The chef and owner of the Wellfleet restaurant, now in his fifth season, changes his menu daily based on what’s available from local farms.By Marina Davalos | Photography by Julia Cumes
Pictured above: A Wellfleet oyster with garden horseradish foam and Surrey Farm espelette pepper
On opening day at the Wellfleet Farmers Market, chef Michael Ceraldi buys nettles from farmer Ron Backer, who runs Surrey Farms in Brewster. Nettles, or stinging nettles, grow wild on the Cape and have tiny hollow hairs on their leaves that sting if you rub against them. They’re one of the most nutrient-rich greens you can eat, says the chef, even more so than spinach. Once they’re steamed, he says reassuringly, the sting goes away. Next, he buys honey and rhubarb from Dave Dewitt of Dave’s Greens in Truro and purchases six dozen eggs from Victoria Pecoraro, who runs a one-acre farm in Wellfleet.
It’s well known that Ceraldi sources all of his restaurant’s ingredients from local farms. His seven-course, prix-fixe menu varies from day to day, depending on what’s available. People call him crazy for switching up the menu so often, but since local farms produce crops in small quantities, it’s a necessity. “I like to talk about it in terms of the agricultural food cycle,” he says. “We don’t just take, we also give back.” Vegetable scraps, for example, go back to the chickens who then provide eggs to the restaurant.
“It’s a beautiful thing to highlight local farmers,” says Jesse, Ceraldi’s wife. The Ceraldis have three children—Hugo, 9, Violette, 7, and Arielle, 2, who often help pick the bounty from the small plot outside the restaurant, where strawberries, fennel and artichokes grow.
At the 40-seat restaurant’s opening night in May, bartender Andy Jameson welcomes me with a glass of Prosecco. Light jazz plays over the speakers and candles glow on each table. Next, Ceraldi welcomes diners to his fifth season and describes the courses—from the ingredients’ sources to their preparation. (If diners have dietary restrictions, Ceraldi makes special accommodations for them in advance.) Each course is accompanied by one of the restaurant’s homemade non-alcoholic beverages, a house wine or a reserve wine.
While the menu changes every day, one thing remains consistent: the first course is always a Lucky Lips Loagy Bay oyster, but prepared differently each time. Ceraldi says these oysters have a sweeter, less briny taste because they are grown in brackish waters. It’s the sweetest oyster I’ve ever tasted.
Second, an assortment of pancetta and coppa (Italian sausage that Ceraldi cured himself over the winter), wild ramp and a green onion, which grows wild only this time of year, is served on a slab of stone. The next several courses flowed beautifully: a bed of lettuce from Longnook Meadows Farm in Truro sprinkled with pink pepper; calamari and agrodolce sauce served with garden parsley mashed potatoes; and homemade alla chitarra pasta infused with the nettles Ceraldi bought earlier that day. Hillside Farm chopped pork from Truro, paired with a sauce made from Truro Vineyards rum, is served on rustic clay plates handmade by the chef.
For dessert, a Lavender Lady tart comes topped with candied rhubarb from Dave’s Greens in Truro. I’m reminded of our excursion to the farmers market that morning, having watched Ceraldi purchase the rhubarb stalks. As I finish my dessert, I ponder the fact that so many people have come together through his preparation of locally grown food. “Community is strengthened by forging these connections,” he says.
15 Kendrick Ave., Wellfleet