Review by Lucy Vivante, Lucas and Michael Miller.
Owners Kenneth Kozak & Eliza Fitts
50 Main Street
Wellfleet, Massachusetts 02667
tel. (508) 349-3455
Open all week
dinner 5-10 pm; breakfast 7 am-12 pm; coffee 6.30-noon.
all major credit cards
Wellfleet is named after England’s Wallfleet oyster beds by the River Crouch in Essex. Daniel Defoe said of them that they are “…the best and nicest, though not the largest, oysters in England.” One might well express a similar judgement of their Wellfleet cousins without an exhuastive study of American Ostreidae, since their crooked, narrow shells house smallish creatures in which all the bite and tang of New England waters appears to have been concentrated. The visitor can savor this heady fragrance on a walk over Uncle Tim’s Bridge at low tide, as he follows a leisurely route from the center of town towards the juncture of Main Street and Route 6, where the Wicked Oyster has been serving Wellfleetians with local specialities and first-rate new American cuisine year round since 2004, when Eliza Fitts and Kenneth Kozak bought the building. It is a community favorite which, in addition to dinner, serves weekend breakfast year round and lunch off season, which is sophisticated and ambitious, however informal it may be. It is one of the few serious restaurants on the Cape that is open out of season.
The restaurant occupies a fine old house with wide floorboards. The main (dining room) part of the building was built in 1750 and was originally the home of a whaling captain located on Billingsgate Island. Like many old houses on the Outer Cape, it was floated over to its present location. Billingsgate Island, once a thriving town, is now no more than a sand bar visible at low tide. Today general tone of the restaurant is bright and warm, tempered by discreet lighting. From Main Street one enters an intimate vestibule, decorated with handsome oils, many by local artists, of congenial scenes, boats, farms, salt flats, fish, and, of course, oysters. The best painting, which is not for sale, is a study of a small boat by co-owner Eliza Fitts’ father, Bill Fitts, who was one of the first fellows at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. It is well worth a close look. The display continues in the dining rooms and the bar. Most of the paintings in the dining rooms are for sale. A waitress explained that it was too much for them to organize exhibitions, so the work was outsourced to the Addison Art Gallery of Orleans.
A friendly and efficient lady accompanied us to our table by the back wall of the large, busy, but homey and relaxing dining room, with its cream-colored walls and the attractively framed pictures on the wall.
From the wine list we sampled a South African rosé (Mulderbosch) and an Australian unoaked chardonnay from Hugh Hamilton wine, appropriately called “The Scallywag.” Both were excellent. The chardonnay was full-bodied with a citrus finish, and it proved an especially congenial accompaniment to the varied menu, which, as one might expect, favored the local seafood, although tempting dishes of chicken breast, rack of lamb, and steaks were also available.
Among the starters, the tomato fennel soup ($4.50 for a bowl) was properly thick and amalgamated, and the fennel was nicely present. The crab cake is now as ubiquitous in New England as it is along the Chesapeake. At the Wicked Oyster these ($11) were richly seasoned and smooth, but not lacking in solid flakes of crab meat. The panko breading gave them extra bite and provided a nice contrast to the velvety interior. The special consisted of three bacon fried oysters atop an equal number of mini buttermilk pancakes. The bacon had a powerful taste, perhaps a bit over-bearing to some, but not to us. Buttermilk is also an excellent batter for frying oysters, as the curious diner will find by ordering the buttermilk oysters and chips (entrée). This method is unique to the Wicked Oyster, we believe.
From the main courses we chose pan-fried sole ($21), which is coated by a substantial panko crust and served in a lemon-caper cream sauce with jasmine rice. What came to the table was a generous portion of crunchy sole in a satisfying and lively sauce. The pasta with artichokes and shrimp ($21) was probably the least interesting of the dishes sampled, although the shrimp, the chunks of tomato, and shavings of Parmesan were fresh and of high quality. Best of all was a delicious dish of pan-roasted halibut ($24) over a cream sauce with leeks, fingerling potatoes, littleneck clams and, again, bacon. This recipe is part of the permanent menu; however, the type of fish depends on the night, or as they say “the catch of the day.” The ingredients all complement each other very well. All of it was fresh and vibrant in taste.
Lucas firmly believes that peanut butter and chocolate make the greatest of compatriots. The chocolate peanut butter torte on the menu therefore immediately presented itself as an ideal means of completing an already wonderful meal. The torte is comprised of a chocolate cookie crust, stuffed with a blissful peanut butter mousse, topped with an excellent chocolate ganache. It was an excellent desert. The panna cotta wiggled in the right way and the wine sauce was good, if a little scarce. In the strawberry profiteroles the berries, marinated in citrus, stood out pleasantly against the light puff pastry and the tasty vanilla ice cream from Nauset, a local glacier.
Since the Wicked Oyster is a local favorite (and one of ours as well, for that matter), it’s always full or close to it. You should most definitely plan ahead and book.
 “In 1722 when Daniel Defoe made a similar journey he was also impressed with the oysters. On this shore also are taken the best and nicest, though not the largest, oysters in England; the spot from whence they have their common appellation is a little bank called Woelfleet, scarce to be called an island, in the mouth of the River Crouch, now called Crooksea Water; but the chief place where the said oysters are now had is from Wyvenhoe and the shores adjacent, whither they are brought by the fishermen, who take them at the mouth of that they call Colchester water and about the sand they call the Spits, and carry them up to Wyvenhoe, where they are laid in beds or pits on the shore to feed, as they call it; and then being barrelled up and carried to Colchester, which is but three miles off, they are sent to London by land, and are from thence called Colchester oysters.” [http://www.essex-family-history.co.uk/oysters.htm] For the Walfleet oyster in old English song, see “My maisters all attend you…” from Turner’s Dish of Lenten Stuffe, or a Galymaufery, included in The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse ed. David Norbrook, H. R. Woudhuysen.