Sandy beaches, scenic vistas and savory seafood make this seaside Cape Cod town a tourist mecca.By Lenore Cullen Barnes | Pictured above: mussels at The Chatham Squire
The great white sharks migrating to the waters off Chatham in recent summers are just the latest in a long line of devotees whose biological GPS steers them to this charming town on the “elbow” of the Cape. From Lighthouse Beach to the Chatham Fish Pier to Friday night concerts in Kate Gould Park, Chatham oozes old Cape Cod, but it stays invitingly current, with dynamic art galleries, stylish stores and a pleasing mix of casual beer joints and upscale dining.
THE CHATHAM SQUIRE
487 Main Street, 508-945-0945
For 50 years, The Chatham Squire has been as steady a town landmark as the beacon cast by Chatham Light onto the Atlantic Ocean. It is a favorite of a loyal year-round clientele, summer vacationers, fishermen, families and the young and the restless. Because it boasts a generator, it is a gathering place for the hearty snowplow drivers during winter storms and for news reporters covering the latest influx of sharks. The menu has remained remarkably stable over the decades.
“We don’t want to change much,” manager Sara Maroohey says. “It’s what makes us who we are. We have a local clientele we don’t want to alienate.”
What keeps customers coming back, in addition to the friendly atmosphere and reasonable prices, is the clam chowder, lobster bisque, fish sandwiches, and seafood entrees like Squire Cioppino. Raw bar offerings include local littleneck clams and Chatham oysters “from 1/16th of a mile away,” Maroohey says.
Steamers and stuffed clams, made in-house, are long-standing favorites. Ten beers on draft, plus a dozen more in bottles, wine and a full cocktail bar cater to a variety of thirsts. New to the menu this season is the Cape Cod Margarita, with Patron Silver, triple sec, lime juice, lemonade, cranberry and a lemon wedge.
BISTRO ON MAIN AND CHATHAM RAW BAR
593 Main Street, 508-945-5033
Just down the road is Bistro on Main and Chatham Raw Bar, tucked back a bit from the street traffic. Grab a table on the patio in the cozy bistro or in the sunny, expansive raw bar. White shiplap and dark wood lend a yacht-like feel, accented with framed nautical charts and boating accessories. Despite the décor, most eyes are on the offerings at the raw bar, which includes lobster, tuna, Stage Harbor little neck clams, jumbo shrimp cocktail, house-smoked salmon, and oysters from Chatham, Brewster, Yarmouth, Wellfleet and Dennis.
“We rotate the oysters,” owner Steve Vining says. “You can tell them apart; they’re all a little bit different. People like to try two of each and compare them.”
On the main menu, crispy duck spring rolls and Thai crab cakes are always popular appetizers. Crispy chicken Milanese, pan-roasted day boat sea scallops, Portuguese scrod and herb-marinated grass-fed New York strip steak top the list for many hungry visitors. Chef Timothy O’Brien and his staff rely primarily on locally sourced ingredients, while the bar boasts an exclusive lager, “The Finest Hour,” crafted by Wachusett Brewing Company solely for Bistro on Main and Chatham Raw Bar. Beers on tap include Devil’s Purse from Dennis and Hog Island out of Orleans. The wine list is sophisticated and diverse.
RED NUN BAR & GRILL
746 Main Street, 508-348-0469
Red Nun Bar & Grill is another year-round destination, welcoming visitors with award-winning burgers. Located next to the baseball field used by the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League, the pub is an easy stroll for a pre- or post-game meal of fish tacos, fish and chips or a pulled pork sandwich. The seating is intimate, with a couple of booths, high-top tables and regular tables. The bar seats about a dozen people, but in the warm weather the front patio and side porch double the capacity. Specials during our visit included beer and cheese pretzel bites, a pan-seared sesame dogfish over rice and stir fry vegetables, and mixed grill turkey tips and barbecued ribs with vegetable sides. There are 13 beers on tap, including Wachusett Red Nun IPA and Cape Cod Red.
PISCES RESTAURANT & BAR
2653 Main Street, 508-432-4600
Well worth the short drive from Chatham center is Pisces Restaurant & Bar in South Chatham. Housed in a yellow clapboard 1860s building with green striped awnings, Pisces is a culinary jewel in a homey setting. Paintings by local artists decorate the walls and a small bar at the front of the restaurant invites lingering. Chef/owner Sue Connors brings a Mediterranean touch to local seafood with delicious dishes like Mediterranean-style fishermen’s stew, which mixes sautéed shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops and cod in a spicy lobster broth, and calamari from Point Judith, Rhode Island, sautéed with lemon, thyme, garlic, tomato and Kalamata olives, and finished with lemon aioli and Maldon sea salt. Steamed local mussels are served with fresh fennel, leeks, garlic, flecks of plum tomato and white wine. Signature cocktails include the Pisces Cosmo, the Ultimate Martini and the Chatham Light Margarita. An extensive wine list features more than 20 wines by the glass.
Chatham may leave you counting the days until your next visit, but it won’t leave you hungry or thirsty.