Since 1985 I have been visiting home cooks and professional chefs around the Upper Cape, recording their thoughts, ideas, kitchen experiences and favorite recipes. In March of this year, that changed. It was never more apparent than when I went to Woods Hole to meet with Beth Colt, who owns Quicks Hole Tavern, and her new executive chef, Sarah Dufour.
Beth had asked Sarah to roll out some of their new summer dishes for a tasting. Sarah had been working on the menu for a while and was excited to have some of the staff try out her new creations. We stood around a few tables on the second-floor dining room, masks on, keeping our distance from each other. Quite a difference from the relaxed times of old when we would sit together and share plates, passing them around—usually after photographing them for posterity (and this column).
The Tavern is now open four nights a week, from Thursday through Sunday. Photos of some of the dishes we sampled accompany this column. Without exception, they were all delicious—a harbinger, hopefully, of things getting back to normal (sort of). We started with a burrata salad with heirloom tomato, arugula, basil pesto and balsamic glaze, along with a plate of the Jonah crab cakes that are served with a caper aioli.
Sarah told me she has been cooking professionally since 2012. She came to the Cape four years ago and spent time on the line in the kitchen at Quicks Hole before being promoted. I asked about her inspiration for these gorgeous summer dishes. “People want lighter fare in the summer,” she replied. “I knew I wanted to combine the salmon with a citrus glaze and include some stone fruit and sun-dried tomatoes. That dish is now the ‘Blood Orange Glazed Salmon with sun-dried tomato and charred corn salad, grilled asparagus, poached nectarines and arugula.’”
The steak is a specialty cut, Beth explained, from the bottom of the sirloin, making it especially tender. It is served with a chimichurri sauce, along with garlic roasted fingerling potatoes, haricot vert and blistered cherry tomatoes. Sarah commented on the chicken entree, which is a half-chicken that is first cooked for three hours in olive oil (the confit), then rubbed with harissa and seared just before serving. That comes with pearled couscous, olives, fresh figs, crumbled feta, roasted red peppers and sautéed zucchini ribbons.
You can’t eat at Quicks Hole without having lobster of some sort. They are renowned for their lobster rolls, but Sarah wanted to add something else. “You won’t hate yourself for ordering the lobster gnocchi—it’s a little heavier dish, but it reheats well the next day,” she added with a smile. She combines that with “house-made ricotta gnocchi, fresh English peas, baby heirloom tomatoes and cremini mushrooms in a savory leek cream sauce topped with pea greens and a butter-poached lobster tail.”
Her vegetarian entree is a “curried cauliflower steak, served with apricot farro, roasted spring carrots, baby heirloom tomatoes, wilted watercress, confit leeks and walnut dukkha.” Sarah commented that this brings her back to her “light and healthy cooking.” Beth said Sarah’s commitment to plant-based dishes brings raves from their vegetarian customers.
Our tasting finished with a fabulous flourless chocolate cake that was topped with salted dark-chocolate ganache, macerated berries and lemon whipped cream. “I think this is a perfect summery menu,” Beth declared. “It stays true to our brand but is a riff on what is in season on Cape Cod in the summer.”
This is the seventh summer for the Tavern, which opened in 2014. “This is the menu we will be serving when we can seat people again,” Beth said. “Hopefully, this is a most unusual time. We are still doing takeout and curbside pickup, but to operationalize this dinner menu we will need to figure a few more things out.”
I asked Beth to follow up my visit with an email, describing the past few months. Here is her reply: “In the winter, Quicks Hole Tavern typically remains open seven days a week to serve our community. I was watching the arrival of systemic problems as early as January. By mid-March, I was very concerned about the safety of both our staff and customers given the scale of the outbreak in Massachusetts. When the governor announced his move to close restaurants on March 17, we made the painful decision to comply. Every Falmouth restaurant has had its own journey navigating this nightmare. We offered company loans at no interest to bridge staff to unemployment, we increased our health insurance contribution to 100 percent, we created a food bank for staff in need and we spent our downtime reading Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on best practices for safe reopening.”
More than a glimmer of hope in the darkest days was the number of fans who showed their support, Beth wrote.
“Some bought gift certificates from the tavern’s website; Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank subsidized ‘lift certificates’; Highfield Hall called to book summer events; Falmouth Road Race supported us—it was gratifying to witness loyal friends rooting for us to survive,” she wrote. “Our college-age sons returned home unexpectedly early, which was a pleasant surprise. We watched them struggle with Zoom lectures and breakout rooms just as we were trying to figure out how to meet safely with our team online. We got used to staff meetings online with kids running through the background and adjusted expectations for staff members trying to work and home-school at the same time.”
A highlight, Beth wrote, was hanging in the backyard to celebrate her son’s graduation from college in late May.
“Photographing a cap spin over Eel Pond instead of a college quad was unexpected, but we certainly got more of his attention than we would have at a more traditional gathering,” she wrote. “In mid-May, as outbreak numbers improved in Massachusetts, we reopened both Quicks Hole Tavern as well as the Taqueria for takeout and curbside pickup. Our loyal guests have come out in heartening numbers to enjoy a fine Woods Hole meal and also to help us through this hard time. We are so grateful to each and every one! We plan to open with outdoor seating in our new “Garden” on Luscombe Avenue if it is approved by the town. Meanwhile, we will be providing limited indoor seating when Governor Baker says it is safe to do so.”
There are some items on the Tavern’s menu that cannot be omitted. One of those is their famous pig candy, another the delicious watermelon salad. Sarah graciously gave me instructions for home cooks to replicate these dishes, but to sample any of the new menu items you should travel on down to Woods Hole and pick them up or, better yet, enjoy them at the restaurant.
1 lb cured pork belly, cut into 1-by-3-by-¼-inch portions
Line a sheet pan with foil and coat with baking spray; put a wire rack on the foil and spray that as well. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and place the maple syrup in another bowl. Dip each piece of pork belly in the syrup, then into the dry ingredients to coat well. Place on the wire rack, making sure to space them evenly so that they don’t stick together when cooking. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes until the pork belly is bubbling and caramelized; let cool before serving.
1 pineapple, cored and cut into small dice
¼ red onion, cut into small dice
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 limes, zested and juiced
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld; this makes one quart, so you will have some leftover. To serve, arrange four to five slices of “pig candy” on each plate, along with 2 tablespoons of pineapple salsa.
¼ cup marinated watermelon
3 tbsp each: pickled red onion and crumbled feta cheese
2 tbsp honey jalapeno dressing
For one serving, arrange watercress on a serving plate and top with watermelon. Sprinkle with onion, feta and pecans and drizzle with honey jalapeno dressing.
Half a watermelon, rind removed and cut into ¾-inch-cubes
¼ tsp each: smoked paprika and salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Toss all ingredients together in a bowl; cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before using in the salad.
Bring vinegar, water and sugar to a boil; pour over julienned onions. Partially cover and allow to cool before using in the salad.
2 tbsp oil blend (90 percent vegetable oil, 10 percent olive oil)
Toss ingredients together and spread on lined half-sheet pan; roast in a preheated oven for 5 minutes. Cool before using in the salad.
Honey Jalapeno Vinaigrette
4 medium jalapenos, seeded and chopped
¼ cup smooth Dijon mustard
2⁄3 cup each: lime juice and rice wine vinegar
Blend first seven ingredients until smooth; slowly add in oil to emulsify. Store covered in the refrigerator when not using in the salad.