small plates, and large plates, with influences ranging from Southeast Asia (curried monkfish, aloo saag) to the chef ’s native Pittsburgh (pierogies and pork chops). Under Wilson’s tutelage, classic steak frites takes on an Asian twist: tender cuts of hanger steak served on a bed of black rice and bok choi, alternating sweet soy tang and pungent fish aioli, rounded out with a side of togarashi-spiced potatoes. Another example is the “rhubarbeque” and pickled watermelon rind that grace the pork shoulder, or the dainty lobster steam buns with pickled asparagus—Wilson’s answer to a traditional lobster roll.
Contrast is a recurring theme in the Water Street Kitchen. From the house-made pickled vegetables and coarse-ground mustard balancing the velvety smoked bluefish pâté, the caramelized onion jus blanketing the pork chop and truffled pierogies, or the lemon-parsley gremolata and pickled shallots adorning the extremely rich bone marrow, decadence is cut with the perfect amount of acid, providing texture and tang.
One would be remiss not to give the Water Street Kitchen’s craft cocktail menu a try. Curated by Molly’s sister, bar manager Chelsea Doohan, the flavor combinations tickle the taste buds. Close your eyes and try to discern the rose syrup in the julep, or the esoteric Cynar, a liqueur made from artichokes, in the barrel-aged Clockwork Orange. Everything from the lime cordial in the mezcal gimlet to the sumac-infused rum in the Angelica daiquiri is house-made. In addition to an extensive wine list and craft beers from across New England, the bar’s secret weapons are the herbal digestifs—amari from Italy and mastika from Greece—to end the meal on the right note, perhaps accompanied by a slice of luscious mascarpone cheesecake.
Regular customers can expect a “constantly evolving” menu, Molly says, keeping pace with the seasons and local tastes. Seafood is from Falmouth’s Clam Man, and produce is sourced from Bay End Farm in Buzzards Bay, Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth, Eva’s Garden and Weatherlow Farms from across Buzzards Bay, and Nobska Farms just up the road. Dairy and meat are sourced from a network of Southern New England farmers and purveyors catering to locavore restaurants.
“The menu is an important part of conveying our support for the community and local fishermen,” says John. “And the servers are just as excited as we are about the food. They’ll give people an opportunity to try something they didn’t know they like.”
Since opening in mid-May, the Water Street Kitchen has become a destination for serious foodies, who sit comfortably alongside casual noshers enjoying a cocktail and a burger. Make it, and they will come, seems to be the name of the game.
“Restaurants create their own culture, bigger than their own walls,” says Molly. “People will go where there is good food. Between Quicks Hole Tavern and The 41-70 and the tastes of the people who live here, we are creating a food destination in Woods Hole.”
Water Street Kitchen & Public House
56 Water Street, Woods Hole
508-540-5656 / waterstreetkitchen.com
Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5 pm