Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nantucket Restaurant Reviews: Gone Are The Days

We spent our last night on Nantucket at Cap'n Toby's chowder house, an island institution that no longer serves those huge boiled lobsters, complete with plastic bib, dish of melted butter, lemon slices, and perfumed hand-wipe.  Ah, those were great meals, and inspired my adolescent self to produce a poem,

The lobster arrayed
Like a cannibal king
Red-armored arms brandished
Goddess Kali . . .

And so on.
It's not fair to discuss the decline of Cap'n Toby's without mentioning Walter Beinecke, who in the late 1960s and 70s exploited his S&H Green Stamp fortune to drive out middle class summer visitors:  specifically, as he told Time magazine in 1968, he said his aim was to "attract fewer people who would buy six postcards and two hot dogs and more who would rent a hotel room and buy a couple of sports coats."  Now, my family bought the hot dogs and the post cards.  One of his first victims was Cap'n Tobey's--when the owner would not sell, Beinecke built The Tavern beside it, partly to block the view and obviously to compete.  After a noble boycott, island residents realized that summer residents would flock to both places, but the original flair and menu have now evaporated.  I had a flavorless red sangria that tasted like maraschino cherry and water; I asked for a red wine to chase the taste and got something verging on vinegar.  The lobster newburg angel hair pasta tasted as if the lobster had been retrieved from a can or a freezer, and the dominant flavor of every dish--of onion rings, salads, pastas, and Italian bread--was grease.  Cap'n Tobey's, like the flea-bitten B&B in which I stayed on Nantucket,  has now been sold to Bernard Chiu, a Boston-based entrepreneur with a friendly face and a nifty smile.  I can tell at a glance that he'll improve both places, but then, after he's put in a decent kitchen, modern plumbing, and new gadgets--will they be affordable to this LONELY REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS?  If the pattern of other Nantucket guest house sales is anything to go by--Century House, for instance--my guess is that I'd better start looking into vacations on Block Island.  Or the coast of Holland, where you can get a "cottage" --really an RV without the wheels--that's great for a family of five, or six, and comes with a little porch and table and chairs.  Now, that particular Dutch spot, a village known as Renessee, is Nantucket for the middle class, in the sense that my family can afford it.  The only drawback is language.  You'll get along fine if you speak German, which has many similarities to Dutch,  and a few people speak English.    A supermarket tale:  I wanted some fresh ginger, and the clerk had never heard that particular English word.  So I gave him the German one:  "Ingwer," and the lightbulb went off over his head.  "Ah, you want *Gember*" said he, a word that is pronounced with a gutteral "H" sound.  If you add the noise you'd make coughing up a bit of gristle to the word "ember," you've pretty much got it.
So, for a cheap vacation--cheap if you're already in Europe, that is-- that reminds you of Nantucket, try Holland.  Or Mallorca, which is so popular among Germans that it is often known as "the bathtub of Germany" or "Germany's seventeeth state," and one of the first sights to greet my touristy eyes was a "Schnitzelhaus" restaurant.
Plus, you can get lobster.  And in Holland, not only that.  Chocolate.  Belgian chocolate, poured over waffles. With whipped cream.  Check it out . .  .

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