Two New York chefs are drawing on their Cape Cod memories with a summer-long residency at Nor’East Beer Garden in Provincetown. Bill Clark, co-owner and pastry chef of now-closed Brooklyn favorite MeMe’s Diner (and whimsical newsletter-writer extraordinaire), and Dori Santos, an industry veteran who also worked at MeMe’s, have come together as co-chefs for the season with a menu that plays on Provincetown’s food history and what the duo sees as summer food.
On the history side, for example, there’s a blueberry cornflake crisp with sour cream whip; it’s based on the blueberry crisp from Peter Hunt’s Cape Cod Cookbook, a 1950s collection of Cape recipes. On the summer side, think cold-smoked beets with brown butter vinaigrette, an ode to Santos’s favorite hangover cure, a buttered beet. (See the full menu below, or check the Nor’East Beer Garden website.)
Clark and Santos first met several summers back, when Santos and a friend living in New York City answered an ad to work in Provincetown for the summer. “I ended up staying for three and a half years,” Santos tells Eater. “I’ve made so many close friends here and gotten to work with a lot of them. In fact, I was working for my friends Sean and Rebecca at Pop+Dutch when Bill and I met. I made him a sandwich that day, and now, years later, we’re back in Ptown making clam frites together. Provincetown is where I learned what I want to share through food, and how I want to share it.”
For his part, Clark was spending a lot of time in Provincetown with his partner, Andrew Spena, who had lived there for a couple seasons before moving to Brooklyn and meeting Clark. “It didn’t take long to find out that Ptown was very special to him,” says Clark. “Making food memories is definitely a huge part of how Andrew and I travel, and there’s no shortage of food memories to be made in Provincetown ... We came up to Ptown five times during our first summer together. That’s a lot of footlongs and fried scallops in eight weeks.”
While MeMe’s was open, Clark would steal away to visit Provincetown when he could. “I really fell hard for this town, and the people who live here,” he tells Eater. “I don’t know if other restaurant people do the same thing, but when I spend enough time in a place I really love, a nagging thought creeps into my brain and won’t leave: What if I lived here? What if we ran a restaurant here? It’s just so rare that someone gives you the chance to do exactly that. And to do it with a friend? I’m extremely lucky.”
The residency came about because Santos was a line cook at Nor’East in her Provincetown days. Around the time that MeMe’s Diner closed — Santos had been working there for just over a year — Santos got a call from the Nor’East owners and asked Clark to join her.
“One positive side effect of the pandemic upending our lives is that we had more time to hang out and cook for one another in 2020 than we ever had before,” says Clark.
“So writing this menu was easy,” says Santos.
For diners familiar with MeMe’s, this isn’t a reincarnation, though some of that spirit will come through. “The food at MeMe’s was personable, relatable, and had a sense of levity,” says Clark, “and I think that’s always going to be the guiding spirit of any menu I write — it’s just how I like to eat. But this is also a different kind of collaboration, and one that’s tied closer to our personal memories and feelings about Ptown. It’s not ‘Cape Cod food’ in a literal way. Just how the two of us feel when we think about summer in Ptown.”
The duo isn’t out to “reinvent the wheel” with this collaboration, Clark notes. “[Nor’East has] an established group of regular customers and a great reputation in town. But we did want to bring a full vision for the season and something that was personal to the two of us.”
The clam frites, he says, is a good example of the balance — the dish includes lemon frites, a staple of the Beer Garden, “but they’re used in a way that regulars wouldn’t expect. I always want to strike a balance between something that feels familiar (even if it’s new to you) and something that feels surprising (even if it’s a dish you love).”
“It was important for us to give a nod to the cultural history of Provincetown and some Beer Garden favorites,” says Santos, “but we did write this menu with some special people in mind; friends and family, and memories we’ve made in summertime. I hope those people can tell that when they come in. My other hope for this menu is that it makes visitors to Ptown feel like friends when they’re here. I’m super proud to serve my family’s pork adobo in a restaurant. This is a dish that I grew up eating and like my favorite summer food, it’s easy, not fussy. So sharing it is truly sharing a piece of me.”
Clark and Santos will be at Nor’East until October, weather-permitting, and then heading back to New York. For Bostonians looking to visit, the Provincetown Fast Ferry is already up and running for the season, offering daily service from Boston through October 11.