Bear Necessities: New Restaurant CastAways Battens Down for Bear Week
On June 6, as the easternmost point of Massachusetts slouched toward summer, the Ursus Americanus that had already gained some notoriety as "The Cape Cod Bear" landed in Provincetown.
Perhaps it was the Cape Cod Canal the teenage black bear had already swum across or the more than 50-miles of wooded Cape it traversed, or it might have even been the good sense this horny young male evinced on the internet tweeting: "study hard, stay well read, don't eat people."
Maybe the good citizens of Provincetown were exhibiting the unconscious death drive Timothy Treadwell did in the film "Grizzly Man," but whatever the case, they welcomed The Cape Cod Bear with open arms.
Crowds of bear search parties formed, local businesses put out placards welcoming the Cape Cod Bear and the Cape Cod Chips factory in Hyannis tried to claim him for their very own, dispensing some not very sound nutritional advice that encouraged him to eat their chips instead of people.
Dean Weston Marshall and Matt King, the new chef and owner, respectively, of Provincetown’s latest breakfast and lunch spot inside the Gifford House named CastAways, popped their heads up long enough to get a blackberry-loaded "Black Beary" pancake cookie-cut into the shape of a bear onto the list of that day’s specials, but planning for bears in Provincetown is nothing new for these two.
It’s something they started thinking about as soon as they were tossed together in mid-April to open their new restaurant and they’ve pretty much been in countdown mode for Provincetown’s annual Bear Week that kicks off July 7th since. And the pair bring "meet cute" to a whole new level. King is a Cape Cod native, while Weston Marshall’s last port of call was Phoenix. When asked how long he’s been on the Cape, the ruddy, unshaven chef replies grouchily: "Two winters!"
King, the airier of the two, was a chemist who found himself in Los Angeles working on food styling while Weston Marshall has restaurants in his genes, having first worked at his family’s place on Lake Placid--called, incidentally, The Black Bear--but he’s let his culinary skills take him to locales as far flung as Moab, Utah. They’ve spent virtually every moment together since they opened in April on Friday the 13th, something they’d both much rather call "shoulder season."
When asked what they argue about most frequently, Weston Marshall says it’s the sometimes fuzzy line of demarcation between back of house--Weston Marshall’s area, which definitely includes the kitchen--and the front of house, which is King’s domain. Instead of answering the question himself, the L.L. Bean-dapper King asks, "What did he say?"
While King claims a staff of "six or seven," when I pop in for a late afternoon visit, I only see him taking orders and serving, while Weston Marshall pops his head out the kitchen occasionally to chat. "The less people involved," King states, "the more control we have." When asked if they consider this a soft-launch or if the menu is set, Weston Marshall replies, "I will tinker until we close our doors."
This tinkering includes "hundreds of different kinds of waffles." Today sees "cappuccino waffles" as a special. And something Weston Marshall is completely stoked about: a traditional Philly cheese steak with a braided, pretzel bun called Philly’s Finest ($13). It represents his strategy as a chef: take comfort foods with some healthy options, but always throw in a twist, or, in this case, a pretzel.
When the sandwich arrives tableside, it takes only a few bites to realize the pretzel bun is a masterstroke, chewy but delicious. The mixed cheeses would have benefitted from a bit more decisiveness, as they wind up glued to the roof of one’s mouth with no discernible flavor rising to the fore, but before long the entire contraption collapses into a scrumptious pile requiring a fork.
Other menu items I sampled were a lighter Grilled Shrimp Skewers ($10) appetizer wherein a pair of skewers alternated between Caribbean spiced and rum marinated shrimp and cherry tomatoes, but the dish’s surprise standout was the perfectly grilled pineapple the skewers were served atop. An order of Parmesan and crack black pepper fries that accompanied the sandwich were crispy on the outside, but warm and soft inside.
While he’s looking for healthy options, Weston Marshall errs on this side of Paula Deen, more than once mentioning "bacon fat" as the secret ingredient in some dishes and calling The Lift Raft ($10), a traditional southern breakfast of homemade buttermilk biscuits swimming in gravy with country sausage, their best-seller.
King adds they’re as likely to sell as much of this dish when they open at 7am as when they’re closing up shop at 5pm and are committed to offering breakfast whenever you decide to stumble in. "If you’re drinking until four in the morning," Weston Marshall adds, "you need something to eat." At this point, the boys assemble for an impromptu interview.
A cute, beachy twenty-something has arrived, sans resume, to talk to them about an ad placed for help in the restaurant. As they set up shop behind me, their interview technique proves almost as delicious as the food on offer. Hardly a few minutes in, the prospective interviewee offers, "I don’t really party or anything, but I want to go to the beach."
King and Weston Marshall wrangle for a while over whether this candidate is better suited for the front or back of house. King loses interest and wanders back to my table, this time up-selling his skills as a baker, a holdover from his days as a food stylist. "I make a classic whoopee pie," he says, again testing that line between front and back of house. He adds that most of the herbs in my soup du jour, a cup of Chicken Noodle ($4) came direct from their the Gifford House garden and only one item on the menu is "not made from scratch."
At this point, Weston Marshall concludes the interview and trods back across the industrial, tan carpet. "Did he get it?" I ask as he just shrugs his shoulders widely, playing the interview as close to the vest as how he gets those pancakes into the shape of bears. He points out the nautical decor: fishing maps, nautical charts, even light fixtures in colored bottles saying it all relates back to the CastAways theme, or "little bits and piece of everything." He mentions "Robinson Crusoe" and "Gilligan’s Island," saying "there’s some mysticism to this message in a bottle stuff."
Even the menu reflects this with breakfast items taking their cue from sources as far flung as Coleridge’s Albatross ($11), a three egg omelet with your choice of meat, home fries and toast and the tight white tee-shirt epic "White Squall" ($11) referenced in their three egg whites scrambled with mixed garden veggies and your choice of cheese with fruit and toast. Just don’t mention that Tom Hanks movie around Weston Marshall. It’s a hot button. And probably the reason the name of his restaurant is mashed together and pluralized. One can only assume his scruffy look has already drawn comparisons.
"We’re a land of misfits," Weston Marshall says of Provincetown. His brief stint as a houseboy when he first arrived would seem to confirm this. I ask him what a misfit does on his day off and the response is a quick, "What day off?" He explains that he’s worked for sixty-one consecutive days since April, adding, "I grew up in restaurants. I only operate at my best in restaurants."
Only time will tell if the CastAways concept--open earlier than most Provincetown breakfast spots, serve breakfast all day, but close at five before the dinner rush gets going--will pan out. If you ask most people about the restaurant at the Gifford House they’ll rattle off recent incarnations as an Italian restaurant and a Thai joint, but King stresses his skill as a marketer and both King and Weston Marshall are looking forward to Bear Week as their trial by fire.
As I push myself away from the table, completely sated, King reappears pushing some of his homemade cupcakes. They look delicious, and I tell him that I’m the kind of diner that, back in New York City, spends most of the meal mentally GPS-ing the dollar pizza joints on my route home, but in this case I am full to busting.
Weston Marshall overhears and makes a beeline for the table, beaming. "Do you think it will get the bears here?" he asks. I nod in the affirmative. "If it doesn’t, I’m going to cover myself with honey and lie down on our doorstep," he cracks, laughing as he makes his way back to the kitchen.
INFO: CastAways is located at the Gifford House on 11 Carver Street, Provincetown. They serve breakfast from 7am to 5pm with a lunch menu available in the afternoon.
The takeout line is 508-487-2278 and the full menu is available at www.ptowncastaways.com