Boat to Table
Brothers Bob and Denny Colbert turned their love of fishing local waters into a destination dining delight.
If you have been to Fishermen’s View, perched above the Cape Cod Canal at the entrance to the Sandwich Marina, you can’t help but be awestruck as you reach the top of the stairs leading to the main floor of the bustling restaurant. The view and the pulse of one of the world’s busiest waterways reveals itself with a bold assertion that confirms you are on the edge of a world where the focus is on a thriving waterfront environment. Large expanses of windows connect to frame the picturesque backdrop of powerful currents reflecting the varying hues of the sky, and watercraft of all types traverse the canal from both the East and the West as they navigate the changing waters of Cape Cod Bay. Sandwich Marina, one of only two docking facilities along the 13-mile canal, is on display as commercial fishermen and pleasure craft owners share the space. And the U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Cod Canal watches vigilantly over all the teeming activity.
Inside, scores of tables and a long bar are often filled with diners in various stages of enjoyment as they partake in a vast menu of seafood, and turf delicacies. A legion of smartly uniformed waitstaff, many with neck-craning platters of enticing dishes balanced on their shoulders, maneuver the constant traffic of servers, bussers and clientele. And at the bar, a small squadron of bartenders is shaking and pouring libations for the inquisitive folk who are waiting for a table or just happy to grab a seat at the bar for a quick bite. In the temperate months, a lower level with an outside patio offers the full menu and a regular schedule of entertainment. Throughout the restaurant, banks of televisions play looped footage of the hardworking fishing boats, from just outside the windows, that are responsible for the fresh catch served to diners daily. That footage, intended to communicate the very real connection between what is on your plate is the result of some very hard work and some incredible environments we are lucky enough to enjoy. That message is at the core of the restaurant’s initial mission.
The newly constructed business (2016) is the product of a dream that originated between two brothers’ vivid imaginations of what was possible. Bob and Denny Colbert definitely paid their dues, and did all of the right things. Both brothers studied hard and attended Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and after graduation as they set about taking on life’s responsibilities, they tried to always make time to get out on the water and enjoy their time cruising and fishing the local waters of the Cape region. All of their hard work returned the bonus of retirement at an age that still found them vital and energized. “We kept our boats in this marina, and we would look at this piece of property and just sort of dream… ‘What if?’” Bob Colbert explains. The land he references was a former freezer plant that serviced the busy port. In 2015 they bought the property and put a plan in place.
The brothers’ dream was so much more than a restaurant. It really pivoted on the notion that fishing done the right way could have an impact on many—diners at a restaurant, shoppers at a fish market, fishermen in a beleaguered industry, and scores of individuals gainfully employed in the local economy. They decided one would run the restaurant and one would handle the operations of the fishing arm of the business—both procurement as well as the market. It was as simple a decision as flipping a coin, “Really either of us could have done either side, but it turns out I run the restaurant and Denny runs the boats,” Bob states. Today, the boats include three commercial vessels which primarily fish for lobster, Jonah crab and scallops.
Upstairs in the restaurant a commitment to quality, integrity and a unique dining experience is paramount as other key members of the organization focus on delivering to a clientele that has responded positively. Elizabeth Colbert, Bob’s daughter, is the Chief Operating Officer and manages to keep the place running smoothly while barely breaking a sweat or diminishing her broad smile. Executive Chef Sean O’Regan’s take on fresh and innovative cuisine appeals to a broad range of diners. The raw bar, sushi, sashimi and starters are world class in their presentation and quality, but what sets the dishes apart is the sometimes-unexpected spin on a favorite dish—usually directly highlighting the bounty of the operation. Case in point: both hummus and guacamole are on the menu, but O’Regan has chosen to top them with large chunks of Jonah lump crab, and serve freshly made pita alongside. For those who prefer land-based dishes, the F/V Smashburger is one of the best around, is served on a toasted brioche bun and of course includes homemade pickles. Vegetarians will be rendered dumbstruck at the unique ways Chef Sean includes a humble vegetable in his culinary journey, for example: the Tempura Sweet Potato Roll, an entirely vegetarian imagined sushi presentation.
Dinners are as special as they get, including lobster prepared in a variety of ways, grilled salmon, Pan-Seared Sea Scallops served in their own cast iron skillet, Spice-Crusted Ahi Tuna, Jonah Crab-Stuffed Atlantic Haddock and Hand Cut Ribeye Steak for the land lovers. Smart diners will save room for dessert with favorites like Key Lime Pie, Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake, Spiced Carrot Cake and S’mores made with a Chocolate Chunk Blondie.
At the bar it is a collaborative effort to create a selection of hand-crafted cocktails that change seasonally. An ever-changing, in-season list incorporates homemade shrubs by local company In the Mix—shrubs are herb and fruit concoctions that serve as mixers and syrups that elevate the standard to the extraordinary. For example, the Cape Cod Cosmo features a sublime homemade cranberry shrub that is far more complex than the usual cranberry juice. The extensive list of signature cocktails tops out around 20 per season and for those serious about the craft cocktails, the “pretty” ones stand up to serious scrutiny for the palate as well. In other words, the thought and consideration invested into creating these unique libations is evident in every sip. The only disappointment is found at the bottom of the glass. A thoughtful wine and craft beer list rounds out the bar selection. Given the water view beyond the bar, the opportunity for people watching, the hustle and bustle of the boats coming and going into the marina and the entertaining loop running on the televisions, this is one restaurant where a seat at the bar is an event in itself—with or without food.
One of the greatest aspects of Fishermen’s View Seafood Market & Restaurant is the retail market. Benefitting directly from the fishing operations of the three boats, Denny Colbert’s commitment and understanding of the fishing industry places an emphasis on offering options that are caught sustainably. In addition to the local favorites like cod, haddock, clams, mussels, oysters and of course lobster; the market offers specialty seafood like Alaskan King Crab legs, whole octopus, escargots, and calamari. Grab-and-go items like crab cakes and a wide variety of condiments make serving delicious seafood almost as easy as ordering in the restaurant.
The Cape’s dining landscape has changed for the better since the Colbert brothers decided to carve out a second career in their retirement. The new restaurant offers an unparalleled vantage of not only a water view, but one that accurately represents what goes into putting our treasured seafood on a plate. The Colbert’s commitment to quality and community has forever changed the way we dine for those of us lucky enough to partake in their dream .
Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod HOME.