Connoisseurs of the finest Scottish whiskies will say they can taste where a particular blend comes – by the smoky peat flavor and which waters were used in the malting process. Sommeliers will speak of how the earth beneath and breezes above a landscape flavor the grape that makes the wine. And what of seafood? Those who have a passion for this area’s seafood will tell you they can taste the difference between steamers dug from the cold sands beneath the crystal waters off Monomoy or pulled from a sun-warmed flat in Cape Cod Bay. There are Pleasant Bay Scallops and Nantucket scallops; Blue Crab from the waters of the Nantucket Sound; inky squid from Provincetown, or fresh firm cod tasting of the briny deep North Atlantic waters that surround our sandy spit of land.
How that miraculous abundance makes it to our tables is an amazing story of industry and hard work.
“There is so much,” said Bill Conway, owner/chef of the Captain Linnell House. “The fish is delivered seven days a week. It’s all here. The oysters are from down the street. The clams are from down the street. The fish is off the boat. The purveyors here are much better than in so many other places. We just try to stay in tune with what’s out there and we always go as local as we can go.”
Art Duquette, at the Nauset Beach Club said he relishes the idea that the seafood he serves in the evening has been harvested that morning.
“A local supplier delivers day-picked oysters and littleneck clams, plus lobsters from surrounding Nauset waters,” he said “Just on the other side of us here, is the elbow of Chatham and day boat fish arrives there each morning. It’s wonderful.”
To deliver such fresh fish, wild caught, can be an arduous task. Commercial fleets, comprised of privately owned boats, travel miles out to sea, to George’s and Stellwagon Banks and the northeast Canyons – whether the weather is foul or fair.
Closer to shore, much of the work is tide dependent. Digging steamers on a brilliant summer morning might seem idyllic: wandering the flats, listening to the cry of gulls and gentle susurrous of wind and water, feeling the gentle salty breeze – the reality is that it can be harsh work. It takes hours to harvest enough clams to make a living.
These days aquaculture practices can make some of the harvest work more predictable, as shellfish are grown in cages or in submerged boxes. Among the numerous Cape shellfish farms, is Rock Creek, named for the tidal creek in Orleans that empties from the marsh into the bay. A low-tide walk over the salt-white flats in the bay often finds the Farrells, Kyle and Wendy, who own the company, working their grant themselves. Their oysters frequently find their way into the finest area restaurants including Joe’s Barley Neck Inn and the Land Ho!
“Orleans is a popular destination for the savvy tourist,” said Ted Mahoney, of Mahoney’s Atlantic “Our guests come from all of over the world and are highly appreciative of the fresh local fish, hearty salads, and the full eclectic menu with something delicious for every vegetarian, carnivore and seafood lover. We love the bustle of the summer, and enjoy meeting so many new, fascinating people.”
From elegant white-linen dining to meals on red checked oil cloth, Orleans has restaurants for every seafood taste. More casual dining experiences that feature some of the best fried seafood include The Yardarm Restaurant, featured on the 2014 July 4th Fox 25 Zip Trip, The Lobster Claw, Cooke’s Seafood on Rt. 6A and Liam’s at Nauset Beach, which was featured in the 2014 June/July issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine; and Sir Cricket Fish & Chips, whose award winning Fisherman’s Platter is an extravagant sampler of the Cape’s best seafood.
Every day restaurants and residents purchase high quality seafood from local markets, including Orleans Seafood. Don Berig, owns The Lobster Claw Restaurant, an atmosphere perfect for seafood lovers with fishing nets and captain’s chairs abound. “I have been in the seafood business since the age of four, working at my grandfather’s fish market. I know what good quality is, and I check everything myself. Orleans Seafood is a phone call away when we run short and their quality is top-notch.”
Chris King owner of Orleans Seafoods, is a fourth generation Cape Codder who captains the “Donna Marie” and distributes fresh seafood to restaurants on Cape Cod, distributors in Boston and directly to consumers. The market distributes native cod, haddock, sole, lobster, clams and oysters to the The Beacon Room, Mahoney’s Atlantic, The Lobster Claw, The Jailhouse, Guapo’s Tortilla Shack, The Yardarm Restaurant, Orleans Waterfront Inn along with many other restaurants in the Lower Cape.
For four generations Nauset Fish ‘n Lobster Pool has retailed local mussels, quahogs, cherrystones and littlenecks to seafood lovers. It’s not uncommon for local shellfishermen sell to Nauset Fish for their entire career. “Most of our shellfishermen are from Orleans and Chatham” said Chris Dauphinee, manager at Nauset Fish. “Usually we start by working out a deal at our back door, we offer a fair price and their product is consistent.”
For those who plan to cook in, Chris offers some advice, “Keeping the temperature below 40 degrees is the key to enjoying your seafood whether you catch it your self or purchase it from a market.”