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The Best Clam Shack on Cape Cod

Don't let the exterior of Orleans' Cap't Cass fool you. It may have the appearance of being stuck in time but this place is the real deal when it comes to fried clams.
Orleans’ Cap’t Cass is the real deal when it comes to fried clams and fried scallops.

You know how every now and then you come across a small and off-the-beaten-track restaurant you like so much, you don’t want to share its name because you’re afraid it will get crowded and change? Orleans’ Cap’t Cass is that place for us. It’s our favorite Cape Cod clam shack. Now that it’s listed on TripAdvisor the cat’s out of the bag, so I’m less reluctant to talk and write about it.

There really was a Cap’t Cass. His name was George Morton. We were sad to learn that he died in December 2012 at age 89. He originally was an office worker in Worcester, but the sea called out to him, and after getting his lobster-fishing license he never looked back. George and his wife Betty raised their five children in the apartment above the restaurant. Their super-friendly and efficient granddaughters are the servers now.

Little about the place has changed since we first discovered it in the mid 1990s. In fact I think very little about the restaurant has changed since it opened–first as a coffee shop–in 1955. And therein lies much of its charm. It’s a kitsch-laden seafood shack that’s a throwback to another era when life was simpler and people cared less about Zagat guides and Michelin stars than top-quality local seafood served simply and priced reasonably, all in an authentic environment.

The handwritten menu is part of the charm at Orleans' Cap't Cass.
The handwritten menu is part of the charm at Orleans’ Cap’t Cass.

The restaurant seats only about 25 at beat-up wooden tables with mismatched chairs, plus nine at the counter. Original knotty-pine walls are adorned with photos of the picturesque fishing-boat-lined Rock Harbor next door and the restaurant’s building after a massive snowstorm in the 70s. One wall sports the shell of the biggest lobster claw I’ve ever seen. Legend has it that one weighed an astounding 25 pounds. It’s such a startling site, invariably it generates conversation among Cap’t Cass newbies.

The handwritten menu is tacked to a wall. Although its options haven’t changed much since we first discovered the place, of course the prices have gone up. But we don’t mind a bit, and here’s why: Orleans’ Cap’t Cass serves the best whole-belly fried clams and fried sea scallops anywhere in the area. The she-crab stew also is noteworthy. You even can BYOB, which makes the meal incredibly affordable. Prices here are about one-third lower than elsewhere for the same menu items. Of course we love that but, for us, the consistent quality of the food and the Cape-Cod-from-another-era atmosphere are the main draws.

Orleans’ Cap’t Cass is located at 17 Rock Harbor Road, directly next to Rock Harbor. Cash and checks only. No air conditioning (and the owners have no plans to change that). Open seasonally. A hand-lettered sign on the door lists hours when they’re open and closed. No phone and no web site.

(Photographs: Carolyn Gatto)

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