Cape Cod Day Trip: Barnstable
Of all the villages on the shores of the Cape, Barnstable is my favorite. It is a place of sun and sand, tidal flats and marshy creeks. Main roads lined with historic homes of sea captains lead to a working harbor from which you can catch a plate of hot fried clams or a sunset cocktail overlooking the water.
Barnstable is rich in history with an evolving culinary tradition. Over the lifetime I have spent living here, local food traditions, such as a predilection for creamy clam chowder, have remained strong, while the local food movement has completely revamped the quality of what we expect to find on our plates. Salt air makes you hungry, and as you explore our village by the sea there are many places to stop for refreshment. To sample the best, you need to follow the locals. This list features my favorite bites of Barnstable which, depending on your appetite, you can sample in a weekend or a day.
Find Nirvana as you wake up slowly in the sunny front room of this popular Main Street hangout. Savor a milky cappuccino created by expert baristas with the only freshly ground organic fair trade coffee in the village. Settle into a comfy chair because Nirvana feels like an extension of your own living room. This is the local spot to meet and greet each other and the new day. Once the Joe kicks in, check out the historic courthouse across the street with its two cannons still aimed at the harbor from the War of 1812, when the people of Barnstable feared a British invasion.
Time for sustenance! Spoon and Seed, located just a short jaunt south of the village, is just the place. Chef/owner Matt Tropeano serves up delicious food sourced from a variety of local farms in a sunny casual space. Brunch at Spoon and Seed is an opportunity to experience Barnstable’s farm-to-table movement simply by lifting your fork. As you eat, you can trace the origin of your meal by the bulletin board list of contributing farms. From eggs Benny to ethereal buttermilk pancakes to a soul-satisfying breakfast sandwich (eggs and house smoked pork loin on a warm house-made Vermont cheddar biscuit served with seasonal jam), from meat based to vegetarian, there is something fresh for all palates and appetites. Tuck in, you’re going to need your strength for the beach later in the day.
After refueling swing by Cape Cod Beer. The brewery offers guided tours Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. Later in the day, the outdoor beer garden is a popular spot with patrons playing cornhole and enjoying the goods from the Cape Cod Dawgs food truck with a pint of beer. For a mere $5 you can sample five different beers and take home a logo tasting glass as a souvenir. The retail shop is also a great place to purchase local artisanal products and Cape Cod Beer logowear.
Head back to Barnstable Harbor where you can book a whale watch, take an ecotour, or bask in the sun on nearby Millway Beach. Barnstable is the only deep-water harbor in the area and once had a working cannery to accommodate a thriving fishing trade. Today, it offers recreational opportunities and some great places to eat. Order a plate of crispy fried clams on the deck of Osterville Too Fish Market for an authentic Cape lunch. You could round it off with a cup of fish or clam chowder, or try the Barnstable delicacy, stuffed quahog. A stuffed quahog (pronounced co-hog) is a large clam from the local flats, which has been chopped up and added to a buttery stuffing and baked in its original shell.
If you wandered over to Millway beach after that epic lunch, you might feel the need for a cool mid-afternoon snack. Smitty’s ice cream is a short walk back to the village and it’s usually pretty well packed with kids seeking cold treats and temporary respite from the afternoon heat. Smitty’s makes its own ice cream, and of the many flavors and options, my favorite is buttercrunch. It has just the right ratio of caramel to vanilla and soft to crunchy. This tastes best on a huge waffle cone, and you can savor it from the shaded picnic table out front, from which you can watch the afternoon village bustle. Head back to the beach for one last swim, or peruse OZ clothing, an eclectic women’s apparel shop just down the street where you can always find something unique.
As the sun sinks and thoughts turn to cocktails, head back to the harbor to the building that hangs out over the water in a sort of optical illusion, and you will have found the Mattakeese Wharf Restaurant. The Mattakeese, as locals call it, has been around for a long time. It’s actually older than I am, and I, like most locals, did a stint working here one fun summer a long time ago. The bar has an ocean theme, live music on weekends, and nice mix of locals and visitors. As you sip your drink, you can take in the best view the village offers as the late afternoon boats slowly head to their slips and the sun sinks from a red sky into the dark evening sea.
It’s a short walk from the Mattakeese back to Main Street to the Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern, known locally as the Tavern. In fair weather take a seat on the patio, and if it’s Friday night, enjoy the live music as the same kids you probably saw on beach scamper around to familiar songs. There is additional seating in the bar and the dining room, and as you order lunch or dinner from their extensive menu, keep local seafood in mind. Steamed mussels with garlic, olives and capers in a spicy tomato sauce; sautéed sole Piccata in a lemon-caper butter sauce; and Mediterranean seafood stew with garlic aioli crouton reflect chef/owner Bob Calderone’s deft hand at Italian-inspired dishes.
If you still have energy to burn, head to The Dolphin. Just a short walk down Main Street from the Barnstable Tavern, the Dolphin is at least as venerable as the Mattakeese. I worked a fun summer here, too. Inside the Dolphin, you’ll find a bar open late, and a place for one last nightcap. You may recognize some of the people you saw first thing this morning at Nirvana Coffee, because this is where locals like to end their days.
Barnstable Harbor EcoTours
The Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern
3176 Main Street
Cape Cod Beer
1336 Phinneys Lane
The Dolphin Restaurant
3250 Main Street
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises
269 Millway Road
Nirvana Coffee Company
3206 Main Street
Osterville Fish Too
Smitty’s Ice cream
3261 Main Street
Spoon and Seed
12 Thronton Drive