It is often assumed that Jenn and I are attached at the hip. We have been mistaken for sisters and even once for twins, although how our height and hair color differences didn’t tip people off otherwise I’m not sure. But at times we do exist separately, such as during my recent travels back East, however our shared love of travel and opportunity to do so continues even in each other’s absences. Such was the case on a day I found to myself with an opportunity to take a roadtrip to my favorite childhood spot on The Cape.
As I approached The Bourne Bridge, which won the American Institute of Steel Construction’s Class “A” Award of Merit as the “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” in 1934 and ceremoniously delivered me across the Cape Cod Canal, I smiled embracing the silence compared to the memory of piling into the family station wagon for the four hour action-packed ride with my siblings when I was a kid. Fortunately this trip was just 90 minutes from where I was staying. The familiar sights took shape as I was greeted by the iconic shrubbery sign spelling out “Cape Cod” as I arrived at the rotary.
I managed to make it once around in order to find my right route and headed in the direction of Dennis.
West Dennis, MA was where we stayed each summer and the very first landmark I encountered was the West Dennis Public Library, my go-to escape as a kid on a rainy day or for a pile of books to pour through at night back at our cottage. I popped in for a nostalgic walk around viewing the wide selection of books, kids corner and even a delicately handcrafted dollhouse on display (a traditional collectible item you can find throughout The Cape at shops along with antiques.) The library offers a variety of activities including creative writing workshops, yoga, crochet classes and reading sessions with the library puppies. Be sure to stop in when the cloud coverings clear out the beach.
Next stop was the local chain of the Christmas Tree Shops.
They’re a classic stop for knicknacks for bargain hunters and when I saw the familiar sign for one I had to pull into the parking lot. Don’t let the name fool you, you can find everything from summer patio decor to shell necklaces with your name to festive stocking stuffers. My mom loved to meander through when the weather turned and I even picked up a jar of pepper jelly in her honor. Try spreading it over a log of goat cheese to serve with crackers as a uniquely alternative appetizer for your guests or cocktail hour after a day at the beach.
With my taste buds tingling it was time for something sweet so I made my way to Stage Stop Candy in Dennisport. On this hot summer day I was greeted by both the refreshing AC and the always satisfying aroma of chocolate. Offering a fine selection of fudge and gourmet salt water taffy (I selected beach plum and creme brûlée) it is also the home of all things cranberry in the world of candy including: cranberry jellybeans, popcorn, and cream filled chocolates. I’m a truffle girl so I couldn’t resist their Cape Cod Cranberry Truffle I saw in the display case.
While the lovely saleswoman tallied up my purchase she produced a silver tray and offered me a sample of their dark chocolate cranberry cordial. As I bit down there was an instant OMG in my mouth! The rich bittersweet chocolate mixed with the tart liqueur… sensational. Do make a stop there yourself.
Finally it was time to hit the beach. You can never go home again but you can revisit your summer retreat so I took a drive down the road of our former rentals along Windward Road in West Dennis. Locked in time, I was happy to see not much had changed. The quaint cottages dotted the drive, including the home of my annual summer crush, a boy named Peter I used to shyly smile at and play in the waves with throughout my tweens. The sand dunes still figured prominently as I stopped to take a stroll and dip my toes in the warm water. A new generation of young families had taken our place now as their blankets and beach chairs were strewn throughout and children tossed around on their inflatable rafts. We’d spend our days here and at night, when the grownups were gone, as teenagers we would return to hang out and in my case receive my first kiss. I had outgrown Peter by then and shared it with an older boy named Mike (2 years my senior, which seemed light years away from my late-blooming age of 15). I chuckled at the memory of that nervous awkward moment, hoping we’d remain pen pals when we returned home, but I never heard from him again. Thus set the stage for my relationships with men I suppose…
Sea shells lined the shore where we would scoop up hermit crabs with our shovels and handfulls of seaweed to toss at each other after a storm. The row of rocks my brother and I would race down still stood in the sand reaching out into the water. Even the salty beach air smelled the same. After a sufficient enough time for me to reflect and retrace my steps of beach walks from bygone summers I left its warm embrace for a visit with a friendly fishmonger.
Just down the road I decided to drop by the Swan River Fish Market where I met Bill who wore an apron declaring “fishmonger” on its front.
Founded over 50 years ago by Capt. Don Sargent this was one of the first stops my family would make to pick out fresh lobsters and clams to bring home to boil and steam up for dinner upon arrival on The Cape. (Now I must confess, and this is almost sacrilege for this territory, but I don’t like seafood. Just can’t stand the taste. But that didn’t stop me from playing with the live lobsters on our kitchen table as they scurried about, making them dance, thankfully with their claws safely rubber banded before my mom tossed them in the pot. I like to think I gave them some last moments of joy before they met their fate, and our dinner plates.) Bill let me poke around the tanks and pointed out the bounty of the day’s catch. The spot overlooks the scenic banks of the Swan River, a raging rapid, depending on the time of day and tide, that my little brother and I used to body surf into the Atlantic.
Although I passed on the seafood my appetite was piqued and I soon found myself down the road swinging by Sundae School in need of a scoop.
This classic ice cream shoppe was the first place my big sister took us after receiving her drivers license and the keys to the car to take the rest of us younger kids out for a night as a treat. The true treats were through those doors. Situated right next to their own candy store the parlor is a page from history of an early Americana era with marble table tops, an authentic 80 year old soda fountain, period signs and even a player piano. Put in a quarter and it’ll play a ditty for you as you eat your ice cream.
Oh yeah, the ice cream… um, yum! I was looking forward to their black raspberry but was delighted to discover they had upped the ante with a flavor called Shark’s Tooth by combining it with white chocolate chips in honor of the recent great white shark sightings that have arrived in the area this season. A cute scooper named Kara served me up a cup which I chose to have drenched with their famous hot fudge. The ooey gooey decadence did not disappoint. Seated by me I met the Merrill family.
The Dennis locals were about to dig in when I snapped a shot of everyone’s favorite sundae the Our Famous Hot Fudge Sundae which comes with real whipped cream and is topped with a fresh Bing cherry. It looked divine and tasted it too they assured me. In the evenings this hot spot for a cool dessert deservedly has lines out the door, but if you make a mid-day pit stop like we did the place can be all yours.
With my sweet tooth primed I hit the brakes and pulled into the parking lot when I spotted the sign of my cherished bakery from my youth, Woolfie’s. As the sign says they offer “Old Fashion Home Baking” and a wide selection of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, desserts and even catering. The home baking takes place in a converted home itself nestled along this picturesque residential section of the street. As you wind your way up the walkway of the front yard and open the door you are greeted with their abundance of gigantic goods, specifically their massive muffins lunging at you from their case. I remember these oversized mammoths as a kid and although I have grown up I was glad to see they had not been downsized, instead they seemed larger. Nor had they skipped on the berries and assorted ingredients which decorated each top. Sticking with the local fruit of cranberry for this occasion I chose that one and was informed by the helpful Dale at the helm that day that it was actually cranberry walnut with orange zest- even better!
Dale guided me through their inventory and shared with me that he had come on board when his family took over the business from the original owners 2 years ago but assured me the recipes had remained the same. I will only contest that point in so much as I think they’ve gotten better. I spied my all-time favorite, their Mocha Stick. On Sunday mornings my father would head out early and return with a copy of the quintessential newspaper during our stay, the Cape Cod Times, and a box of treasures from Woolfie’s. Inside, along with those enormous muffins, would be mocha sticks and elephant ears (a multi-layered pastry sprinkled with sugar). The mocha stick consists of two sugary pastry sticks between which creamy sweet mocha filling is sandwiched.
It is a pure delight and sugar rush and the ones they make now were even better than I remembered as the filling seemed to billow right out from it. Dale told me I was in luck when I made my request as a fresh batch was just put out before my arrival. The bakery gods were shining that day. There were too many confections to choose from and count and I could have tried them all, but as I was retracing my childhood steps I stuck with my classics of the muffin, an elephant ear and that sinfully sweet mocha stick before skipping on my way. They serve coffee to compliment their menu and had I had the time I might have gotten a cup and stayed awhile as I crept toward my food coma, but I’m proud to report I simply took the box with me back home (with a bite or two for the road) and made those gems last a few days so I could relive the memory a little longer. Make your own memories and roll on into Woolfie’s.
As the late afternoon approached I utilized the last few hours taking in the scenery, which for me is the water, there’s just nothing like the beaches on The Cape in the summertime, so I strolled by another one, Haigis Beach, down the road. This public beach is available to just walk in to for free, otherwise you can park for a fee for the day.
I chatted up some of the fellow beach goers I passed in line at the ice cream truck, or “Hoodsie” as we called it as kids, based on the fact the ice cream was usually supplied by Hood but appeared now to be Blue Bunny. I had had my fill of sweet snacks so I skipped it but enjoyed the sight of the box truck and the still recognizeable ring of its bell. I took in the yachts at the Allen Harbor Yacht Club and Marina, as well as the lush hydrangeas, the unofficial flowers of this region, in bloom along the fences of the various sea salt sprayed cottages.
My final destination to dwindle out my day was The Lighthouse Inn. Just a stone’s throw down from the stretch of beach we used to rent at in West Dennis. As children we would walk along the shore and circle the grounds on our evening walks during sunset but I had never been past its doorway. On this day I made my way inside. The beautiful wood-carved interior carries the nautical theme for the property which houses the West Dennis Light.
It was first lit on May 1, 1855 and after being dark for 75 years the light was relit on on August 7, 1989, in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Accommodations are provided mid-May through Columbus Day in Cape-style guest houses as well as cottages on the grounds.
I proceeded through the dining room to their airy patio to take in the secluded ocean view as well as an actual substantial meal to balance out my earlier sugar intake. On the menu of specials that day was featured the Reuben Casserole, a scrumptious bubbling opened faced hot dish version of the classic sandwich. Accompanied by a heaping side of tasty pub fries and a refreshing lemonade I dove in while I sunned myself on the deck, enjoying the sight of the occasional kayak boater or sunfish sailor on the horizon. I watched the friendly waitstaff pass each other with trays and playful exchanges, a bit jealous of the joy that comes with a summer job. Most Cape Cod servers are college students relying on their earnings from their stint for their tuition and cost of living. I had the pleasure of being waited on by the charming Emily. When asked, she informed me that she attends Wesleyan where she’s studying Anthropology. I had attended a summer program there as a high school student called the Center for Creative Youth (go figure) where I embarked on my path toward drama school through their theatre division. We chatted about the campus and the social activities there and the culture of Connecticut and it turns out she’s a fellow traveler and blogger of her journeys as well. Check out her exotic adventures in Thailand on her site: http://kaojai.tumblr.com/
As I checked the clock I was sad to see it was time for me to leave and return to where I was staying, at my best friend’s home outside of Boston, but as I headed toward the exit I was stopped by two gentleman taking in the view with a beverage as well who asked about the food and if I might have any recommendations for some nearby spots for a beer. This is where the college kids on staff come in handy as they would most certainly know where to go. I informed them that I was just passing through and wasn’t sure as my childhood trips to the area hadn’t included any bars so I summoned over Emily who I was sure could help. She asked for suggestions from the others and returned with a few for my two new friends, Vince and Tom, who I was now seated with and chatting up. They had left their wives at the beach to escape the sun for a little buddy time and were intrigued by my adventures as I described my day. I was a bit bummed I couldn’t stay longer to share some more laughs, and a round or two, but told them to check out Dart and Map as I departed. Apparently I had made my mark as I received an email the next day from Tom who told me I had inspired the two of them to take a spontaneous jaunt of their own and try out some of the local haunts on their way home. Among them were: Captain Parkers, Kevin’s, Wooden Shoe, Rum Runners and Jack’s 28 Club. They rated Jack’s 28 the highest based on friendliness, coldness of beer and atmosphere. Way to go Vince and Tom! Now that’s the Dart and Map spirit. I’m so proud of you boys, and so glad I got to meet you!
It’s a great big beautiful summer out there, folks. Look how much you can do in just one day. Get out and travel!