Wild at Heart: The 41-70 in Woods Hole

Nomadic chef Brandon Baltzley wants to bring Noma’s Michelin-starred magic to his new restaurant on the Cape.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the June issue of Boston magazine. Baltzley has since announced he will leave the 41-70 over differences with the owner.

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Baltzley forages for reindeer lichen and oysters around Waquoit Bay. / Photograph by Pat Piasecki

Brandon Baltzley peers into the shallow waters of Waquoit Bay. “Hey, I think this is where great white sharks attacked some kayakers last year,” he says. Although his timeline is off (the last reported sighting was in 2004), I begin to nervously scan the horizon for a telltale fin. We paddle along the beach, dodging sandbanks and dive-bombing osprey, as we spend the afternoon plucking a low-tide harvest of mussels, wrack, and sea beans. Mud-caked and sunburned, we head back to shore to unload our salty haul. Baltzley knocks the sand from his feet and trades in his life vest for a chef’s coat. Dinner is about to be served at his new restaurant, the 41-70.

In a culinary landscape dominated by lobster rolls and chicken fingers, Baltzley and his wife, Laura Higgins, are instead mining the Cape’s past and a wealth of local ingredients to craft a largely English, Portuguese, and Native American menu. Channeling the hyper-local, wild-food philosophy he learned firsthand at René Redzepi’s legendary Noma, Baltzley plumbs the natural bounty surrounding the Woods Hole restaurant, foraging in Falmouth’s forests and bays. When I met up with the husband-and-wife team in early April, I watched them scavenge everything from wintergreen leaves to reindeer lichen to yarrow fronds.

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The chef’s dishes include littleneck clams with shaved red cedar berries; grilled rib-eye with duck-egg yolk and braised radish; and sunchokes in lobster dashi. / Photographs by Pat Piasecki

On their inaugural menu, a marbled cube of Maine-raised rib-eye came accompanied by the delicate, licorice-y yarrow leaves. The bouquet of wintergreen—which Baltzley gleefully carved from the earth with a brass-and-bison-bone knife—permeated every bite of a chocolate cake. Even a tray of raw littleneck clams was topped with shavings of eastern red cedar berries culled from the end of the couple’s driveway.

Unlike so many other chefs parroting the neo-Nordic style, though, Baltzley and Higgins display a deep understanding of the underlying ethos: Each dish should tell a story. And the story is a particularly redemptive one for Baltzley, who candidly details his struggles with drugs and alcohol in his 2013 memoir, Nine Lives: A Chef’s Journey from Chaos to Control. A new dad, Baltzley is determined not to fall back into the self-destructive tendencies that have plagued him since dropping out of high school at 15.

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Photographs by Pat Piasecki

Instead, through his menu, he chooses to highlight the dewy moments of his new life: a romantic Washburn Island campout with Higgins, which he’s translated into a smoked platter of the island’s titular bivalves. Or a therapeutic hike along the Appalachian Trail, represented at the 41-70 by the whole grilled trout he “ate three times a day” during his journey.

How will that be received by Cape tourists typically looking for some fried fish to buttress their ocean view? “There are a lot of people who walk in, look at the menu, and then immediately walk out,” Baltzley admits. “We’re not going to make everyone happy, and we’re going to have to be content with that.”

71 Water St., Woods Hole, 508-457-3100, the4170.com.