Jessie Gunnard - Commercial Writer & Editor

Article - Restaurant profile for Back of the House regular feature, Edible Cape Cod (1950 words)

The Regatta of Cotuit

When chef/owner Weldon Fizell bought The Regatta of Cotuit almost five years ago, he didn’t close the restaurant for even one day.

“I was a little nervous, since the previous owner had been here for 18 years. All the closing paperwork took place on a Wednesday in November, and we went ahead with service that night as if nothing happened.”
Is that the usual way to buy a restaurant? He reflected for a moment. “I don’t think so.”

There are many reasons to go out for a meal. Sometimes you want a place where it’s easy to meet up with friends, where pals can trickle in over shared snacks and pitchers of beer. Other times you brave something avant-garde and singular, plates and surroundings meticulously scripted and infused with this and foamed over that.

And sometimes you want something really special, revelatory even, but also deeply familiar. Dishes you recognize and ingredients you’re well acquainted with, prepared in an extra special but not too out-there way. In a way that makes you think, “Oh, right! That’s what oranges (or potatoes, or lobster) taste like. Now I remember…”

The Regatta is a place like that. A back-to-basics place, where the basics are done very, very well. It’s a restaurant where you can experience an exceedingly comfortable, familiar, elegant and well-orchestrated time warp. The flavors of the food—mainly contemporary American, with European and Asian influences—mingle with the surroundings of the late-eighteenth century Federal-style building to pull you from the late 1700s (the hand-hewn beams), over to 50 years ago (a wedge salad), and back to this very moment (these oysters with orange sorbet you’re handing me right now), around and around. The Regatta of Cotuit is just the place for when you want to experience the satisfying result of decades—centuries even—of skilled choices and workmanship done well.

Fizell is a good-looking man with shortly cropped hair and beard, lively, steady eyes, and his name in bright red above the pocket of his chef’s whites. He takes a few beats before answering questions and shapes his words carefully before issuing fully-formed responses.

On that first day in 2006, guests arrived at the restaurant expecting the exceptional food and service the Regatta had been known for over nearly the last two decades. The Regatta was already a well-established AAA Four-Diamond establishment, one of the few on Cape Cod; a destination for special occasion celebrations and once-yearly splash-out splurges with old friends.

During that transition time, the chef stayed on for a few months and Fizell oversaw the restaurant from the front of the house. This provided great opportunity to examine the whole foundation of the establishment he now owned, from guest arrival to dessert. Once the winter holiday surge ebbed, he and staff took a breath and closed to expand the bar and create the Tap Room, where à la carte menu items could be available for guests opting out of the multi-course dinner experience.

For the most part, the building’s décor is true to the original. The red-clapboard structure sits, discreet and proud, on Route 28, and inside, the walls are awash in familiar New England-muted tones, and are adorned with gild-edged mirrors and framed drawings. Windsor chairs assemble in groups in the Tap Room, and Limoges china patiently awaits diners. Think of it like this: a faux leather armchair is always lacking. No matter how sleek or classic the design, it still wants to be a leather armchair. The Regatta, without question, is a leather chair. It smells like leather. It feels like leather. And it doesn’t have to squawk about being a leather chair, either.

Just as the building is an inherited element of the restaurant, so too, in a different way, are the dishes Fizell and his team create nightly. Fizell has spent a long career creating a wide range of menus first in culinary school, then in Arizona and Georgia, then nearby at The Regatta (in its earlier days) and the Coonamessett Inn, and later as Executive Chef at both Chatham Bars Inn and Hyannis Port Club. He credits his fellow chefs and workmates with helping build his skills over the years—some familiar local names include Mike Otto, David Kelly and the chef who stayed on in 2006, Heather Allen. He points out more than once that in the kitchen, everybody learns from one another; he is influenced by fellow chefs and young extern culinary students alike.

But when it comes to the food, most striking is Fizell’s obvious respect for and pure enjoyment of ingredients. “I believe in simple, fresh, recognizable ingredients on the plate, prepared the best way they can be done.” In his kitchen, that means only raw ingredients come in the door.

Think about that. It’s easy to breeze past “house made” on a menu until a chef explains what exactly is made every day in his kitchen. All the breads, from scratch. Desserts. Ices and ice creams. Pastas. Stocks, demi-glaces, smoked fish and meats and more, every element of the meal crafted within a few dozen feet of the diners, from fresh, raw ingredients. “I have to believe in what we’re putting on the plate,” Fizell insists.
And that proximity extends to sourcing some of those raw ingredients. The menu proudly presents a Cape Abilities Farm Salad, featuring the Boston lettuce and hydroponic tomatoes grown at the farm in Dennis. The Regatta serves oysters only from Chris Gargiulo’s Cotuit Oysters, scallops from Cape Cod’s Taylor Bay Scallops, and Great Hill Blue cheese from Marion. And if there’s something you’d like that’s not on the menu, like lamb or sweetbreads, with advance notice the chef will get it for you and work his magic. His goal is to please.

Fizell’s picks from the current menu include halibut (more on that later), the lobster pan roast, and baked oysters, which are a huge favorite. “I used to change the preparation monthly or seasonally, but people really love the original recipe, and I just can’t take it off the menu.” It’s easy to understand why; in the dish, the oyster meat rests in the shell on a slip of spinach, topped with a few cubes of fine bacon, leeks and Pernod cream. The menu also features such wonders as lacquered Long Island duck, 36-hour boneless short ribs, buffalo tenderloin and caramelized George’s Bank scallops. Our group started with two kinds of oysters (the above baked, plus a plate of raw ones with a surprising orange-chili sorbet), an addictive wedge salad and a lobster bisque that’s an intense and astonishing reduction of lobster flavor. Leather armchairs, all.

A busy summer Saturday begins when Fizell unlocks the kitchen door at 9:00 am. He works alone, perhaps preparing ginger scallion pancakes for the duck dish, making phone calls, organizing for the day. His quiet time lasts until noon, when a prep cook arrives. The line cooks trickle in at three, and the servers start work by four o’clock. The white-clothed tables are set the night before, and the servers polish the wine glasses and add finishing touches when they arrive. Finally, four bussers step in right before service.

At 4:30 is the family meal, when the staff gathers to eat together, perhaps hear a short talk from the sommelier, and learn about additions to the menu. Family meal might consist of herb-crusted chicken, grilled sirloin and pasta carbonara, all left over from a catering job the night before. And one night a week, the service staff feeds everyone else. “We in the kitchen feed everyone else all the time,” shares Fizell, “so it’s nice to be fed once in a while. They pick a theme—we just did Italian—and bring in the food pot-luck style.” Crockpots and all.

And then at 5:00, they’re off. Guests start to arrive. Some make their way to the wood-paneled bar, and others are led by the hostess to tables spread among several dining areas both downstairs and up. With never more than a few tables in a room, the effect is intimate and cozy. Knowledgeable, cool-as-a-cucumber servers answer questions, take orders, and dissolve away for guests to enjoy the company of their dining companions.

The smooth order in the dining rooms surprisingly isn’t much different in the kitchen, where on a Saturday night at least ten people work separately and together to produce about 200 multi-course meals for the 96-seat restaurant.

It’s down a short sloping ramp to the thick of things. It’s hot in the kitchen, but not too hot. It’s noisy, but not that noisy. This is actually a relatively ordered and calm place. Seven coffee pots hang by their handles along a shelf’s edge; stacks of square plates, platters and dishes wait to be filled. A screen door opens to the parking lot, and there are clipboards posted holding lists of weekly produce requirements. On a steel counter near the walk-in cooler sits a blender filled with a brilliant green, clear liquid. “Chive oil,” cook Raphael Ramirez explains. “Oil, chives and salt and pepper only.”

Pastry chef Jody Hodge chops a mound of pungent rosemary, revealing that in addition to the desserts and palate-cleansing sorbets, she also made tonight’s out-of-this-world rosemary flat bread. She has free reign to choose daily the flavors and ingredients for the ices, breads and sweets; today’s savory muffin featured banana. For these muffins, which are part of the bread basket each table receives at the start of the meal, “I use little or no sugar so the fruit’s flavor shines through.” Each night, Hodge lets Fizell know what she plans for the next day’s desserts, ices and breads, and what will need to be ordered.

At either end of the long central worktop are huge stockpots filled with ice water. Kevin Peoples, dishwasher this night, explains they’re to cool down hot pots and pans—up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit—so he doesn’t burn himself when he takes them to the sink. As he speaks, a cook slips a hot pan into the icy water and it sinks to the bottom with a small, echo-ey thud. They call it The Cauldron.

There are at least eight people in the kitchen, plus a busser, and another, and maybe another server. It’s hard to keep track as they swoop in and out of the one-way flapping doors to the front of the house. I ask server Jackson Barry if they all must inspect the plates before bringing them out. “Yes,” he says, reaching across the counter. “If there is any stray sauce, they get wiped with a little sponge.” He picks a fresh one up and gives it a demonstrative squeeze. Very efficient.

Fizell himself works at some burners along the back wall, and takes a moment to show off the basil pasta flan. It accompanies the pan-seared halibut with crabmeat and asparagus, and is a rich custard of angel hair pasta and herbs. Our meal featured that halibut dish, as well as the smoked shrimp Pad Thai (smoked in-house, of course), an addictive contrast of smoky and sweet; the lacquered duck with ginger scallion pancake; and an outstanding roast chicken with a deep, golden brown skin basted with Cape Cod Red Ale and accompanied by fingerling potatoes and young green beans.

At no point in the evening did we feel rushed, even though we stayed for several hours, enjoying the clarity of flavors, the surroundings and each other’s company. Long after we left, the staff worked both in the kitchen and out front to restore order and prepare for the next day’s carrying on of a fine tradition of excellent food, distinguished service, and singular surroundings.


Chef Fizell offers five-week cooking classes as well as single sessions on topics ranging from risottos to knife skills. the five-week series meets for two hours a week, and works through a menu from appetizers to dessert. on the last day, students each invite a guest to join them in a full dinner participants prepare themselves. classes start in September, and will run through to the spring. Visit the website for details:

The Regatta of Cotuit
Chef/Owner Weldon Fizell
4631 Falmouth Road (Route 28), Cotuit
508-428-5715 /

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