Every restaurant is a fiefdom, each with its own miniature culture and specifics so particular that it’s difficult to write about a lot of restaurants at once. Yet we Outer Cape year-rounders can all bond instantly around a shared hunger for restaurants that stay open in winter.
And an objective look at the winter eating options on the Outer Cape reveals a surprising conclusion: the winter is not as bleak as you think.
Sure, Jan. 1 clamps down like a lion’s jaw on the economy out here. But there’s food being served at 11 places in Eastham (including a new one, Good Eats on 6), 26 in Provincetown, eight in Wellfleet, and three in Truro — 48 choices in all.
Even on a Tuesday, even in January, you can find dinner in every town.
See our list, which includes restaurants open year-round (YRRND) as well as our best attempt to tell you when mostly year-round restaurants take winter breaks of a few weeks to over a month. Most winter places take a couple of days off during the week but are not entirely closed. So while it may look dire midweek, don’t count out those spots on Friday and Saturday nights.
Here are a few tales of start-ups and survivors on the 2020 winter list.
Clifford and Amelia Harvey opened the Brickhouse Restaurant in Eastham in May 2018 and are about to begin their second winter season.
Originally from Jamaica, Clifford, the owner-chef, arrived in the U.S. on a J-1 student worker visa and remained, working at Fanizzi’s Restaurant in Provincetown for 11 years.
“I started working in the salads and became the sous chef,” he said.
In 2018, he walked into the former Jimmy D’s, a roadside bar on Route 6 that had been vacant and was “leaking and creaking,” he said.
In the dead of winter, with no heat, they remodeled, ripped up carpets and “cleaned a lot,” he said. They would drop off their daughters (now 12 and 6) at school and work until dark on their newly purchased building.
“Going through the first winter, we were really nervous, because we didn’t know what it was going to be like,” he said.
They had a breakthrough when they decided to offer music on Friday nights. “It just took off and it started a trend,” Harvey said. “Every Friday the place was packed — and that was awesome for a place on Cape Cod in the winter.”
Harvey said he adapts his winter menu to serve more comfort food at more affordable prices. Because people don’t have the same cash flow as in summer, the Brickhouse offers early-bird specials from 4 to 6 p.m.: $16.99 for three courses.
His dishes are American with a Caribbean flair. Harvey likes Jamaican jerk seasoning — except he removes the really hot spices.
“We eliminate the spice and add the flavor,” he said.
His jerk salmon, for example, is seasoned but not hot. He serves it with coconut rice and mango salsa.
Spindler’s in Provincetown is in its fourth year, and the staff has evolved into a compact but lively winter animal. The restaurant space has multiple rooms and a patio. But in winter they close some of the dining areas and shrink from 120 seats to 50.
“You can be more creative with 50 seats,” said executive chef Liam Luttrell-Rowland.
Spindler’s keeps a rotating list of offerings through the winter, with Mexican nights midweek and Chef Sunday Suppers, when a three-course meal is served family style for $25.
“This is a cozy space that allows us to entertain with food,” Luttrell-Rowland said. “This is how we interact with the people who make up Provincetown. If we were closed, we’d only see the tourist community.”
Spindler’s still loses money in the dead of winter, but, the chef said, it’s “a process,” and they hope to just break even one day. But there are important reasons to stay open besides money, he said.
Retaining staff is one. A good team makes a huge difference in quality and in atmosphere, said bartender Jobie Jacomine.
It’s hard to deliver deliciousness if you’re open only in the high season when you’re slammed with customers and there’s little time for creativity.
“For me, I have to keep cooking,” Luttrell-Rowland said. “Not that you cannot be good if you’re open only in high season. But intention is everything with food.”
If your interest is only making money, the food will reflect that. If your intention is to be part of a community, that, too, will come out in the food, he said.
“To fulfill my mission to be a chef, it’s not the bottom line, it’s not a paycheck — it’s creating a dining culture,” he said.
To that end, Luttrell-Rowland will join Michael Ceraldi, Jonathan Haffmans, and Jeremiah Reardon for a Winter Chef’s Table on Sunday, Jan. 19, at Wellfleet Preservation Hall. It’s a fund-raiser for the hall and will include a special menu with wine and oysters.
The Regional Approach
Mac’s Fish House in Provincetown stays open all year, operating at a loss for several months, say owners Mac and Alex Hay. Owning several restaurants and fish markets from Chatham to Provincetown allows them to reach different markets at different times. That said, staying open on the tip of Cape Cod with as large a dining room as Mac’s Fish House takes commitment. The Hays do it to attract talented staff who are also committed.
“We want to build culture and continuity,” said Mac Hay. “We have great employees and we want them and their families to stick around.”
Hay said he has executive chefs and general managers who relocated with their families, sometimes from overseas or from restaurants in Boston and New York, in order to work in one of his restaurants and live on Cape Cod. They depend on year-round employment to make it work. If the restaurants did not stay open, even operating at a loss, it would not be possible to hire and retain someone with the skills for these top-level positions.
While he loses money in deep winter, it’s also costly to close for 30 or 60 days, due to unused inventory and expenses associated with maintaining the building, Hay added.
Hay does shut Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet at the end of the summer, in part because all of its plumbing is on the exterior of the building. The bar is outdoors, with a 20-foot-wide opening between the back of the bar and the kitchen for expediting food and drinks. To stay open year-round, the restaurant would require significant upgrades.
No one has pondered these factors more than Bob Montano, owner-chef of Montano’s, which has been year-round for 32 years in Truro.
Montano’s was once Thompson’s Clam Bar, Janopolis’ Family Table, and Capt’n Josie’s. And yet many long-time residents don’t remember anything but Montano’s.
“I bought the restaurant in 1988,” Montano said. “I was 26 years old. And we’re still doing it all year-round.”
He does it because he likes to work, and his staff needs regular paychecks — “That’s important to me,” he said.
And his staff must appreciate the continuity, because its “nucleus” has been with him the entire 32 years, Montano said. This includes his kitchen manager and front-of-the-house manager. A cook recently retired because he was in his 70s, or he, too, would have made it to 32 years.
“Then I have people who have been with me 10 and 15 years and also five years, and we garnish that with other people in the summer season,” he said.
Montano said he’s learned how to buy and prep for a slower season, and so he doesn’t lose as much money as he used to in the winter. Still, many winter days are unprofitable.
But, he said, “Not every day is about the almighty dollar. For me, I love the off-season. It’s fun, it’s local, it’s friendly and enjoyable working conditions, as opposed to the onslaught of the summer.”
Winter weather is a big deal. Storms will kill your weekend, and unseasonable warmth brings out lots of second-home owners and suddenly you’re slammed, he said. (Many restaurant owners concurred on this.)
“That’s why winters are so tough,” Montano said. “Guessing when you’re going to be busy, having enough help…. But mostly, we’re open because I want to be here for my staff, my community, and myself.”
The List: Where to Eat in the Winter
Because plans change, it’s best to call ahead to be sure.
2. Brickhouse Restaurant
4. Chocolate Café
Closed Feb.15 until first week of April.
5. Good Eats on 6
6. Hole in One and Fairway Restaurant
7. Joey’s Joint
Closed Wednesdays and Sundays and 1 or 2 weeks in March.
8. Local Break
9. Mac’s Market & Kitchen
10. The Red Barn Pizza and More
11. Royal Thai Cuisine
Closed 1 week in March (usually 3rd week).
2. Angel Foods
3. Bayside Betsy’s
Re-opening Jan. 4
(Check open days)
Closed for a month, mid-March to mid-April.
5. Ciro and Sal’s
6. Crown and Anchor
Closed Jan. 1 to Feb. 13.
7. Crowne Pointe Restaurant
8. East End Market
10. Far Land Provisions
11. George’s Pizza
12. Governor Bradford Restaurant
13. Jimmy’s Hideaway
Closed Jan. 1 to Feb. 14
Closed until Jan. 16
15. Liz’s Café Anybody’s Bar
16. Local 186
YRRND (winter pop up)
(Check open days)
17. Mac’s Fish House Provincetown
18. The Mews Restaurant & Cafe
19. Napi’s Restaurant
20. Provincetown Brewing Company
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
21. Ross’ Grille
22. The Landing Bistro & Bar (Pilgrim House)
Dinner Thursday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m.
Sunday Drag Brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Closed Jan. 1−Jan. 17 (Open Jan. 18−20)
Closed Jan. 21–Feb. 14.
24. Squealing Pig
Closed month of January.
25. The Canteen
26. Tin Pan Alley
Open holiday weekends through April.
1. Box Lunch
3. Savory and the Sweet Escape
1. Bookstore and Restaurant
Closed until Feb. 6
(Check open days)
2. Box Lunch
3. CShore Kitchen + Bar
4. The Fox and Crow Cafe
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Open Thurs.−Mon. for breakfast
Open Fri. and Sat. for pizza nights and occasional special menus
5. JB’s Pizza Bar & Grill
6. PB Boulangerie Bistro
Closed Monday and Tuesday
7. The Well Tavern + Kitchen
Closed Monday and Tuesday
8. The Wicked Oyster
Closed from President’s Day until first week of April