Cavorting on Cape Cod

Share This: imageimageimageimage  imageIf you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages here and there, You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod.
Written by Claire Rothrock, Milton Yakus, and Allan Jeffrey, 1957 and sung by Patti Page. Landed at Boston’s Logan Airport on a recent gray and windy afternoon. I could feel the wonderfully damp chill of New England the moment I ran screaming from the foul, putrid air of the plane.  How I love to travel, yet how I loathe the process!  Hungry and tired, I craved restoration in the form of an old-school Boston experience.  Walked into The Daily Catch in the city’s North End just as a coveted table in this tiny 20-seat room freed up.  Run by a Sicilian family, the green awning has been hovering over this spot on Hanover Street for as long as I can remember (from the hazy little I recall from my stupor-induced college days in Boston, anyway…) Quickly ordered a cheap bottle of young Chianti and was overwhelmed by the comforting smell of frying garlic. That familiar aroma always brings me to my knees.  
Plates arrived in a slow rhythm.  Tomato and onion salad made tangy by red wine vinegar was followed by baked haddock pulled from the local waters; naked but for a dusting of crumb and a dab of butter and served on its still sizzling cast iron skillet.  Doused with lemon, it was the essence of New England simplicity.  A steaming bowl of pasta then arrived:  the house specialty.  Homemade black pasta made with squid ink and topped with chopped calamari, parley and handfuls of fragrant garlic.  We ordered another bottle of Chianti, its bright acidity a perfect foil to the richness of the dish, and proceeded to eat every damn bite, sopping up the oily goodness with that nasty, doughy stuff that constitutes Italian bread on the east coast.    Early the next morning, we slowly meandered southeastward from Boston, driving Route 6A through the entirety of Cape Cod.  The quintessentially east coast architecture of the boxy Cape Cod homes, the Spring carpets of purple crocus and the sunny bonnets of the daffodils, and the American flags hanging from the front porches brought back fond memories of growing up on this windswept peninsula jutting into the Atlantic.  
Had a hearty New England breakfast of pancakes and bacon at The Sailing Cow Café in Dennisport, in the middle of the Cape, before foraging for a few pieces of great Americana for the shop.   The first antique shop yielded a few of my favorite finds of the trip.  
image   One of the better food signs I have ever found, it reads ‘OYSTERS’ and hails from Cape Cod from the early part of the 1900s, probably 1930s-1940s, complete with old nails.  It measures 3’ long by 9” wide.  ($510)  
image   These five brass pitchers appear to have been handmade.  They all have spouts and large handles and are in wonderful condition.  Surely, they can be cleaned up but I enjoy the patina.  The five measuring mugs are early American, mid-to-late 1800s (set $245).    
During the 1800s and into the early 1900s, grocers used brass stencils to mark their boxes of fruits and vegetables.  Marked Lima Beans, Assorted Fruis and Sugar Peas, each stencil has an fabulous patina and measures 9”across.  They can be framed, displayed – and even used!  ($95 each)   image  
Heavy cast iron pieces always catch my eye, especially cool figural pieces that can go from oven to table so beautifully.  This fish measures 13” from lips to tail and 8.5” from top fin to bottom.  It hails from Japan, early 1900s ($185).  
image   I’m always on the hunt for beer related antiques.  High quality pieces are extremely difficult to come by, so I could barely contain my enthusiasm at coming across this very heavy bronze beer tap with a figural fish spot.  Measuring 11” across and 9” high, it’s a very fine European piece from turn-of-the-century or earlier. ($485)     Making our way further down Cape, we stopped in the too-picturesque seaside town of Wellfleet for a late afternoon platter of their famed oysters, which were dug that morning from just beyond the back door of our harbor side perch.  I also indulged in a huge bowl of steamers, dredging each one in hot salt water to clean them of sand and then in a butter bath before feasting.  Their sweet/saltiness is a true, seasonal east coast joy.  Washed down the bivalves with several bottles of cold Red Stripe, the tasty Jamaican brew.  From there, we forged on to Provincetown, located at the very tip of the Cape.  I was fortunate to find a couple of treasures in the very few shops that were open.  
I swooned for this little three legged lamp has figural feet and a fringed shade made from animal hyde, which gives off the most lovely hue.  It dates to the early 1900s and measures 12” tall.  ($190)  
Mid-century pottery always catches my eye.  Its color and form are always distinct, clean and oh-so-modern.  This platter from Frankoma Pottery was produced in Oklahoma in the early 1950s and is in wonderful condition.  The color is rich and vivid and it is the perfect vessel for serving olives, cheese, nuts and condiments.  It measures 12” in diameter. ($88)  
Tin and metal molds are such fun, especially the more unusual, figural pieces.  This chocolate mold sports the shape of pretzels, reminding me of my early days in New York, when the twisted doughy bread studded with salt and smothered in yellow mustard was this poor working girl’s lunch.  It’s heavy and measures 5.75” across and 6.5’ high.  ($185)     Bunked for a couple of nights in Provincetown at The Brass Key, a lovely complex of rooms, which open onto a fabulous courtyard, all done up by several men of impeccable taste.  My room sported old-school floral wallpaper and a shower with four heads stocked with great product.  The downstairs bar is hysterically named ‘Ship Wrecked’, and I’m sure that during high season, more than one or two sailors are found beached there.  Wandered Commercial Street, P'town’s aptly named main drag, now quiet as off-season looms but still managing to see plenty of leather harnesses and stud collars on parade.  
And speaking of which… who says there is no such thing as a phallic culinary artifact?   I scored this ceramic penis decanter from a dealer situated down a peaceful little alleyway.  Originally from Portugal, legend has it that the bride-to-be would fill it with liquor and pass it around to her bridesmaids the night before the nuptials, allowing each girl to take a pleasurable gulp from it.  Made of ceramic and painted in great hues. ($345)  
Wrapped in a heavy sweater and seated in a quiet, empty outdoor café, we tucked into yet another lobster and a bottle of Italian white wine, departing only as a chilly fog descended on us.  Slightly tipsy, I stumbled into a late-night candy shop on the return to the hotel.  I bought half a pound of the appropriately named Drunken Fudge, the smeared crumbs of which I found in my sheets the following morning.  Slept buried under my blankets with all the doors and windows open, listening to the fog horn moan in the far off distance…   Awoke to warm sunshine and took a soak in the large hot tub, enjoying the breeze and the solitude.  Went to Race Point Beach, which circles the northern coast of Provincetown, and took a long morning walk to the lighthouse.  Found a large cuttlefish skull picked to a white sheen by the gulls and the pounding Atlantic.  It’ll be perfect for the shop!   Sat in the unseasonably warm sun on a bench overlooking Provincetown Harbor, the tide far out and a lovely sea breeze blowing in.

image   Went to Devon’s on Commercial Street for breakfast, the windows open onto the harbor.  Spinach and black truffle cheese scrambled eggs with applewood smoked bacon; English muffins layered with house made raspberry jam served from pottery crocks on each table.  Rich, dark coffee, freshly squeezed pulpy grapefruit juice, and Red Bliss potatoes made with Old Bay seasoning made it a truly memorable breakfast.
Fortified, we drove off-Cape to Rhode Island, stopping to see the decadent Newport mansions situated right on the edge of Newport’s famed cliffs.  Good God, have you seen these places?  The Breakers, commissioned by the Vanderbilt family in the late 1800s, is so over-the-top that I’m sure my mouth was hanging open during the entire tour.  What opulence!  I brought myself back down to Earth by haunting various antique shops in the tiny state of Rhode Island.

image   This sign, ‘State Hatchery’ is originally from Maine and had hung in the dealer’s home for 50+ years.  It dates to the 1930s and is in wonderful condition.  The truly amazing aspect?  It’s double sided and can be hung in the middle of a room or over a kitchen island.  It measures 22” tall, 52” wide and 2” deep.  One of a kind.  ($1450)

image   This Victorian-era butter service is quite unique, topped with a dairy cow.  In wonderful condition, it is fitted with a butter knife and an interior tray, which rests on a bed of ice.  In wonderful condition, this piece was created by Simpson, Hall and Miller Silverworks in the late 1800s in Connecticut.  ($245)

image   Cast iron calls to me.  These heavy, figural sheep are very well done with great detail.  They can be used as doorstops or bookends.  I love them!  (pair $185)

image     As my background is in wine and my shop sits in the heart of Napa Valley, I am always hunting for unusual wine antiques.  This European wood, picking basket is a rare item, and still boasts its leather straps.  The patina is rich and lovely and would be perfectly suited to hang on the wall of a kitchen, or over a hearth. Dates to the mid-1800s. ($1650)       The last night’s dinner was a long anticipated affair at Rhode Island’s famed Al Forno.  A bottle of young Barolo accompanied a rustic, rich dish of tomato and eggplant covered with local, bubbling mozzarella, which had been roasted in their wood fired oven. God, how I adore the east coast Italian sensibility!  Guinea hen, smoky and succulent from the wood oven, was served with locally produced polenta and freshly plucked dandelion.  Food and service were all top-notch, but I’m not a fan of being asked to order dessert with my entrée.  Surely, this consistently packed dining room sets such a policy to keep tables turning, but it feels rushed and less than hospitable.  And I usually prefer a green salad and a piece of cheese to hunk of chocolate cake at my meal’s end.
  Too much good booty to pack away in my suitcases, so I spent the final, precious east coast morning negotiating with a shipping company to deliver the pieces westward, safely and before the turn-of-the-century.  I’m happy to report all arrived and my cuttlefish skull, retrieved from Race Point Beach that fine morning, continues to waft its briny scent throughout my shop in Napa Valley.
image   Wedding season is nearly upon us.  I have been asked repeatedly to offer personalized gift registries of unique, one-of-a-kind items.  May I be of assistance to you?  Please contact me directly at and I would be very pleased to discuss details.   And of course, if any of these items in this newsletter move you, write to me.  Please know that each items is unique and I only have one - so when they’re gone, they are gone.  But I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
  Until next time.

Lisa Minucci | Heritage Culinary Artifacts

Oxbow Public Market | 610 First Street, Stall 14

Napa, CA 94559 |