Review of Fried Clams at the Two Madison, Ct Joints
Yes-- before I start-- I know there are good places in Old Saybrook, Westbrook, etc but The Clam Castle and Lenny and Joes are in my backyard...
So-- on my annual fried clam weekend-- I tried each of these-- Clam Castle first...
On a Saturday lunch, almost deserted and it's a beautiful day! Hmmmm... I order a "king" fried clams-- essentially a double order with no fries or rings. Typical indifferent teenage counter service. Five minutes later they arrive for takeout and I retreat to the picnic tables out back and can't believe my eyes. For 17.95, there are maybe 12 clams in a mushy, wet batter, the accomanying tartar has the thin yellow film on top that it develops from sitting too long. Uggghh. The clams themselves were plump and probably could have been wonderful in a nice crisp batter.
Next stop, Lenny and Joe's. Packed as always, friendly service. I order a double fried clams, no fries or rings. Ten minutes later, I have a huge heap of crispy light clams, good batter and well cooked. Accompanying tartar is fresh and lemons are a good touch. Are they the best fried clams ever? No, but the difference between these two places is huge!
The Clam Castle is funny. Years ago people told me it was awful and never to go there. With the options around, I took their advice and stayed away. Then, about 3 years ago, I saw some positive online posts about them and decided to try it and make up my own mind. First experience was very good except for the extended wait. Second time, a month later was still fairly good foodwise though again, the wait was long with a forgotten item. The third was terrible. Food and service.
They are obviously inconsistent depending on whether the owner is working or not. If you have to utilize the rest room around the side, you will note that cleanliness and good housekeeping are not high on the priority list.
If you are in that area, L&J is certainly a far more dependable option though I don't particularly care for their batter or fries.
I tried the Clam Castle a couple years ago and have to say that the clear chowder was the absolute worst I have ever had- period.
My mom and I still joke about it to this day-promising each other a steaming bowl of it as payback for doing wrong.
It was a steely grey color-from the 2 prominent and assumed ingredients-boiled clam water and worcestershire sauce...ugh
I've eaten at Clam Castle for the last 25 years or so. Not so much now since I left CT, but...
The Clam Castle under its original ownership easily could have bested Johnny Ad's, Lenny and Joe's, the other locales east near Mystic, etc, maybe even some of the Mainer and Mass. joints. In its heyday, the clams were excellent, consistently so, as was the chowder.
Old-timer Madison residents know that things haven't been the same since the early 90s, though. Arthur Bousquet, the original owner, died, and after being closed the better part of a year, the place reopened under the management of his sons. Since that time it may have changed hands further...I'm not sure, but as in many cases of a handing off of the reigns, it is not always an even transition.
The restaurant has undergone various periods of retooling, and the quality of the food has unfortunately been shaky. I still go when I am in town out of fealty to childhood memories, and occasionally (if a teen worker isn't saddled with fryer duty) the clams are still quite presentable, and sometimes even excellent. Unfortunately, it is that hit-or-miss element that likely produced some of the above Chowhounder reviews.
This used to be the premier dining establishment for Madison clam fans, with large crowds filling up the tiny place, diners elbow to elbow. There were more personal relationships and friendly banter between the owner and regular clientele. Now it emphasizes more of a take-out clam shack sensibility, which is a shame, because that is not what the restaurant was conceived as. For the unpracticed fried clam eater, you can still get a good meal here...but for the zealots, even I, a long-time fan, must concede that there are better choices to be had in CT and elsewhere in New England.