Cape Cod: land of baseball caps, Red Sox fans, microbrews on tap, and really good seafood. Marie Fromage and I found a lot of all the above on a recent trip to Chatham, Massachusetts. Located on the “elbow” of Cape Cod, Chatham was home to the Nauset Indians and settled by the English in 1665. Much of the town is a historic district, and there are still a lot of (slightly spooky) 18th century houses in town.
One of the most popular restaurants there, the Chatham Squire, feels like it’s stuck in a time warp of its own, though this one may be closer to the Caddyshack-esque golden years of the ‘80s, much like Bertha’s Mussels of Baltimore. Vanity plates and old wooden signs line the walls, the game is on TV, and the beer starts flowing at lunchtime and doesn’t stop until close at 1am. There’s a restaurant dining room here, but the place to be is the bar, which operates like a town lunch counter for tourists and locals alike.
The Squire’s clam chowder is some of the best anywhere: creamy and stick-to-your-ribs good, it must be one of the inspirations for the expression “happy as a clam,” especially on a chilly afternoon. Marie Fromage identified something porky in the flavor—either a ham hock or smoked bacon is contributing to the taste.
The steamers are a lesson in the thing-in-itself. Pure and unadorned, these clams taste freshly plucked from the sea that morning—and probably are. Swish them in salt water to get out the grit and then dip them in butter. Or just eat them plain, because they have the perfect salty-sweet balance as is.
Despite its rather shrunken appearance, the biggest show stopper here is the bluefish, smoked on the premises. Fishy, oily, and packed with flavor, smoked bluefish is to fish what stinky is to cheese, and it’s seriously underappreciated down here in Manhattan. The Squire’s is made on the premises and served with crackers and horseradish sauce—spread it on the crackers, top with sauce, and either add onions or ignore them. The oil transports so much flavor that you could make a meal of this snack.
Needless to say, few meals here are complete without a beer, and few at the bar were abstaining. Go for the local Narragansett lager, crisp, toasty, and available on tap. The crowd at the bar isn’t always as well-behaved as it is at lunchtime, however. A sign hanging by the TV reads: “Squire rules: No more than 2 shots per customer. No shots served after 12am.” Get here at 11:30pm and you’ll see why…but you’ll probably still keep coming back.
The Chatham Squire
487 Main Street
Chatham, MA 02633