Wequassett Resort and Golf Club is breathtakingly gorgeous; there’s so much to see and do. And yet, I found my mind constantly straying to thoughts about the next meal; it’s just that compelling a treat to eat there. No wonder this is Cape Cod’s only four-star, four-diamond premier place to dine.
The first rate quality of Wequassett food and service can be attributed to a dynamic duo, Executive Chef James Hackney (above) and Jason Brauer, Director of Food and Beverage at the resort. Like every great team, they work seamlessly together, to the point of finishing each other’s sentences. Technically, Jason is responsible for front of the house responsibilities, while James controls the creative aspects. In fact, their jobs overlap and interlink; everything just gets done with a minimum amount of stress. I met them at their majestic restaurant, Twenty-eight Atlantic.
Chef James is attractive and articulate enough to be a Food Network Star, and in fact, he’s been invited to appear on one of their shows. His youthful good looks and classy British accent make talking with him a pleasure. His impressive credentials (including a stint at Boston’s prestigious L’Espalier) and obvious knowledge about all aspects of food mean it’s a real education to listen to him speak about his work.
“Our goal here is to provide food that’s lighter, more in keeping with the seasons and the surroundings. We use vinaigrette rather than a heavier sauce, for example. We poach beef in consommé. There are more levels of flavor, more herbs; and we use lavender rubs and other florals. There’s a real focus on more natural ingredients.”
Whenever possible, Chef James employs the Farm-to-Table method of serving food, and has gone to great lengths to cultivate local growers and fisherman. He knows many of them personally, by name, and recognizes that they share his passion. “Farmers are artists, too. They haven’t gotten the respect and support that they deserve. Cape Cod has fewer co-ops; it’s much easier to find people growing lettuce and tomatoes when you work in Boston. Here, it’s very much about making connections. If you gain the trust of one grower, that person will recommend you to another. There’s a real friend-of-a-friend aspect involved.”
“This is such a special place,” he smiled, “you can smell the ocean here. I’m really happy we can get local oysters. People are very open to eating seafood; in fact, they expect it. Cape Cod is ideal; there’s such an abundance of fish and seafood right here.”
I was curious about whether or not locals and tourists from other venues come to Wequassett to eat. “Absolutely!” answered Jason. He went on to inform me that during the height of the season, it’s not unusual to have more than half the reservations made by people who are not staying in the compound. “We like to say we feed the community. But of course,” he assured me, “Wequassett guests come first.”
Jason and Chef James command a food staff of one-hundred fifty-nine, including fifty-two servers; there are four restaurants on the property. The staff is universally professional; but even more importantly, they have the true gift of really caring about the customers. Maitre d’hotel Joseph Sadlemire has a theatrical background, all the better to understand that fine dining must be akin to good theater. He’s such a personable individual, by the end of the evening we were calling him “Joe,” and feeling as though he were an old friend.
Our server was Mercedes, whose warmth and calm demeanor greatly added to our enjoyment of dinner both evenings we were at the resort. When she observed that I was having trouble understanding the young man who was attempting to explain the ingredients of a dish, Mercedes graciously stepped in without embarrassing either the waiter or me. This sense of teamwork, and the instinct to immediately sense a problem and solve it, is a prime example of the excellence of the team led by Hackney, Brauer, and Sadlemire.
Of course, the combination of knowledge, caring, and talent would be worth nothing if the food weren’t superior. In fact, every bite we ate was delectable.
Our breakfast was a bountiful buffet, laden with fluffy scrambled eggs, real oatmeal, fresh fruit, cereal, sausage, potatoes, and my personal favorite, bacon prepared to exactly the right degree of crispy perfection- no small feat. We ate at a little corner table, which faced out on the water and the manicured grounds of the resort.
Lunch was eaten at the casual Outer Bar and Grille. I didn’t expect much; my husband wasn’t even hungry, and just ordered a bowl of clam chowder. Not only was his luscious chowder (New England “white” style, of course) rich and creamy without being heavy, but what I ordered was a revelation. I’ve been eating lobster rolls for as long as I can remember; but never have I had one like this. Piled high with fresh lobster meat, a touch of celery, and very light dressing, this was – hands down – the best lobster roll I’ve ever eaten. Nothing else has even come close.
Twenty-Eight Atlantic is the destination of choice for discriminating Foodies who relish an incomparable dinner. We ate there two nights. The first, I enjoyed a lobster out-of-shell that was so tender and succulent, I almost wanted to weep when I finished it. My husband tried the beef in consommé; it was unique and delightful, and we marveled at the taste and texture. We agreed that it was heads and tails above the preparation of most other steak dishes we’ve eaten.
So, our second night at Wequassett, we decided to go all out, and let Chef James fix us whatever he thought best. If you have the chance to eat at Twenty-Eight Atlantic, grab it, and order this unparalleled tasting menu. If you appreciate the artistry that’s involved in creating fine cuisine, you will be as awed as we were that not only was the taste of the food perfection, but the plating was as beautiful and delicate as a fine piece of embroidery. It was a shame to eat it, but we did, with gusto.
To start, the dainty amuse-bouche (opening photo) was a tasty bite of brie, lightly fried, with strawberry and blueberry jelly. Thus tantalized, we proceeded with a dish composed of cucumber salad, heirloom tomato, smoked mackerel, and onion.
My husband got to sample Chef James’s take on Florentine panzanella salad, complete with focaccia, capers, and sherry wine vinaigrette. I enjoyed mackerel with golden beats, strawberries, crème fraiche, and a dollop of avocado mousse.
Next came the most celestial risotto I’ve ever eaten. It was redolent with saffron, and in addition to a mildly spicy chorizo, featured mussels, and local Chatham littleneck clams. A deconstructed chowder was cleverly assembled with pork belly, plum berries, fried clams, diced potato, and green almonds.
The penultimate course was a perfect mix of steamed clams, local seared cod, white beans in vegetable stock, parsley, and comfit tomatoes.
We didn’t think we could eat another bite, but dessert could not be denied. The fruit tart with kiwi, blueberries, and strawberries was light as a feather, and not overly sweet. We left the dining room dazzled by the culinary artistry we’d just experienced.
Chef James has a vision for a community of chefs, all working in harmony to create a real buzz for the high quality of meals now being served on Cape Cod. If the food we enjoyed during our stay at Wequassett is any indication, the day may come when sophisticated travelers will say, “You know, we went to Cape Cod for the food, but the surroundings are pretty nice, too.”
Read part one of Michall Jeffer’s series: Michall Recommends: Wonderful Wequassett
Michall Jeffers and her husband, photographer John Warner, enjoy chronicling their travels together in her words and his images. Michall writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. www.michalljeffers.com
Photo credit: John Warner