But once inside, it quickly became apparent that the bistro and bar fit well into the campus that houses the Cape Playhouse, which, at 85, is the oldest continuously operating summer stock theater in the country.
The warped wood floors and casual vibe evoke a summer resort. The dining room is open and can get a bit noisy at times as servers bustle past and conversation buzzes. The menu is creative and seasonal, featuring lots of local ingredients. And the service is casual but efficient, as evidenced by our server asking if we had theater tickets that night so she could pace the service to get us out before showtime if we did.
We started with soup: My husband’s clam chowder ($6) had a golden base, probably from butter used in the roux. It was tasty but unremarkable. The homemade tomato soup ($7) I had was another story. I would go back just for that. The fresh tomatoes (and very little cream) gave it such a hearty feel you could almost chew it. There was very little seasoning so the fresh taste of tomato permeated the soup.
The menu is a la carte, which is nice because you can order anything from fried chicken wings ($11) to New York sirloin in a Cape Cod Beer porter reduction ($26). There is also a selection of sandwiches — including the Island Burger ($13) with a fried egg, pineapple, cheddar and sweet-and-sour sauce — that come with a side salad and chips.
For our second course, we chose salads. I went with the green bean, goat cheese and walnut ($8) that a colleague had raved about. I agreed with her assessment that the blush vinaigrette dressing was a nice balance of sweet and tart. But there was one bad note the night I had the salad: Some of the green beans were cooked to a lovely crisp-tender while the rest were raw or, maybe at most, blanched. I like raw veggies but the beans were not tender enough to be served that way in what turned out to be a meal-sized salad.
My husband’s spring mix salad was fresh with a tasty light basil vinaigrette that was almost clear.
We drooled over the four varieties of flatbread (including ham, caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese with basil oil for $11) but didn’t have enough appetite. Next time, maybe just that with drinks.
I had been craving lobster and I love homemade pasta so the house-made pappardelle ($26) tossed with lobster and roasted calabaza (Jamaican pumpkin) sounded perfect. The thick ribbons of pasta were delicious, as were the small pieces of pumpkin and the sage butter sauce. I was disappointed in the lobster as it was minced and was mostly the red claw ends, which are not nearly as sweet or juicy as the white meat.
Neil was kind enough to share some of his sirloin, which was cooked to a perfect medium-rare (as ordered) and meltingly tender. The reduction of Cape Cod porter was delicious.
We got to taste a different side of that porter when we shared a chocolate cake made with it. What a versatile brew. The cake was dark, moist and rich. It didn’t need the overly sweet chocolate icing, which we cut off, preferring the sweet homemade whipped cream that also topped the cake.
The coffee was an excellent closing note to a fine meal in an exciting new restaurant that features many local foods of summer, including Cape Abilities’ award-winning tomatoes. We didn’t make it into the attached — and richly wallpapered — Bar Lilly, but I’m planning to stop in for its signature watermelon mojito, and the nightly music, before summer’s end. And don’t miss the playhouse memorabilia in the corridor connecting the two or the Wizard of Oz-themed restrooms.
If you go: Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily for lunch and dinner.