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essex seafood or clam box?

  • j

We're coming out for a long weekend and always make a stop at Woodmans, just because I guess. My husband was born and raised in Arlington, and back in the day it was the place...now i keep reading it's not good and these two keep popping up. Which is the preferred??This Chicago girl looks forward to the fried clams every year!

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  1. JT Farnhams in Essex. Wonderful, old-style (not thick and gunky) chowder, too.

    The Clam Box involves an enormous wait. It does offer big-bellied clams (you have to ask; there's usually a sign above the order window about that when they are available), so if you are patient, go for it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      Is JT Farnhams the clam shack that's next to that magnificent house on the marsh; the one that's known as Motif #2? Usually lots of artists and photographers hanging around? I was in the area 25 years ago and planning on a return trip next month. Can anyone tell me exactly where this is?

      1. re: cimero


        i couldn't get steve's link to work but this will take you to a Yelp link; click on that and page of photos comes up incl the house , and a painter working on a marshes canvas.

        this view certainly makes farnham's lesser CH raved clams more tempting now, i must say. Fwiw, Clam Box gets lots more CH raves than Farnhams or Essex. We are big Clam Box fans (and Woodman's is yech.) but we may just bite the bullet soon and do a comparison w/ farnhams and Essex.

        1. re: cimero

          That's the one, its' on route 133, near Woodmans


          Much better than Woodman's, and better scenery than Clam Box, and I think better food

      2. I was always a Clam Box fan but the lines are tough. Essex Seafood is just as good and no line.

        1. Why not go to Revere Beach and go to the original Kelly's.

          1. I think Clam Box is the absolute best, but as noted the wait is always long. Essex Seafood is a close second, definitely worth the trip. I've had bad luck at Farnham's (inferior clams and/or super slow service). Kelly's is okay, especially if you don't want to drive up north, but neither its clams nor fry job are as good as Clam Box/Essex seafood.

            1. The Best fried clams are in Everett
              Mikes Roast Beef on Rt 99

              Small,sweeet,clean and the oil is always fresh.
              They also have excellent Tartar Sauce

              1. Well, don't forget Royal Roast Beef on Bennington south of Orient Heights; many locals would swear people waste their time going to the North Shore. There are also some good options nearby on the road to Winthrop from Orient Heights.

                1. I should have noted I was talking Eastie here...

                  1. So do people agree with this assessment of Woodmans? I've never been and always mean to.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Oodles of Noodles

                      What assesment of Woodmans? Personally I go elsewhere -- I don't feel Woodmans is a good value. But I read somewhere that they change their oil most often of any of the places up that way. That's a good thing. What's your take on Woodmans?

                      1. re: yumyum

                        i agree, woodmans is not all that good. i would suggest the Clam Box and time your arrival around 3pm as the lines will be shorter and i think their oil will be freshly changed (i think they do it at 2pm, but you can call). Farnham's is also an excellent choice.

                        1. re: yumyum

                          I lived in Essex for five years, and the locals didn't really go to Woodman's (lines too long, crowded, pricier, etc.). Back then we all went to Farnham's and the Clam Box, and then also Essex Seafood when it opened.

                          1. re: yumyum

                            "My husband was born and raised in Arlington, and back in the day it was the place...now i keep reading it's not good..."

                          2. re: Oodles of Noodles

                            Don't waste your time. Woodman's is for suckers and tourists.

                            1. re: resipsaloquitor

                              Hey resip, you just responded to a post about 3 yrs old. You need a box of clams.

                          3. Woodman's is fine (I like their rings best) but I don't like lines so I rarely go there; if I am in the mood for big bellies, and go off-season, I go to the Clam Box. Otherwise, I avoid any place with a line. Why? Because I find they are all reasonably comparable, and the variations in clam quality may just as well be due to what's available in the market for any or all of them. This time of year, most of the clams are not local anyway -- there is simply not enough local supply. For that very reason, unless you happen to be on the North Shore or want the drive therein, Eastie can be a better bet during the summer.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Karl S

                              since we will be staying on the north shore, where's the best there?? so many questions, so little time

                              1. re: jan

                                Pretty much all the places mentioned here are on the North Shore: Farnhams, Clam Box, Woodman's, Essex Seafood.

                              2. re: Karl S

                                I'm a Chicago gal who adores steamers. Next week, will be taking my seventeen year old son with me on a few day trip to Rhode Island and Massachussetts to tour clam shacks (he's a teenage foodie who has only heard stories of New England seafood). I've been there on business a lot over the past few years, but never had time to get out of Providence and find the clams (other than Heminways). What in God's name is a big belly? It sounds fantastic! Fried or steamed?

                                1. re: Willa

                                  big bellies are just that, clams with bigger bellies than usual. i've seen them (the bellies) up to the size of a very large gumball, but smaller than a jawbreaker.

                                  most shacks only offer them fried and that is the way to go.

                                  1. re: Willa

                                    You really want the big bellies from the Clam Box in Ipswich. They have a sign (OK a paper plate) by the menu that tells you if big bellies are available. I always order them as many places don't offer them specifically. You get less clams per order but they are a delicacy to me. Clams at Farnhams are purposely small because that's how they've always been apparently. Don't go to Woodman's.

                                    If you want the best lobster roll around, decent clams, and a short line check out Ipswich Clam Bake. Not much atmosphere, but neither it nor the Clam Box are on the water. I usually hit it about once per week, more in the summer. Alternate lobster or maine crab roll. Also good fried fish, all fresh.

                                    It's still early for some places to be open, but plenty are. This isn't a bad time to visit as the traffic is non-existent and lines are too.

                                    Clams at the Causeway in Gloucester are good, but the line there is never short on a weekend. I did have some very large bellies there a couple of days ago. If you hit it for a weekday lunch it is definitely worthwhile in my book. Get the mussels.

                                2. i like the clam box the best out of all those spots up that way.

                                  1. Does the clam box serve anything baked or not fried...baked fish, chicken?

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: AnneM

                                      Unless for some reason the chicken sandwich is baked (which I serious doubt), the only non deep-fried options would be the lobster/tuna roll, crab or chicken salad, hot dog or burgers. The entire point of the clam shacks is frying, because its much faster and can handle volumes. Also, the Massachusetts style is breaded, not battered, so the absorption of fat is less than battered food.

                                      1. re: AnneM

                                        Essex Seafood has the best of both worlds. Your fried seafood afficionados can stoke up, and those among you with a more refined taste (just joking!) can get their excellent lobster bake, or twin lobster specials...Or steamers...Yum....

                                      2. I live in Essex 11 years now and Eastie before that. Good clams abound - Belle Isle Seafood on the way to Winthrop, the aforementiontioned Roast Beef joint

                                        Yah, movin' on up...

                                        The Fried Five:

                                        1. Essex Seafood
                                        2. Clam Box
                                        3. Village Restaurant / Essex
                                        4. The Clam Box
                                        5. Blue Marlin / Essex

                                        If you are over 55, 'The Village' is more your speed. My parents adore it- they are 70+.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: ipsofatso

                                          I have to reinforce the 70+ comment about the Village - the chowder and (so buttery-mmmm) baked trio of haddock, shrimp and scallops were all very good to appease our disappointment that they had NO live lobsters available ("too expensive right now"), HOWEVER....

                                          yesterday afternoon in less than 30 minutes, we counted three walkers, two canes, and a pair or crutches going by, not to mention two separate loud discussions of colonoscopies over lunch (really!).

                                          The food is good as is the value and the service was quite friendly, but I don't think we'll be back for at least 30 years - just know what you're in for (the average age in the bar did look a BIT younger, by the way). I think we'll stick to the Clam Box when feeling patient and wanting "the best" and may head back to Woodman's when not as willing to wait and feeling flush....

                                          A final note on the food: the very popular onion rings completely underwhelmed us - nice big meaty pieces of sweet onion dipped in a really light (in a good way), but completely unseasoned (perhaps a nod to the demographic watching their blood pressure if not their cholesterol) batter - then underfried to a not at all crispy finish....too bad, as they looked golden brown and awesome - and the small serving was huge for $4.

                                          1. re: ipsofatso

                                            I've been enjoying reading all of these comments. I posted the original question a few years ago and everyone was very helpful! My son and I had a fabulous time. The Clam Box was our favorite. We did not like Woodmans. Bad steamers, lots of grit and thin and stringy. They pre-boil their lobsters! You can tell when the outside is hot and the tomalley is cold but green and obviously cooked. Yuck! We went to Rockport and cruised the touristy streets. Not much of interest except the sea and one little storefront retail seafood store. The guy had live lobs and we had him boil a couple for us. Little ones. One of the best food experiences in life, for both of us. We devoured every bit of the lobster and left a pile of little shells. Went back to Boston with my son a couple of years later. That time we skipped Boston and went straight to Essex, where we stayed int he old Choate farmhouse. Very reasonably priced and such a feeling of stepping back in time. We drove to the coast, found a seafood retailer and bought lobs, steamers, oysters....took them back to the farmhouse kitchen and made a feast. We skipped Woodman's even though it was walking distance from the house. Loved the galleries and antique stores. Try the Robert Hanlon gallery in Essex. Ate at Farnhams. Excellent. Clam Box again. Just outstanding. Big bellies are the way to go. Next time, I want to eat clams in Rhode Island. It is a dream of mine to learn to dig 'em up. The steamers, that is. I keep looking for a guide to show me how.
                                            As long as I'm writing about New England seafood, I have to ask. Is it ever okay for an oyster bar to serve oysters that are spawning? I think they are disgusting.
                                            Oh, one more thing. I'm 54, ipsofatso. But I don't think I'll be stopping at the Village!

                                            1. re: Willa

                                              thx so much for the report; v. helpful. Go, ClamBox!

                                          2. The Clam Box is the best. Like someone else said, if you go at a weird time (like 3 pm) the line shouldn't be bad. Around dinner time it gets long. But it's worth the wait!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: alipper

                                              it's also good if you can get there early...last time i got there slightly before 12 and there was no line at all. though that was a little earlier in the season.

                                            2. We recently went to Plum Island for the day and on the way back home we stopped at a small fish market/restaurant right on the road leading into Plum Island. Sorry, I can't remember the name but the I had the friend clams and they were excellent. Not greasy, very fesh and briny tasting and a nice size order for about $15.00. There are few tables inside and lots of picnic benches outside. The place overlooks a slat marsh. Young staff but very freindly. I would definitely hit this spot again and not long lines either.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: RoyRon

                                                That's Bob's Fish Market...great choice for the area.

                                              2. OMG............you're from Chicago? Unless your husband has a decided preference, try any of them!!!!!!!!!! Or all of them!!!!!!!!! The rest of us in the US can't get anything close to what those places listed offer! Trust me, as a Cape Codder, now stuck in PA, I"d fight any traffic jam, wait in any line (which for me is saying something), just to be able to have a sweet plate of those babies drop in front of me! He'll have amnesia and you are still experiencing the best the sea-world has to offer!

                                                Seriously, I'd go for the wait, not the clams. All the places listed are Darn Good, and unless you're there day-in and day-out, the differences will be minimal. No matter where you end up, you'll be drooling before the menu is closed - or the tote-board is scanned! (OK, at least I would!)

                                                Have fun........I'm sure you'll both enjoy wherever you end up.........I envy you!

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                                  Pretty sure they went back to Chicago...3 years ago.

                                                    1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                                      went to Essex seafood yesterday. clams were overfried and dry/not tender (both the strips and the bellies). lobster roll was good but small. have they gone downhill?

                                                      1. re: barleywino

                                                        i don't think so, that was the exact same experience we had there last summer.

                                                2. We ate at Woodman's a few weeks ago and it was pretty good. The seafood was extraordinarily fresh, the oil was clean. A bit lacking on the seasoning, pricey, and quite a wait.

                                                  1. Farnhams all the way! The Clam Box line can be ridiculous (and food not great), and Woodman's is a tourist trap - with the prices that go along with that!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Timeless Gourmet

                                                      i'll give you the LIne, timing your visit there is everything, best mid-afternoon during the week and just after they change the oil. but i feel The Clam Box always delivers on the food. portions are bigger than Farnhams too.

                                                    2. Essex Seafood is #1.

                                                      Essex Seafood
                                                      143 Eastern Ave, Essex, MA 01929