CHARLESTOWN — Wampanoag Chef Sherry Pocknett has been creating culinary surprises in kitchens since she was a little girl growing up on Cape Cod.
"First in my Easy Bake Oven," said Pocknett with a warm laugh and wide smile one afternoon last week as she wiped her brow and sat down for a break at one of the nine small tables inside Sly Fox Den Too, her recently opened restaurant in Charlestown that features food based on her Wampanoag tribe food traditions like smoked bluefish hash and Three Sisters Rice (wild rice, corn, squash and beans) along with traditional fare with a twist like cranberry-walnut hot cakes with Pequot Grade-A maple syrup.
"We're just people who love good food," said Pocknett. "And, we love it here."
Sly Fox Den Too sits at the intersection of Routes 2 and 112, in a small red building that once housed the Gentleman Farmer Diner. Inside the tidy restaurant, freshly painted in soft browns and blues, an enormous painting of quahogs, by North Stonington artist Jeanette Vertentes, is prominently hung.
"I saw that and knew I had to buy it," said Pocknett, whose menu of the day featured sauteed little necks. "It's become a conversation piece."
"We were all born with wooden spoons in our mouths," said Pocknett, looking over at her daughter, Jade Galvin, and her niece, Leah Tiexiera, who work alongside her.
Her uncle, she explained — Chief Flying Eagle, Earl Mills Sr. — was the chef-owner of a popular Cape Cod restaurant called The Flume. At some point or another, she said, nearly everyone in her family worked at The Flume, which was situated on the banks of the Mashpee-Wakeby Pond.
"Everybody still talks about it," Pocknett said as she went to find a copy of her uncle's cookbook, "Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook, Wampanoag Indian Recipes, Images, and Lore."
"He always had butternut squash and he always had whatever was fresh and was in season ... duck, steamers, fish, scallops, quahogs, eels."
"It was one of my first jobs," Pocknett said as she poured a tall glass of ice cold sassafras tea, brewed from wild foraged roots. "It's where I learned to make pies."
"My mother made the best pies in the whole world," she said.
It was at The Flume — and from her father, Chief Sly Fox, Vernon Pocknett, and her grandmother, Delscena Hendricks, a chef and master baker — that she learned how to bake, and how to cook with plants, animals and fish that were local and in season.
"Farm to table," she said, still smiling. "The bounty of the season. We eat by the season."
Growing up on Cape Cod as part of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Pocknett said she has always been aware of the seasons and the important role the seasons play in Native American cuisine.
"Food is a common denominator," she said. "People love good food ... good, simple, fresh food."
"But we have to educate people about the bounty," she said, pointing out the window to her raised-bed gardens where she grows herbs and vegetables, "and we have to take care of the earth."
Pocknett, who began catering for The Flume decades ago, turned her business into a mobile food truck, which she named Sly Fox Den in honor of her father.
"She served up delicacies like quail, turtle soup, and rabbit pie at festivals and pow-wows across the East Coast," according to Elise Hugus, a writer for "Edible Cape Cod."
Pocknett, who still maintains her catering business, later became the food and beverage manager at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center in Mashantucket, where she earned awards and a stellar reputation for her dishes, which included menu items like hearty venison stew, salmon roasted over an open fire, clam chowder, turtle soup, fry bread and blueberry slump.
"Sherry is amazing," said Jason R. Mancini, executive director of Connecticut Humanities and former executive director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center and a longtime member of its research staff. "She brought such an innovative spirit to the museum. She was willing to try anything so we let her be and let her make her magic."
"She's an educator at heart," he added, noting that Pocknett's snapping turtle soup is one of his "favorite dishes of all time."
"I am so thrilled to know that she has opened her own restaurant — one that honors her father — right in the heart of South County and Indian country," he said. "Now she can introduce the rest of the world to her cooking."
"I adore her," he added. "And I am just so happy for her."
Pocknett, who serves such Wampanoag delicacies as smoked bluefish hash, smoked salmon hash, venison sausage and three-sisters rice at her new place, said she had long been been looking for the right place to use as a home base for her catering business.
There was one small building in Preston, Conn., in particular she often noticed, she said, a building she admired as she passed by in her travels. It was on the Poquetanuck Bay, not far from the museum. When it went on the market, she knew she was meant to be there and quickly made plans to buy the property and open her business, Sly Fox Den.
"We closed on the building," she said, then "the COVID comes along. It did a number on us."
But last March, on her way home from a ceremony held by the Narragansetts in Charlestown, she saw a small sign on the little red building at the junction of Routes 2 and 112 that said "For Rent."
"It was such a cute place," said Pocknett. "So, I gave the lady a call."
Sly Fox Den Too opened just about four weeks ago for breakfast and lunch. The plan, she said, is for her daughter, Jade, who lives in Ashaway, to run Sly Fox Den Too, her niece, Leah, to run the Preston site, and her daughter, Cheyenne, to run her third place on Cape Cod.
"They've been cooking since they were knee-high to the grasshoppers," she said. "They don't need me. These girls are amazing ... they make me look good."
Beginning Friday, the restaurant, which has 10 picnic tables outside in addition to the nine tables and three stools at a small counter inside, will begin serving dinners.
Pocknett said she also plans to add more desserts to the menu, like peach shortcake, strawberry shortcake, blueberry slump and sassafrass sorbet. In the fall, she'll add Indian pudding and cranberry-based desserts.
So far, the most popular breakfast and lunch dishes have been Pocknett's Bisquits-N-Gravy, Fire Cracker Shrimp & Nausamp and the Sly Fox Benedict.
The fresh fish, "lightly breaded with nausamp and deep-fried," is always popular, Pocknett said.
Nausamp consists of yellow corn grits, while venison sausage on Chef Sherry's Corn Cakes with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce make up the Sly Fox Benedict, she explained.
"Dinners are going to be a little different," she said. "I think I'm going to show off."
Plans for game dinners and other specials are also in the works.
Once the restaurants are up and running, Pocknett said, she plans to "go home to Mashpee" and spend as much time as possible with her seven grandchildren, four granddaughters and three grandsons.
"I am in love with every single one of them," she said.
Sly Fox Den Too is open Wednesday through Monday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinners will be served from 5 to 9 p.m. beginning Friday. The restaurant is closed Tuesdays.