The Knack offers standout burgers, chicken tenders and sidesBy Lisa Leigh Connors
When you sit down in the patio dining area at The Knack, you’ll hear plenty of “Mmm’s” from satisfied customers. One diner at the table next to mine said his lobster roll was one of the best he had ever tasted, and after eyeing my heaping pile of onion rings, he expressed regret over not ordering his own.
Formerly a 1950s Dairy Queen, and later, Finbars taco stand, The Knack opened in April (after a three-week trial run last year) to a welcoming and enthusiastic Orleans community. I stopped by this modern roadside stand at 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. By 12:30 p.m., the dining area was packed—not an empty table in sight. Here’s how it works: Upon arrival, you order at the window and are then handed a buzzer. After ordering, walk over to the covered patio dining area to reserve one of the 12 tables. In the spring and fall, vinyl curtains on three sides will be lowered and heaters in the ceiling will keep diners warm.
The owners of The Knack, brothers Van and Michael Haidas, are no strangers to the restaurant business. Their grandfather opened Kream N’ Kone in 1953, and their father and uncle opened the first Cooke’s Seafood in 1977. “Since we were seven, we were punching out onion rings in the back,” says Van. “We were busing tables when we were 12. We love the high-pressure of the business.”
Van said the location, on Route 6A near the Orleans Rotary, inspired the idea of a roadside stand. But not just your typical, everyday roadside stand. They tore down the old structure and replaced it with a modern, chic building with a clean, efficient workspace. The brothers made a conscious decision to keep the menu small, featuring 12 to 15 items. Every option—from their handmade, buttermilk breaded chicken tenders to the pickle and spice burger—stands out.
During my first visit, I was impressed with the service and top-quality food. I ordered the avocado double burger (because, why not?), the onion rings with a sweet homemade horseradish sauce and a vanilla and chocolate shake, called the “twist.” Every bite of the burger was better than the last. The caramelized onions, slices of avocado and freshly ground beef complemented each other and every mouthful was a delicious mess. The homemade horseradish sauce with the onion rings had just the right amount of kick to it and the shake was smooth and delicious. The Knack’s desserts include ice cream sandwiches made with homemade cookies and 10 percent of all dessert sales go to charities—Camp AmeriKids, Cape Abilities, and the Lower Cape Outreach Council’s food pantries.
Just about everything at The Knack is locally sourced, from the meats to the produce. The hormone-free meats are a proprietary blend from Nauset Farms. To give you an idea of the brothers’ high standards, they initially tested 15 to 20 different blends from butcher Rick Backus of Nauset Farms, then finally settled on one. The seafood arrives daily from Cape Fish & Lobster in Hyannis, and the produce comes from Fancy’s Farm in Orleans, Surrey Farms in Brewster and Cape Abilities in Dennis. “The only thing we haven’t had a better replacement for is Martin’s potato rolls. There’s nothing better for a burger,” says Van.
The brothers, who grew up in Harwich, ended up moving to Manhattan, where they “ate their way through New York” and tried every burger joint in sight. Michael worked as a legal aid lawyer and Van was a stock broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. But they always knew they wanted to return to the family business and the timing seemed right to start their own restaurant.
What do their parents think of their new venture? “It’s the best call of the day,” says Van, “when we tell my father it was a good day.”