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NE Fried Clams: Shacks & Restaurants


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#1 Holly Moore

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 09:22 AM

Scordelia started things off in the Native To New England thread:

I have eaten fried clams all over New England, and the best ones are at the Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor, ME.

Something as important as fried clams deserves its own topic.

A subject upon which I have strong feelings:

The consistently best clams I have come across are from Johnny Ads in Old Sudburry CT. They are also the most convenient - on Route 1 about a quarter mile off of I-95.

Tied for second are:

The Crossroads Restaurant way up Downeast in Pembroke ME, served with homemade tartar sauce and Allison's on the square in Kennebunkport ME. Their recipe goes back generations.

Crossroads and Allison's also both offer some of the best blueberry pie in Maine
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#2 scordelia

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 09:38 AM

Thank you for starting this thread. You are right--fried clams deserve it.

I have not had the pleasure of sampling the clams at the places you mention, so I cannot comment on how they compare to the Thirsty Whale, but this does bring up an issue in how to properly prepare a fried clam--whole or stripped? I prefer whole clams. When they are fried whole, the clam retains its juice and remains tender. There is nothing like biting through the hot crisp batter and then having the hot natural clam juice fill your mouth. :raz:
S. Cue


#3 Holly Moore

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 09:51 AM

We agree on whole clams, though I didn't always feel that way. I grew up in North Jersey where Howard Johnson's was my favorite dinner spot. I'd almost always order their fried clams - made from strips.

Sometime around my 8th or 9th year the family hit Cape Cod on the way to Maine. I insisted on dinner at a local Howard Johnson's. Big mistake. Instead of strips the Cape Cod HoJo's served whole belly clams. To my 8 year old mind - "ICK." My parents were only too happy to split my rejected dinner while I switched to a safe turkey and stuffing dinner.

I suspect at some point this thread might debate breaded vs. battered.
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#4 scordelia

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 09:56 AM

We agree on whole clams.

I suspect at some point this thread might debate breaded vs. battered.

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I am a good beer batter girl!
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#5 ludja

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 10:03 AM

We agree on whole clams, though I didn't always feel that way.  I grew up in North Jersey where Howard Johnson's was my favorite dinner spot.  I'd almost always order their fried clams - made from strips.

Sometime around my 8th or 9th year the family hit Cape Cod on the way to Maine.  I insisted on dinner at a local Howard Johnson's.  Big mistake.  Instead of strips the Cape Cod HoJo's served whole belly clams.  To my 8 year old mind - "ICK."  My parents were only too happy to split my rejected dinner while I switched to a safe turkey and stuffing dinner.
...

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I grew up with the exact same experience! (i.e. growing up liking HoJo's clam strips and then learning the epiphany of fried clam bellies... Although I grew up close to great clam places my "awakening" came later in life b/c mom and pop were not into the bellies...)

I have already bookmarked this thread in anticipation of trips back home!

I can't add a "best" because I have been gone too many years; rather my offering is only "another place" to get fried whole belly clams. They were quite tasty but I can't compare them to other places. I had them at Jasper White's Summer Shack at the Mohegan Sun in southern CT.

Looking forward to trying some of the "real" shacks next time. My sis lives in northern Boston, so I have another good jumping off point- I think there are some very good places on the MA North Shore as well?

Edited by ludja, 14 April 2005 - 04:13 PM.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"


#6 ahr

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 10:13 AM

Holly, I'm afraid I must demur with respect to Johnny Ad's, based on a single visit last Spring. I stopped there on my way up to Cape Ann and Maine, and found their fried clams good--better than, say, the Clam Castle's or Lenny & Joe's--but inferior to those at the Clam Box, Essex Seafood, Farnham's, and probably even Woodman's. I was also disappointed on that trip with the clams served by a long-time favorite, the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport; those, too, were good but not great. I've never made it to Allison's, so thanks for the tip.

Proximity has its charms, but the real thing still requires a drive farther north.

(With the caveat that I've not visited in two years, the best fried clams I've had south of Cape Ann were at Bigelow's, about 25 miles east of midtown Manhattan, in Rockville Center.)

Perhaps we should discuss our criteria for what makes the perfect fried clam. Strips, of course, need not apply.
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#7 scordelia

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 10:45 AM

Perhaps we should discuss our criteria for what makes the perfect fried clam.  Strips, of course, need not apply.

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No strips! My perfect clam is a whole belly longneck dipped in a light beer batter. It must be fried the day it was harvested! That is part of the Thirsty Whale's secret--clams were delivered by the individual clamdiggers (who then would park at the bar drinking shots and beer until the next low tide) twice a day. Your fried clam dinner had been happily sitting in the mud less than six hours ago.
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#8 mizducky

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 12:20 PM

We agree on whole clams, though I didn't always feel that way.  I grew up in North Jersey where Howard Johnson's was my favorite dinner spot.  I'd almost always order their fried clams - made from strips.

Sometime around my 8th or 9th year the family hit Cape Cod on the way to Maine.  I insisted on dinner at a local Howard Johnson's.  Big mistake.  Instead of strips the Cape Cod HoJo's served whole belly clams.  To my 8 year old mind - "ICK."  My parents were only too happy to split my rejected dinner while I switched to a safe turkey and stuffing dinner.

I suspect at some point this thread might debate breaded vs. battered.

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My history with clams was just the opposite--aside from one visit to the Jersey Shore when I was maybe four years old, the majority of my family's summer vacations were to New England--either Rhode Island or Cape Cod--and so I grew up eating and loving whole fried clams with bellies intact. The first time I encountered those strip clams, I was massively underwhelmed--"where's the juicy bits?!?"

I too have been away from New England for so many years that I have nothing substantive to add about best N.E. clam joints. But I can at least vicariously drool over the subject matter. :smile:

As to breaded vs. battered: while the ones I loved as a kid were pretty much all breaded, these days I think I'd prefer them battered. But the reality is, these days I'd probably take whatever (whole!) fried clams I could get.

#9 johnnyd

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 12:28 PM

I had to rifle through my sticky Saveur collection to find, in issue #43, that Mainers apparently prefer a battered fried clam while Massachusetts prefer a dry-coating fried clam. This issue had a recipe based on one used at the Village Restaurant in Essex that uses:

1 1/4 cup Cornflour, sifted
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

They swish wholebellies in 1 1/2 cup milk w/one beaten egg, coat with the above mix, then fry for 30 seconds in 3lbs of lard heated to 375. 1 pound clams for two people.

I have to say this looks tasty. I've had plenty of each style over the years but I can't remember which one wowed me the most.
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#10 ahr

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 12:31 PM

I grew up eating at Lundy’s in Sheepshead Bay once a week, and discovered the Sterns’ Roadfood in my early twenties, so clams are an old hobby of mine. Deep down inside, I still believe that Lundy’s were the best ever, anywhere, but the new Lundy’s isn’t the old Lundy’s, so we’ll never know.

My ideal is the Ipswich/Essex model: no batter, no breading, and no crumbs—just the thinnest brittle mantle of fine corn flour (or a mixture of corn and wheat), clinging tightly to a tender, de-necked New England soft clam. The taste should be mostly of sweet, briny (and even slightly gamy) clam, with just a hint of the nutty taste and scent of roasted corn. There must be no fatty feel or aftertaste, no gaps between the coating and the clam, and none of the mushiness (hello, Woodman’s!) that results from mashing fried seafood too tightly into the bottom of a container. Each clam must be separate and distinct from its brethren and sistren, not an atom in some bready, clammy mass.

The best soft clams are the somewhat rectangular-shaped variety from New England and Long Island. I prefer mine medium-sized with at least a bit of belly goo, but I’ll take even tiny, goo-free New England clams over the bulbous, testicular monstrosities that seem to live in the warmer waters off New Jersey and Maryland (both for frying and for steaming). Many good clam shacks, including Bigelow's, source theirs, albeit pre-shucked, from the Ipswich Shellfish Company. Unfortunately, however, demand generally so outstrips supply these days, and prices have so risen, that “native Ipswich” clams, even served in Ipswich, are not necessarily native to Ipswich.

Who's next?

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#11 Chris Amirault

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 01:45 PM

I haven't been to all the places that people have mentioned, but I've been to many of them. My votes:

Best in MA: the Clam Box in Ipswich (though Jasper White's Summer Shack serves a damned fine fried clam).

Best in RI: Flo's on the Newport/Portsmouth line. We're going Sunday, first trip of the season, bay-bee!!

Clam strips are lousy calimari for people who once had a bad clam. Blech.

Clam bellies are the foie gras of the Atlantic. I pity the fool who won't eat them.

edited to perfect the Mr. T reference -- ca

Edited by chrisamirault, 14 April 2005 - 01:48 PM.

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#12 johnnyd

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 02:00 PM

Clam bellies are the foie gras of the Atlantic. I pity the fool who won't eat them.


Word.


Clam Box gets a lot of press as the best of the best. I think Saveur covered them too. Never been but I've prepared the recipe from Village in Essex many times (except peanut oil inlieu of lard) and it is exceptionally good.

Prices will start edging up for steamers as we approach tourist season. Now may be a good time to bring home a big mess of 'em and have a cook off! ahr started it... :wink:
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#13 friedclams

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 04:07 PM

Although AHR refuses to admit it publicly he and I sat together one night at the original Bookbinder's in Philadelphia (sadly, now gone) and had the cleanest, bestest, gooiest, golf-ball sized belly steamed soft clams ever...

wish we could have gotten them fried.... ah I yearn for the good 'ole days :biggrin:

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Edited by friedclams, 14 April 2005 - 11:26 PM.


#14 ludja

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 04:21 PM

...
Clam bellies are the foie gras of the Atlantic. I pity the fool who won't eat them.
...
edited to perfect the Mr. T reference -- ca

View Post


Great line... (worth perfecting).

Though I'm half afraid that the analogy to foie gras will bring in swooping anti-foie partisans to see if eating clam bellies should be banned for the masses... :wacko:
"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"


#15 Chris Amirault

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 05:31 PM

...
Clam bellies are the foie gras of the Atlantic. I pity the fool who won't eat them.
...
edited to perfect the Mr. T reference -- ca

View Post


Great line... (worth perfecting).

Though I'm half afraid that the analogy to foie gras will bring in swooping anti-foie partisans to see if eating clam bellies should be banned for the masses... :wacko:

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I've tried gavage with clams. Not worth the effort, believe me. For starters, I can't find their damned mouth.....
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#16 LindaK

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 06:28 PM

This is embarrassing. I love fried clams and eat them whenever the opportunity arises but apparently never paid enough attention to remember where I experienced those fried clam nirvana moments. Can I still keep my membership on eGullet??

Now that we're nearing the end of winter (hey, I saw snow flurries two days ago) and the summer shack season approaches (not only Jasper's), maybe we can collectively design a fried clam pilgrimage route--not only for us but for folks who visit N.E. this summer. God knows it would give me a good excuse to take a few days off from work for some fried clam road trips.

Thoughts, suggestions?


 


#17 ahr

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 07:15 PM

...AHR..and I sat together one night at the original Bookbinder's in Philadelphia (sadly, now gone) and had the cleanest, bestest, gooiest, golf-ball sized belly steamed soft clams ever...

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Bookbinders, purveyors of "the cleanest clams in captivity," or something like that. Though large, those steamers were definitely imported from New England, of the rectangular/flat/stubby-necked variety.
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#18 johnnyd

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 07:46 PM

maybe we can collectively design a fried clam pilgrimage route--not only for us but for folks who visit N.E. this summer.


The least we can do is visit our local purveyors and weigh in here on our findings, ayuh?
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#19 Laughing Goddess

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 07:49 PM

I've heard of a "clam crawl" that was organized on a different board, and it sounded great -- but I have no idea how to organize these things.

Holly? Anyone?

#20 Holly Moore

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Posted 14 April 2005 - 08:00 PM

I've heard of a "clam crawl" that was organized on a different board, and it sounded great -- but I have no idea how to organize these things.

Holly?  Anyone?

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If this is to be an eGullet event someone needs to volunteer to put it together. I see a problem in the geography - the New England Coast from CT to Maine, but I'm not one to put a damper on things if someone wants to take a shot at it.

Anyone interested in organizing it can contact me by PM or email and we can hash it out. But let's not do the "hey I've got a barn thing" in this thread. That's agains eGullet policy.

In the meantime, johnnyd's suggestions makes a lot of sense.

The least we can do is visit our local purveyors and weigh in here on our findings, ayuh?

Maybe folks can hit their local clam shacks, ideally with camera, and report back on this thread. This thread could become a great source of info on all fried clams all along the coast.

And if you're looking for someone to tag along on a tasting, post the idea in the ISO thread tagged at the top of the New England Forum.
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#21 scordelia

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 06:48 AM

a tender, de-necked New England soft clam


I have to disagree here. Clams should not be de-necked. It's like taking the head off a whole fish before cooking. You are creating a gash from which many juices can escape! The Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor does not deneck its clams, and I have been to many places where they served a whole bellied but denecked clam, and they are just not as tender and juicey.
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#22 johnnyd

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 06:57 AM

Maybe folks can hit their local clam shacks, ideally with camera, and report back on this thread. This thread could become a great source of info on all fried clams all along the coast.


Okay, I'm into it now...

We'll need some common criteria:

Geography
Byram, Connecticut to Lubec, Maine, including all islands of course. New England proper to the New York and Quebec/New Brunswick border.

Main Ingredients:
The classic combination is a pint/quart box/plate of fried clams with 2oz tarter. Extra points if it comes w/lemon wedge. Note the price.

Service/Atmosphere/Location

A mention about service is probably warranted; ambience of the place too; shall we limit candidates to proverbial "Clam Shack" status? High-end seafood restaurants sometimes include fried clams which could provide an interesting contrast.

Typical Scorecard:

Place:
"Cap'n Splash Seafood TakeOut", Route 1, Maine.

Clams:
Battered. Bellies were few but succulent; strips dried out; excellent tartar sauce (they say they make it daily) Quart w/fries: $14.99

Service/Atmosphere:
Cheery and fast. Shack situated on busy highway next to salt marsh.

Comment:
Cap'n Splash's two sons rake for clams every day but they tasted like they hadn't changed the fryolater oil lately.


... then a couple pics and anything remarkable, like how you got there or how mobbed it was (or not) and hopefully lots of opinion we at eGullet are famous for (or not!). Maybe an overall grade? B+? I can see it now: the Zagats of clam joints! :wink:

Edited by johnnyd, 15 April 2005 - 07:00 AM.

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#23 scordelia

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:13 AM

Well, if anyone decides to try the Thirsty Whale for the clam crawl (I wish I could you join you all), it is on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor.

The Thirsty Whale is a pretty typical fisherman's bar (think the Crow's Nest from The Perfect Storm). It's the only bar open year round on the island, and they do have clams year round (actually, they are best in the winter but only available for lunch). Clams come with fries, homemade tarter sauce, lemon wedges and malt vinegar. I was there last year and it was still $10.95 for a clam plate.

Even my husband, whose family is from Wellfleet on Cape Cod, agrees they are the best. He took me to some of his favorite Cape Cod haunts and I said that the clams were good but not as good as the Whale's. Well, three years ago, I finally dragged him to Maine and took him to the Whale and he agreed that they were the best clams.
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#24 Chris Amirault

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:22 AM

I'm down with johnnyd's plan and will bring the camera along to Flo's when next we go.

a tender, de-necked New England soft clam

I have to disagree here. Clams should not be de-necked. It's like taking the head off a whole fish before cooking. You are creating a gash from which many juices can escape! The Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor does not deneck its clams, and I have been to many places where they served a whole bellied but denecked clam, and they are just not as tender and juicey.

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This reminded me of one of my favorite food moments growing up.

When I was a wee boy, My Mainer grandfather would bite off the bellies and give me the necks, claiming that his dentures prevented him from chewing the tougher bits. Even at a tender young age, I was the confident Bostonian visiting the local Maine yokels, thinking that I was getting the prime cut.

It wasn't until later that I realized that, like most other confident Bostonians visiting the local Maine yokels, I was being screwed. :wink:
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#25 scordelia

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:27 AM

Cute story, but see, Mainers know! You cook the clam with the neck! Then you get a juicier belly!

I actually like the the necks though. I enjoy the different flavors, textures and nuances from the different clam parts. It completes the experience.
S. Cue


#26 SobaAddict70

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:34 AM

My epiphany took place in 1985 when en route to our annual Cape Cod vacation spot, we stopped somewhere in Rhode Island at a shanty called "Sea Swirl". Maybe it wasn't Providence, but it was somewhere in that general area.

It was the first time I'd had clam bellies. Oh. My. God.

Unfortunately I haven't had the pleasure in several years. :sad:

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#27 emmapeel

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 08:54 AM

I have to agree that Maine is the place. They always have the greatest fried clams, and I eat them every day I'm there.

I have have them Downeast, around Bar Harbor, Machias and Calais, but I didn't realize that the difference was the belly type. Talk about an education from eGulleters!

Edited by emmapeel, 15 April 2005 - 12:25 PM.

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#28 ahr

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 09:15 AM

My epiphany took place in 1985 when en route to our annual Cape Cod vacation spot, we stopped somewhere in Rhode Island at a shanty called "Sea Swirl".

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If we're thinking of the same place, the Sea Swirl is in Mystic Connecticut, just a few miles this side of the Rhode Island border. Their clams are good, but not the very best.

As for the necks, it's entirely possible that the much-praised Thirsty Whale is on to something, but here are some of the top-level shacks that remove them: Arnold's (MA), Aunt Carrie's (RI), Bigelow's (NY), Bob's Clam Hut (ME), Cindy's (ME), Clam Box (MA), Clam Castle (CT), Essex Seafood (MA), Flo's (RI), Farnham's (MA), Johnny Ad's (CT), Lenny & Joe's (CT), Sea Basket (ME), Sea Swirl (CT), The Clam Shack (ME), and Woodman's (MA).

Many people mistake the curly loop, separate from the belly, for the neck (see the picture upthread), but that's just the clam's outer superstructure that supports the mighty belly.

I’d forgotten to mention Arnold’s in my earlier post; though I haven’t been in several years, it was an old favorite.
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#29 scordelia

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 09:49 AM

As for the necks, it's entirely possible that the much-praised Thirsty Whale is on to something

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I think it is a Downeast thing. During my four years in Maine, I noticed that in northern Maine, necks were more likely to be left intact, but further south, the clams are de-necked.

I have always wondered if it was perhaps a French influence. Northern Maine places were more likely to do mussels in wine and garlic too (and I am referring to roadside shacks including the Thirsty Whale, not fancy places). And northern Maine has the largest concentration of Acadians (some towns still speak French as a first language). Anyway, I observed some distinctly French influences in northern Maine cooking that one did not find in the more southern or English regions of New England.
S. Cue


#30 elrap

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Posted 15 April 2005 - 10:02 AM

I love Johnny D's idea, I'm in!

For what it's worth I'm a native New Englander that lived in Los Angeles for 12 long years. When I moved back (to Newburyport, MA) I had to eat clams at least once a week for a solid year to get all the smog and wheat germ out of my system.

I've eaten at all the Ipswich/Essex places and do think the Clam Box is the best, though if I can remember in time I'll bring my own tartar sauce (and beer too, if you eat at the picnic tables and pour into a cup in the back seat of your car).

There is a dark horse I haven't seen mentioned, which is Park Lunch in Newburyport. Natives to this town told me about this place for years, and I pooh-poohed the suggestion that anyplace could make better fried clams than the Clam Box.

When I finally went - it's really a smoky, old-fashioned neighborhood sports bar with wooden tables, and they're open late in spite of the name - the clams were definitely right up there, and the fried shrimp were (you can't see me but I'm crossing my heart and hoping to die) better than at the Clam Box.

Thing is, Park Lunch had a fire, which was treated as a local tragedy, complete with collections for the hourly help left temporarily jobless. I haven't been since they opened back up again maybe a month or so ago but this is more than the excuse I need.


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