Tony Pasquale and Terra Luna
Cape Cod Life / July 2019 / Art & Entertainment, Food & Dining, People & Businesses
Writer: Rob Conery / Photographer: Josh Shortsleeve
The Man, The Chef, The Legend
Tony Pasquale brings a groovy flavor all his own
to Terra Luna and the Outer Cape community
Terra Luna only seems like a restaurant. It’s really a Truro crossroad where pleasure seekers meet. Step inside, and the difference becomes clear.
Look at the walls: rustic wood paneling and album cover art—it’s like a hip chateau in après-ski Chamonix. Look at the drink selection: festive—one section is dedicated to “Bubbles and Pinks.” Look at the menu: offering, in their words, “Rustic Neo-Pagan Cuisine.” For owner/chef Tony Pasquale, it’s all about one word, enjoyment.
Pasquale’s culinary journey on the Cape began in 1988 at North Truro eatery Goody Hallet’s. It’s now a bank branch, but he describes Goody Hallet’s as being “a crazy place [with] college students in the kitchen, trying not to blow the place up while using the pressure fryer for broasted chicken.”
Being one of those college students, Pasquale graduated from Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. He then went on to intern at a Seattle restaurant. “This was during the height of grunge music,” says Pasquale. “I used to see Mudhoney at a crummy little bar under a bridge.” After moving back to the Cape in 1997, he returned to the Cape and started at Terre Luna where he rose through the ranks from cook to sous chef to ultimately kitchen manager.
In 2011 he bought Terra Luna from Raïna Stefani, and created a charming 69-seat bistro presenting creative Mediterranean dishes. “As a chef, I like the freedom to create a vision for the food,” Pasquale says. “As an owner, I have the rest of the place to also fulfill that vision—from staffing to décor to music.”
He praises the abundance and sheer variety of catch that Cape fishermen bring him—from lobster, clams and oysters to bonito and striped bass—providing an endless source of inspiration for his innovative dishes. “I really dig the trash fish,” says Pasquale about underutilized fish like mackerel, sardines, skate, dogfish and whelk, which he uses in a variety of ways for his Provincetown/Portuguese and Azorean dishes. Terra Luna menu favorites include Sicilian littlenecks over spaghetti, Setubal-style grilled sardines, Eastham mussels with vermouth garlic butter as well as their pork chops, “a big seller,” and vegan options. With fresh meat and fish arriving daily, sourced from the best offerings at the Wellfleet and Truro farmers markets, in Pasquale’s skilled hands, it all adds up to an inspired creation.
Being the Renaissance man he is, Pasquale’s alter ego, Tony Scungilli, is the radio host of the Squid Jigger’s Blend on Wednesday mornings on WOMR in Provincetown. Described as “full tilt outermost mooncusser primitive chunka chunka featuring the sweetly fecund sounds of low tide surf guitar noir,” it is popular among the locals. Mornings are full of energy as he cheerfully mixes tracks from local bands with anything from Eddie Cochran and Frank Zappa to the 220.127.116.11’s.
His vote for best Cape Cod band goes to the Incredible Casuals, a now defunct group that rocked the stages of local haunts back in the ’80s and ’90s. “I was an incredible casualty for a long time,” jokes Pasquale of their legendary run of shows, including the raucous Sunday afternoon happy hours at the Wellfleet Beachcomber.
Pasquale also says he enjoys “any incarnation of a band with Steve ‘Woo Woo’ Wood,” who once was called the world’s loudest guitar player. Wood’s band the Greenheads are just one of the many eclectic and under-the-radar acts that occasionally play Terra Luna. He calls the all-girl band The Ticks “amazingly good fun” and says the Sacred Mounds “are not to be missed, ever. Incredible songwriting and musicianship—they are the closest to the restaurant’s neo-pagan true fine groove.”
His show is beloved among the rabid following of the Outer Cape beach community—more than one person called it the soundtrack to their life—and there’s even a coffee named after him: Beanstock Coffee Roasters of Wellfleet began offering a special Squid Jigger’s Blend about five years ago. Local rocker Sarah Swain says, “Tony’s radio show is a Wednesday morning institution in our house.”
Singer/songwriter Chandler Travis admits that the early morning radio show preempts the usual start of his day, but he approves of Pasquale’s subversive attempt to weave his brand of musical expression into the shared airwaves of diverse audiences. Travis still laughs at the time he was forced to get up at the unnatural hour (for a working musician) of 7 a.m. to appear on Pasquale’s show, and how he and his band the Catbirds “cursed him out thoroughly,” as chronicled in “Outermost Radio: The Film.”
SING FOR YOUR SUPPER
Pasquale’s culinary and musical talents alchemize at Terra Luna, adding to an atmosphere of uncommon grace. There is always music playing in the background, from a song list he personally curates, and occasionally a live band—Terra Luna hosted shows by the Spampinato Brothers and the Greenheads in the summer of 2018. Visiting musicians are sometimes encouraged to “sing for their supper.” Case in point: One summer evening, The Ticks, strolling among the tables and filling the air with acoustic music, were mightily rewarded with a chef’s choice, tour-de-force, multi-course feast.
Chandler Travis cites the “sing for your supper” nights as his personal favorite, with high marks for the blackberry polenta desert, while praising the “home-y and intimate feel of the place.” All of this—the food, the atmosphere, the generosity of spirit—make for a special series of neural stimuli that contribute to a palpable sense of place—that ephemeral and rewarding “be here now” feeling.
In a demanding, competitive field with a high burnout rate, Pasquale’s enthusiasm is undiminished—his calm control an attribute as valuable as any recipe. His years behind the line have offered a participant’s view of changes in the industry. When he started out, he says, “There was no such thing as a celebrity chef; there wasn’t even the Food Network yet.” Pasquale never met the late Anthony Bourdain (who also paid his dues in kitchens around Provincetown), but he says he admired the man for his “big influence on what the [chef] lifestyle could be like.”
Now it’s Pasquale’s lifestyle, his recipes, his abilities and his vision that are on brilliant display at Terra Luna. Regulars speak of the warmth and unique “Truro-ness” of his restaurant. One says she feels lucky to be there every time she visits; another says the food is so good she secretly doesn’t want tell anyone.
Orleans writer Susan Blood—an admittedly non-adventurous eater—says of Terra Luna: “We ask Tony for recommendations. Sometimes his recommendations scare me and I revert to my usual Straw & Hay (a dish of grilled chicken, Kalamata olives, roasted garlic and basil over baby spinach and spaghetti), but if you buckle up and go for it you’ll be rewarded with something like the Portuguese Sardines, which look like they should be in a painting by a Dutch master.”
Sarah Swain best describes Pasquale: “In a world where counter culture is curated and marketed back to us in whispery folk music and coconut oil, Tony Pasquale is truly authentic and refreshing. He’s a real life, unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll DJ/poet/food genius/man.”