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Fried clam confession (and a few other nibbles)

For the first 10 years I lived in Boston, I thought fried clam perfection was found only at Woodman's. After one too many bad fry jobs (and one unspeakable atrocity I saw in the kitchen--you don't want to know), my wife and I swtiched our allegiance to the Clam Box. Not impressed with a few years worth of long lines and mediocre food, my fellow 'hounds directed me to both Farnham's and then Essex Seafood...but still I was unfulfilled (under-frying, soggy coatings, clams of questionable quality). And then one day last fall, I was dragged into Tom Shea's (an old-school sit-down joint across the street from Woodman's), and, with low expectations, ordered the fried clam plate. I've been back to order the same thing three times, and in my mind, these are the best fried clams around--with an unbeatable price (I was there yesterday, and the plate was $13.95). Crispy but light coating with a crunch that holds, unfailably (okay, so I'm 4 out of 4, but still...) plump, fresh, fat-bellied bivalves--declicous. And the fries are fresh-cut (I think) and nicely fried (no rings). I gotta say, I'm a believer. Especially with Ipswich Ale on tap to accompany, and a clean (if a little outdated) dining room. Now that I have that off my chest...

Hit Cambridge 1 Fenway before the game on Thursday; the place was empty at 6. My wife and I both ordered half pizzas (only pizzas and salads on the menu, per Cambridge 1 Cambridge). I had the half lobster pizza with corn and scallions, which was tasty but not quite worth the $13--lobster meat had a chew that whispered "frozen," but did have a subtle sweetness that worked well with the corn and scallion (especially with a good glug of the chile oil they have on the tables). Wife enjoyed her sopressata pie with fontina. Both pies featured their signature "grilled," (quotes because these pies sure seem like they're baked in a very hot oven) ultra-thin crusts. Tasty enough, and fast service (there were only a few other tables at 6 pm), but somehow not as satisfying as Audobon (same ownership group, and a block away). Maybe it's the miminalist decor, but it just seemed to be without a soul.

Had an ASSBAR lunch today of their gobbler (turkey, stuffing, cranberry) and a pressed "hot" Italian cold-cut sandwich dressed with a chopped olive salad. Cranberry was the weak link; tasted like some rookie tried to "spice it up" with ginger and coriander, and it just didn't work. Italian was tasty but brought no heat. We got ours to go, but were surprised that it was packed at 12:30.

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  1. FYI Travel and Leisure magazine this month had a fun article on the North Shore's fried clams joints. Covered the usual suspects but since I'm no longer living on the North Shore but instead in Washington, DC it was fun to read.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Elyssa

      So how did Travel and Leisure rate them?

      1. re: bakerboyz

        They talked about the Clam Box, Essex Seafood, Farnham's, and Woodman's.

        The author really was impressed with Essex Seafood I think because he said it was the only spot that shucked their own clams and he could taste the difference.

        But overall he liked all the restaurants. Told the history about each one,hints to what makes each clam spot special, and discussed the ambiance (or in some cases lack thereof. :) )

        Btw he also recommended staying at the Inn at Caste Hill...which I have yet to be to but it sounds nice.

    2. I thought Assbar took the gobbler off the menu. Glad to see it back, will finally try the place. Lobster and corn pizza sounds pretty yummy even if a little chewy.

      And my boss is a regular at Tom Shea's when he's living in Gloucester. Does it have outdoor dining?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Joanie

        I've never eaten at Tom Shea's, though have indulged in a beverage or two while scoping the lines at Woodman's across the street. Good to know the food is passable. Tom Shea's does have outdoor diing, and it overlooks the water, which is a plus in my book!

      2. Try Evelyn's in Tiverton R.I.best clams I've had.... or The Lobster Hut in Plymouth (great fried lobster, too!)

        2 Replies
        1. re: shgy

          I hit Evelyn's last night for a clam and scallop platter. Scallops were fantastic, clams were very good, but nowhere near best ever. Best I've had this year were at Causeway Restaurant in West Gloucester across from Yankee Fleet.

          1. re: FoonFan

            I feel like RI doesn't do fried clams as well as MA in general. A sweeping generalization out of my two tests (Flo's, one of the Pt. Judith places).

        2. This board helped me find great clams for overseas visitors in the dead of winter!!!

          The best: Neptune Oyster, delicious morsels perfectly fried. My sister still talks about them and i have been back.

          Also worth a detour: Grumpy White's, the clam bellys/bellies were juicy and full-flavored.

          These restaurants restored my love for fried clams. I had them previously at Flo's in Newport and they were unexpectedly disappointing - soggy, greasy and lacking in flavor...

          2 Replies
            1. re: Elyssa

              It is in Quincy, south of the city, and only worth the detour if you live near by.

              I've also had some great steamers from Stop and Shop recently, well worth the price/value/calorie ratio.