by Jeannette de Beauvoir
“We got such a late start on the season,” HOT L Bar & Grille owner Dana Heilman confesses, “that we weren’t sure what would happen, if staff would show up, if customers would show up … but they all did, and here we are!” Managing partner Gary Wakstein shakes his head, smiling. “It’s a testament to him,” he says, pointing to Heilman. “He made this happen.”
“This” is the HOT L Bar & Grille, one of the best additions in decades to the Outer Cape’s dining options. No, it’s not a hotel. Yes, they know that the “e” looks like it’s burned out. There’s a story there. Come in and check it out: the food is fantastic, the service excellent, and the ambiance will leave you smiling.
Heilman has long been committed to bringing great food to the Cape. It was he who started the tremendously successful RooBars, then, more recently, opened Pearl at Wellfleet Harbor. When he realized that Michael Shay’s was going to close after decades on the site, Heilman knew he had to act quickly. Putting together an eclectic and creative team of financial backers, Heilman came into the venue with a vision. “I could visualize right away what it would look like,” he says; but the new look also leans upon the past, with inner windows salvaged from a defunct Truro hotel and, perhaps more importantly, with many Michael Shay’s employees staying on.
Both Heilman and Wakstein credit the staff with much of their success. Chef Gayle Scarberry—“she’s awesome!” exclaims Heilman spontaneously—brings out a sampling of the HOT L’s offerings and seems genuinely pleased with the praise they elicit. Staff joke gently together but are immediately attentive to customer needs; they provide a relaxed and professional atmosphere. The word that comes to mind, actually, is “comfortable.”
And it’s not just the staff: other Michael Shay’s traditions live on at the HOT L, including the Friday-night fish fry, the Saturday-night prime rib, and the Sunday all-you-can-eat buffet and name-your-own-omelette station. “We really want to be a place where locals, folks from Truro and Provincetown, feel comfortable, want to hang out,” says Heilman. “We appreciate the summer visitors, but this is really a year-round place for everybody. We want to take care of the locals.”
Certainly the food—which is best described as Southern-meets-coastline—is bound to make everybody happy. Executive Chef Mel Scarberry is originally from West Virginia, so the various barbeque sauces and rubs, the cornbread, and the pulled pork all bring that “comfort food” feel that Southern cooking exudes. There are Southern/Cape Cod combination dishes—like the lobster corn dogs and the cranberry coleslaw—and then, of course, lots of fish and shellfish dishes, with a myriad of seafood sauces available as complements.
Just a few tempting menu items include the lobster mac & cheese (seriously rich and delicious), the pulled pork with barbeque sauce and cranberry coleslaw, or the baby back ribs (both of them melt in your mouth), the poached baby pear and peppered goat cheese salad (enough for two to share, and you should), and the unusual lobster tacos (it doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does).
Some of the food may echo the South, but this restaurant is all about being on Cape Cod. “I’m in my fifties now,” Heilman says. “This is my ‘big’ project, this is where all my love and energy are going. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I’ve done tons of other stuff, but this is it for me. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we do well here.”
Late start notwithstanding, it’s clear that the HOT L is doing very well indeed. The bar is inviting, the restaurant is buzzing, and the partners are talking about reunions, wedding receptions, catering. From 4 – 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 – 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays there’s a “social hour” with discounted rawbar and appetizers. Everyone is smiling.
“The best thing about being here?” asks Wakstein. “Look out the windows. I’ve never felt so close to the sunsets and the sunrises, or to the ocean. I don’t think I’d ever leave Cape Cod.” Oh, and the story about the name? Heilman and his wife happened upon a place in Brooklyn with the same name, a treasure hidden behind a dubious exterior. “I wanted it to be like that, someplace with a slightly edgy exterior that doesn’t give a clue to what’s inside,” he explains.
That works for me.
HOT L Bar & Grille is located at 350 Bradford St., Provincetown. It is open daily from 8 a.m. – 1 a.m. and offers free parking. For reservations and information call 508.413.9511 or visit www.hotlbar.com.