The New York Times recently reported that Wellfleet, MA, a 14-mile drive from Provincetown, is a burgeoning, sleepy town on Outer Cape Cod and slowly becoming the getaway destination for city dwellers infiltrating from Boston, New York and Philadelphia, as well as socialite sun-worshipers fleeing from the Hamptons and Nantucket.
A hidden treasure for the literati, designers, architects and creative types seeking a quiet retreat from the rest of the Cape, this quiet town, settled by the Wampanoag tribe, is a haven for artists and nonconformists. The scruffy village has been the antithesis of the fancy resorts in Hyannis and Chatham, as well as the carnival streets of P Town; it’s a world away from the parade of drag queens, expensive Inns and festive debauchery. While the high season runs through August, many city dwellers seek out the seaside town during the fall for the changing of the leaves and brisk Atlantic winds. Allegedly, only the locals really know what exists beyond the jetties, dunes and brambles. October celebrates their major export and maritime farming staple with OysterFest.
There are many attractive homes up for sale on the Cape. However, of the houses listed in Wellfleet, 40-percent are priced at over $1 million and are still on the market. The costliest listing is a contemporary oceanfront house with the asking price of $2.695 million. The least expensive, according to a local real estate agent, is $300,000. Compared with other seasonal real estate properties, that’s a bargain.
The Outer Cape has attracted those who shun manicured hedgerows on Long Island and the hedge-fund infused gangs of Nantucket. These locals and ‘seasonal pilgrims’ rent out rustic cabins and weathered bungalows off the beaten path and hidden in the woods of pitch pine, black oak, and sandy walkways; many of these buildings are sheltered within the confines of the Cape Cod National Seashore issued as public land by President Kennedy in 1961. Some have passed them along generation by generation, others are lucky enough to lodge in Modernist housing hidden in the dunes or domiciles tucked in the woods near glacial kettle ponds — it’s bohemia near the beach. One cottage without plumbing or electricity was the escape residence of Eugene O’Neill.
While the Cape is chock-full of lobster shacks, mom-and-pop eateries and local markets (all franchise restaurants are prohibited except for one Dairy Queen), Wellfleet has one eclectic dining hot spot that is the passion and work of a Frenchman representing the culinary arts, Chef Philippe Rispoli.
Nonchalantly housed on Lecount Hallow Road is PB Boulangerie Bistro. This restaurant/bakery opened in 2009. Its exterior is rather nondescript with pink walls, modest landscaping and a strip mall parking lot, but what takes place inside is an entirely different world. Word of mouth has created lines every morning for the bakery and advanced reservations for the restaurant at peak hours. The bistro is positioned carefully on the cutting edge for the town’s revitalization and contributes to the quirky and mysterious gems off of Route 6.
Phillipe Rispoli is originally from Vilette d’Anton, a village just outside of Lyon. He was mentored under Pierre Orsi, and later studied under the tutelage of Daniel Boulud, working through every station of his namesake restaurant, DANIEL, in New York City.
Mr. Rispoli started his cooking internship at the age of 14 “I come from an Italian family on my mother’s side. I grew up with my mother’s cooking and I helped her and my grandmother prepare these amazing home-cooked meals,” he says. “I was also learning at a local auberge. I later went on to study the hardware of the business in professional kitchens in France.” The kitchen at PB Boulangerie Bistro is completely in view from the dining room as Chef Rispoli wants all guests to see everything that is taking place on the front line and beyond — it enhances the dining experience.
“Twenty years ago I visited the Cape on a vacation and after I left, I said I would never come back. I’m glad I gave it a second chance and I had friends from France who came with an attitude about American cuisine. Now they keep returning, they get it. It takes time and dedication. We use local fish, produce and several North East purveyors for meat. We are not reinventing the wheel, we are just feeding people.”
Entering the establishment through the bakery is a pastry Nirvana — guests pass a wide assortment of confections and freshly baked breads, there are imported mustards, relish and other condiments on the shelves. Once inside the dining room you will notice the jovial locals dining under seafaring light fixtures and surrounded by a collection of retro copper molds for puddings, jellies and culinary delicacies. At some point during your visit, the host or hostess will play the traditional French music box called Limonaire Fournier (above). The sounds are reminiscent of Les Sans Culottes, Montmartre, Edith Piaf, and La vie en rose.
Le Grande Dégustation consists of homemade Pâté de Campagne, Duck Prosciutto, Bresaola, Coppa, Saucisson de Lyon, Prosciutto di Parma from Italy and Chorizo from Spain. The selection of meats are extraordinary with notable mention for the paté and proscuitto. This is one of the chef’s favorite dishes to share and eat when dining with large groups.
Oysters: This woebegone whaling community has been known for their oysters for decades and no visit would be complete without trying at least one mollusk. Several of my dinner guests chose to refrain from them. Big mistake. I indulged on them and delighted in their flavor accompanied with the perfect glass of Prosecco. What makes their oysters so distinct is that they are clean and plump, even the shell has a distinct weight; the flavor is a very enjoyable balance of salty waters, sweetness and brine. Mid October is OysterFest and it’s a celebration of more than your traditional Blue Points, Chesapeakes, Cotuits, Malpeques, etc.
Chef Rispoli’s menu is vast and includes traditional bistro fare such as Steak Frites, Poulet Fermier Bio a la Broche, Rack of Lamb and Duck Breast seared with Foie Gras. Naturally, seafood takes precedence but I would also recommend the special pork chop.
Make sure to save room for dessert. The bakery/restaurant offers a wide variety of sweets including: gelato, pain au chocolate, nepolitan and an assortment of macaroons. This is part of the reason for the line outside the door every day.
As the affluent and upwardly mobile suckle from the creative class’s teat, the developers and philistines cannot destroy the flavor of the community. Wellfleet, like most of the Cape, has enough laws grandfathered in the books to preserve the region and keep it on the same historic, sandy and gritty path.
Read more here: http://www.wellfleetchamber.com
PB Boulangerie Bistro
15 Lecount Hollow Rd.
South Wellfleet, MA
Learn about the Wellfleet Oyster festival: http://www.wellfleetoysterfest.org
Photos: Richard Sobol and PK Greenfield