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What is your favorite NE Clam Chowder?

I'm wading through other discussions, but wonder -- where do I take my mom who wants the most delicious NE Clam Chowder -- open to thick/creamy or thinner/milky options, but light on potatoes and heavy on clams?

For reference, she liked Legal Seafoods' version years ago and we may return, and last visit she loved the seafood chowder at Dry Dock Cafe in the Seaport area -- but we don't expect them to be open on Labor Day. Hopefully it will be made on premises and not rely on bacon or other smoked pork for its richness and flavor. We are willing to travel as far as Cape Ann from Boston.

Current contenders include:

Dolphin Seafood
Durgin Park
Kelly's (probably Saugus unless the new one at Wellington is open or it's a great day at the beach....)
Turner's (Melrose, not the Westin place)
East Coast Grill (what type do they serve?)
Legal Seafood
Summer Shack (which location -- Alewife is more convenient - does it matter?)
Kingfish Hall (not really keen on going to Quincy Market, however)

Any recent experiences, standouts, or must-avoid tips?

Thanks!

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  1. I recommend the chowder at Neptune Oyster in the North End. They feature it as being "made to order". It is on the thin side, (much thinner than Legal's), which is far more authentic. It tastes fresh, full of fresh clams, garlic and potatoes. I dream of it often.

    1. I second Neptune Oyster's chowder. I also like Kingfish Hall's. Both are authentic, in that they aren't so full of flour and thickeners that you can use it as a (superior) Big Dig cement. BTW, why are you against pork as a flavor base? Salt pork is the traditional way to start a NE chowder.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Bostonbob3

        His beef (pun intended) is not with pork but with smoked pork flavors. Salt pork is cured, but not smoked. Ditto pancetta, which would be a non-authentic twist that would be truer to the dish than a heavy masking of hickory-smoked flavor....

        I have not sampled the Neptune Oyster chowder, but I would trust the recommendations above. Garlic would be an innovation for NE clam chowder, but a light hint of it (or minced shallots or leeks for that matter, rather than the storage onions one would have been lucky to have on a ship in the 19th century....) would not rule it out so long as onions were still used for the essential sweetness they offer that garlic cannot.

        1. re: Karl S

          Whoops. Completely missed the "smoked" part of his post.

          1. re: Karl S

            Thanks for the clarification -- spot on -- salt pork is fine. Interesting -- we went to Neptune for my first time EVER (sad, right?) on Friday, but didn't order the chowder there -- now we know. I have enjoyed the Kingfish Hall version (along with the amazing, perenially English standard tuna tartare), but what overpricing and tourist attraction feel the place has most of the time...

            Back to Neptune -- the oysters (raw bar and Po Boy) were spectacular, as were the foie gras mussels (wow! -- they just need to serve some bread for sopping up that sauce..more on that later.)

            While the lobster portion of the warm lobster roll was great, the roll part was an overly-rich, (old?) too darkly-baked, brioche-like bun that I thought detracted from the lobster/butter inside.

            It also crumbled so badly there was no hope of picking it up to eat it -- so I used the roll to soak up the aforementioned mussel sauce. The fries were also really good and the waitress (at lunch) was super-friendly and helpful. It's a real find -- glad to have finally made it there.

        2. It may be too far for you but I recently had a great clam and corn chowder at the Back Eddy on the harbor in Westport, not thickened but a nice smokey flavor.

          1. Why not Turner Fisheries at the Westin?
            They consistently won Boston's Chowderfest and are in the 'chowder hall of fame'.

            2 Replies
            1. re: trufflehound

              Aside from a possibly irrational aversion to places inside hotels, the one time I tried their chowder, it was rife with potatoes, too thick, and too lukewarm for my taste. It was several years ago, so it may be time for another try...

              1. re: rlh

                Don't bother. It's not that great.

            2. Anthony's Pier 4; very thick and buttery (fyi: I hated Legal's chowder every one of the probably five times I had it). The last I had Anthony's was 1999, but my father had Anthony's chowder at Anthony's Hawthorne frequently many decades ago; he said it was exactly the same in 1999, so one would assume that the quality can have been maintained over the last 7 years. The rest of the food was nothing special, but the chowder was spectacular.

              1. Hi, I am a new transplant to Boston, also interested in great chowder at low prices in the city. A group of grad students and I are willing to go anywhere within T access for cheap and tasty chowder. I looked at the menus for the places listed on top and so far only Durgin seems to be within our price range ($20 and below for chowder + entree or appetizer, including taxes.)

                If you have any suggestions on good hole-in-the-wall or more affordable chowder places, let me know. Please help a group of hungry girls out - we are going to dinner tomorrow.

                In return, I will be happy to post on great eats in DC, Chicago, or NYC if anyone is visiting any of those places. Thanks in advance!

                1 Reply
                1. re: windycity

                  Dolphin and Kelly's are in your price range.

                2. Durgin Park's clam chowder is very good, and you would be fine eating there, as it's fun, the food is reasonably-priced, and it's really a unique Boston experience.

                  If you like FISH chowder (as opposed to CLAM), the best version in my opinion, is at the NoName restaurant on the Fish Pier in South Boston (near the World Trade Center). It's a thin, milky broth, chock full of fresh white fish. The rest of the food is also very good, especially the fried platters. It definitely qualifies as "hole in the wall".

                  1. I like Jacob Wirth's chowder, it's a 100 year old german beer hall in Boston - so good beers and german food also.

                    Legal Seafood is a beantown champion, great fish and shellfish in traditional and current styles. Their clam and fish chowders are both very good. I'll recommend the Kendall Square branch in the middle of MIT.

                    I'll also second the Neptune Oyster rec above, great food and atmosphere there.

                    I often get John Harvard's chowder in the winter, but it's also a beer joint and maybe the girls wouldn't like the rest of the food as much.

                    Let us know where you went and what you liked.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: steinpilz

                      I had Wirth's chowder yesterday and was disappointed, it had a tang which I couldn't place and relatively few clams vs potatoes, so I can't recommend it now.

                      Glad you liked Durgin Park, I'll have to try it.

                    2. Thanks for the recommendations. So far I have only been able to check out Durgin Park, and I was very happy with the clam chowder - so many bits of clam and no potato! I almost got tired of chewing, and the bowl was enough for dinner on its own.

                      I believe I had Legal Seafood's chowder 3 years ago and remember it with fondness. I will check out the other places over upcoming fall weekends and post back.

                      1. Legal's has always been good, but the clam chowder I had a few times at Great Bay in Kenmore Sq. is the best I've had anywhere. I haven't had it for a while, but I just checked and it's still on their menu.

                        1. Neptune's version rates as my favorite as well: what I haven't seen mentioned is the fact that they use a real clam stock, so the clammy goodness is more concentrated than in most versions I've sampled. It's also free of thickeners; I think they add a little whole milk or cream, and can do it in a Rhode Island style with no dairy at all if you prefer.

                          1. Last week I took visiting family (in search of seafood) to the Barking Crab for lunch - I'd had a recommendation to try their crab cake burger, and the family had a bus to catch at South Station afterward so it was convenient. They both had the chowder and enjoyed it (particularly with the provided not-terribly-hot Buzzards Bait hot sauce). The chowder was nowhere near pure white, which is always a promising sign; unfortunately I didn't try any so can't really comment on the flavor.

                            All in all it was a good lunch, though I can't recall being asked to pay $19 for a steamers appetizer anywhere else in the last several years...