Harbor LIFE: Wellfleet
Fresh seafood & fine art set this coastal community apart
This is the fifth installment of a new series exploring the vibrant harbors across Cape Cod and the Islands
Henry David Thoreau wrote that “Nearly all the oyster shops and stands in Massachusetts, I am told, are supplied and kept by the natives of Wellfleet.”
A lot has changed since he visited Cape Cod in the mid-1800s. While Wellfleet oystermen no longer have a near-monopoly, the oyster industry is still a major part of the town economy. During a visit to Wellfleet Harbor, you can watch the oyster farms being worked or you can take your pick of restaurants that will serve some shellfish that was harvested just a few hours ago.
Start your visit at the town pier, which is also home to the harbormaster’s office. Mike Flanagan, who’s been harbormaster for 20 years, oversees about 200 slips and nearly 400 moorings. While some boats go offshore for scallops and sea clams, he says the harbor is mostly a small boat fishery for oysters. Flanagan says his job, like any other, has its ups and downs. Then he points across the harbor to Chipmans Cove and Indian Neck Jetty and says, “How can you go wrong looking out at this area?”
Strolling down the pier, which also is home to fishing charters and a boat rental company, you can share Flanagan’s view or, to the north, the view of the Duck Creek marshland. Don’t forget to look up to see the comings and goings from an osprey nest. At the far end of the pier is the Jan Rutz Harbor Bandstand, named in memory of a longtime volunteer for the Wellfleet Historical Society.
A good place to start your exploration of the harbor area is across from the pier at the Frying Pan Gallery on Commercial Street. Owner Steve Swain rehabbed the last intact oyster shack in the harbor area and turned it into a showcase for local artists.
“I love taking care of the building. It’s really special,” says Gina Trott, who’s worked at the gallery for three summers. “I also like to tell people that I look out my ‘office’ window and have an amazing view.”
Items in the gallery include photographs on aluminum by Shareen Davis, coastal paintings by Janet Lesniak and Karen Cappotto, wood and linoleum prints of coastal scenes by Ann Doyle, and jewelry by Lucia Moon. Plus, there are plenty of examples of Swain’s steel sculptures—seahorses, stripers, humpback whales and mermaids (with and without guitars, the former a tribute to his wife, local musician Sarah Swain). If you prefer practical art, check out Swain’s great white shark bottle opener, horseshoe crab sconce and lobster candle holder.
Adjacent to the gallery is Pearl Restaurant, where your seating options include a second-floor deck overlooking the pier and harbor and a marshside deck. There’s a raw bar (of course), chowder and the Big Bowls, filled with New England shrimp and grits, spicy paella or shrimp and scallop scampi. For the adventurous, you can create your own entrée with your choice of fish (cod, swordfish, tuna or salmon) and accompanying sauce (lemon beurre blanc, sweet and spicy plum, lobster aioli, pineapple gastrique or lime cilantro dill cream).
In the other direction from the gallery is a more casual option, Mac’s on the Pier. Fried seafood is the main draw here: clams, oysters, cod, shrimp and scallops. For a change of pace, try a burrito stuffed with fried fish or grilled scallops. The menu also includes lobster rolls and crab cake sandwiches, and the entire feast can be enjoyed at a picnic table under the shade of a beach umbrella, gazing at the nearby boat traffic, as sailboats dodge the working fleet.
If you’d rather prepare your own meal, visit Mac’s Seafood Market at the back of the building for fish, lobster and shellfish to-go.
The Wellfleet Shellfish Department and Beach Sticker Office (next to Mac’s on the Pier) is a good place to grab an informational brochure or ask a question. Native Americans and Pilgrims harvested oysters, quahogs and softshell clams in Wellfleet, but by 1890, the industry was in decline, due to over-harvesting.
Biologist Dr. David Belding recommended aquaculture seeding, helping to revive the industry. Today Wellfleet oysters are known around the world by discerning shellfish lovers, and the Wellfleet OysterFest fills the downtown blocks every October.
Commercial Street and Kendrick Avenue meet at a corner across from the pier. At 15 Kendrick Avenue, the former home of the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) is now home to the Harbor Stage Company. The company’s mission is “to preserve and promote the legacy of challenging live performance on the Outer Cape”—their appropriate tagline describes it as “a theater by the sea that’s right on the edge.”
Another doorway in the building takes you to Ceraldi, where chef Michael Ceraldi serves a seven-course prix fixe dinner using local ingredients, some of them from an on-site garden. One recent entrée was halibut with wild ramp chimichurri, chlorophyll broth and Silverbrook Farm asparagus. The interior décor is as unique as the menu—the light fixtures, for example, were made from old metal clam baskets.
Wander down Kendrick Avenue to Mayo Beach. At low tide you can watch the oyster farmers hard at work. The town has 150 wild commercial harvesters and 134 oyster grant holders, and there is no greater place to unwrap a “Rollwich,” the iconic sandwich from the Box Lunch, first established in Wellfleet in 1977.
The Bookstore & Restaurant is just across from Mayo Beach, so a seat on one of the outside porches is the place to be. The lunch menu includes Portuguese stew (mussels, scallops, calamari, linguica and a spicy red sauce served over linguini) and a baked cod, scallops and seafood medley.
The bookstore part of the business is on the back left of the building. Explore the narrow aisles and you’ll find an array of used novels and nonfiction titles, along with an impressive collection of old comic books and celebrity magazines, as a well as a shelf of books by Cape Cod novelist Joseph Lincoln.
On the backside of the building is the entrance to the subterranean Bomb Shelter Pub, a popular local watering hole. Next to the Bookstore & Restaurant is a recreational complex with a skateboard park, pickleball and tennis courts and the Baker’s Field tent, where free performances of Shakespeare captivate audiences of all ages during the summer.
Hop back in your car and head down Kendrick Avenue and Chequessett Neck Road for a trip that’s worth a spot on a list of the Cape’s best short, scenic drives. Shortly after you cross over the Herring River, look to the left for a Cape Cod National Seashore sign for parking for the Great Island Trail. You can hike to the Great Island Tavern Site (1.8 miles). A longer hike to Great Beach Hill (2.4 miles) provides majestic views of Wellfleet Harbor and Cape Cod Bay.
Head toward downtown and take a quick but memorable detour just off Commercial Street onto Holbrook Avenue to Wellfleet Marine. This unique business has been renting and repairing boats for almost 70 years, but less known is their fish market and unique gift shop. It is nearly impossible to walk away without finding a perfect gift or treasure for your own home or garden.
A bit farther down Commercial Street, grab a bite at Mac’s Shack. Just look for the fisherman on the roof who’s reaching over his boat to haul in a lobster that’s about three times as long as he is tall. The galleries on Commercial Street, like Left Bank, Cove Gallery and Cherry Stone Gallery, all feature local art in a variety of mediums.
Wise harbor visitors will leave time for a stroll on Main Street to check out shops like Curiouser & Curiouser, with their unique trove of affordable and sustainable goods. Live entertainment and films can be found at the Preservation Hall throughout the year. Dinner on the way back to Route 6 at the Wicked Oyster is worth the trip alone and will leave you planning your next return visit; perhaps a weekend at The Wagner at Duck Creek next door.
Enjoy lunch and dinner daily with spectacular views of Wellfleet Harbor and Great Island from the outer decks. Menu includes Wellfleet oysters and littlenecks, native seafood, steaks, pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and children’s favorites. Bomb Shelter Pub is open year-round 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. The bookstore has collector’s items.
50 Kendrick Ave • 508-349-3154 • wellfleetoyster.com
Curiouser & Curiouser is a place where all kinds of good things come together. They have a mixture of the familiar with the exotic, the old with the new. A thing that finds its way into their shop is special. Curiouser & Curiouser is known for it’s made-in-the-USA and Fair Trade focuses with a unique curation of artisans and crafters presented in inspiring and thoughtful displays. Products sold are chosen based on craftsmanship, quality and uniqueness, as well as the happiness they bring.
361 Main Street • 508-214-0299 • curiouserandcuriouserliving.com
Mac’s Seafood serves fresh, sustainably sourced seafood and creative coastal cuisine at their Outer Cape restaurants and seafood markets. Mac’s Fish House & Market in Provincetown and Mac’s Market & Kitchen in Eastham are open year-round. Mac’s Shack and Mac’s on the Pier, their original market and restaurant, are open seasonally in Wellfleet.
Right at Wellfleet Harbor with panoramic views. Open from 11:30 a.m. May-October. PEARL is the quintessential Cape Cod dining experience with indoor and outdoor seating on multi-level decks, and an extensive menu specializing in local seafood. Happy hour menu with live local music 3-5 p.m. on select days.
250 Commercial Street • 508-349-2999 • wellfleetpearl.com
Extend your trip to Wellfleet with a stay at The Wagner at Duck Creek. Past meets present at the three charmingly restored historic homes on the property. Enjoy picturesque views of the bay marsh and a laid-back meal at The Well Tavern + Kitchen, also the ideal venue for your special event.
70 Main Street • 508-349-9333 • thewagneratduckcreek.com
The Wicked Oyster, located at 50 Main Street in Wellfleet. Serving breakfast and dinner year-round, with lunch in the “off-season.” From burgers to filet mignon, The Wicked O is the perfect place for every taste! Preview the menus and reserve a table at thewickedo.com.
Just around the corner from the Wellfleet Pier, this unique establishment has been serving visitors and residents for more than six decades. Their full-service boat repair and rental operation ensures you can get out on the water for a full day of adventure. An on-site fish market and intriguing gift shop make sure you have something to take home.
25 Holbrook Avenue • 508-349-6417 • wellfleetmarine.com
Wellfleet Preservation Hall serves as a center for arts, culture and community connections. With over 600 year-round events ranging from weddings to concerts, yoga, dance performances and film festivals, anything can happen at the Hall! Located at 335 Main Street, in the heart of Wellfleet.
508-349-1800 • wellfleetpreservationhall.org
Hours for many businesses in Wellfleet change with the seasons, so be sure to check before visiting.
You might also like:
19 local nonprofits work to make a difference in the community.Read More
Dream-maker Tim O’Connell expands the horizon of hope with a second location for Tommy’s Place.Read More