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Klam Krawl Trip Report

t
treb Jul 29, 2008 07:55 AM

Klam Krawl Trip Report - 7/25/08

A nice sized group of CH’ers meet up to sample some native clams on the North Shore. We rated the clams based on taste, clam size, texture of batter and value. There were some pleasant surprises and some shockers. All of the places were similar in price and offered medium or large boxes in the $20.00 range.

We went to the following to sample the areas best:

Lobster Pool – Rockport
Essex Seafood’s – Essex
Farnham’s – Essex
Woodman’s – Essex
Clam Box – Ipswich

1. The Worst: Essex Seafood.

The clams were microscopic in size and severely over cooked with the smallest portion delivered for the price. The clams were about the size of my ‘pinky finger’ and the bellies about the size of my ‘pinky finger nail’. They were so over cooked that they were chewy like rubber bands, tasteless, the tiny bellies were dried up, and hard from the frying. Essex Seafood’s was nothing short of robbery!

2. Next to Last Place: Farnham’s.

This was shocking to some of us. The clams were slightly bigger that Essex Seafood, had a better overall clam flavor and were cooked to a golden brown. However the batter was gummy tasting and had no signs of crispiness thus taking away any possibility of texture.

On a side note; Scuba saw some ‘Cod Cheeks’ on the menu and picked up a box for the Chowers to try out. They were a bit stronger tasting, in a good way, than the taste of Cod that you would expect in Fish & Chips. They were crisp and very creamy tasting. Also, Farnham’s tartar sauce was meh.

3. Middle of the Road: Lobster Pool.

The clams were about the same size as Farnham’s with good flavor and cooked to a golden brown deliciousness. The batter was nice and crisp with excellent mouth texture. If the clams were a bit larger the Lobster Pool may have pulled into a tie with the runner up on this Krawl as the quantity of clams made for a good value.

On a side note: The Lobster Pool has a spectacular view as it is right on the ocean in an inlet. There are picnic tables both in and outside and the place is very clean. A plus was they offered complementary ice cold sliced watermelon, all you wanted.

4. Runner up: Woodman’s.

This was the most surprising to us as there have been a lot of mixed opinions and reviews on the board. The clams were good sized with good clam flavor and not chewy at all. A few of my clams had grit when I bit into them, not too pleasant, some tasted greasy, but overall the clams were cooked to a golden brown in a fairly good textured batter. The portion was also very respectable for the price.

4. The Winner: Clam Box.

This was the winner, I mean it wasn’t even close, every one of us was very impressed the clams. The clams were the largest in size which meant to us Krawlers that Clam Box was buying a high quality product, no skimping. The clams had no grit, not even with those larger bellies, were very flavorful, tender and were cooked to perfection, not greasy at all. They were golden in color with a light crisp batter. They were also the best value, the box was overflowing, and the Clam Box is very generous with the portions.

On a side note: two of the CH'ers ordered some crisp onion rings, sweet scallops and meduim sized shrimp, just to cap off the evening!

On a final note:

I was very impressed with 'Scuba Jr.', this young gentleman, who is about to enter high school this September, not only kept company with Scuba, the dad, and the rest of us not so young CH’ers, he belted down those bi-valves like a pro! Definitely a future foodie in the making, I guess the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree!

  1. StriperGuy Jul 29, 2008 08:23 AM

    Sad to hear Essex Seafood was so lame, they are usually my go to place.

    1 Reply
    1. re: StriperGuy
      yumyum Jul 29, 2008 10:42 AM

      Me too. Essex has been my favorite for a while -- although I've not had their fried clams this summer -- the tartar sauce from Farnhams is great. Woodmans in the top 2 is a shocker too.

    2. hiddenboston Jul 29, 2008 08:33 AM

      Great report, treb. I'm shocked about Farnham's, too. I mean, if Guy Fieri liked it, it has to be good! Right? ;-b

      1 Reply
      1. re: hiddenboston
        t
        treb Jul 29, 2008 10:25 AM

        Yah, most of us were in shock, very disappointed. I was also pumped when Guy from DD&D's went there but, as you are probably aware, that can also create huge ego's and complacency.

      2. Infomaniac Jul 29, 2008 08:41 AM

        Nice report....curious as to how long this crawl lasted from start to finish.
        Also, nice eye Scuba spotting the Cod Cheeks.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Infomaniac
          t
          treb Jul 29, 2008 10:27 AM

          The Krawl began at 5pm +/- and ended around 8:30 pm. We ate a good share of clams!

        2. g
          gourmaniac Jul 29, 2008 10:10 AM

          Thanks for the report. Always loved the Clam Box and agree that it is the best. For some reason, i;m usually closer to the other places and don't make it there as frequently as I'd like. Essex was always my second, so hopefully not a downhill alert.

          1. Gio Jul 29, 2008 10:51 AM

            Many thanks for the report.... I've been waiting to hear how everything went. We usually go to Woodman's since I do know that Farnum's "ain't what it used to be". I won't tell you how long ago I first went to Farnum's, tho . Way back then they were the best of all.

            We drove past the Clam Box about 4:00 returning from Tendercrop and the line was snaked around to the back. I thought they closed to change the fry oil then.
            I wonder: when is the best time to go there ..?????

            4 Replies
            1. re: Gio
              ScubaSteve Jul 29, 2008 11:50 AM

              the Oil Change happens around 2pm. so i would say 3-4pm would work. if it's mid week you can call in an order and time your arrival accordingly.

              1. re: ScubaSteve
                Gio Jul 29, 2008 11:57 AM

                SS:
                Thank you! Always wanted to stop but the that long line is off-putting. Calling ahead makes such sense.

                1. re: Gio
                  t
                  treb Jul 29, 2008 12:29 PM

                  Scuba has the Clam Box Phone Number on Speed Dial, LOL!

                  1. re: treb
                    Gio Jul 29, 2008 05:27 PM

                    HAH! That's what I'm going to have to do. I need - absolutely need to taste those beauties!

                    I wish I could have joined the party.... but I think I could not have been able to keep up.. Maybe next time.....

            2. ScubaSteve Jul 29, 2008 11:48 AM

              thanks for the great write-up and the shout-out to The Kid, he'll get a kick out of the mention.

              i'm sorry that we did not get to make it to The Lobster Pool as that was the one place on the list that i have never been to.

              i will add that the single Best Clam i had was at Woodman's, big, plump, juicy, perfect, too bad it was all alone. to have a box of clams all like that would be nirvana. also on Woodman's; i did notice that after we left the table that there was a distinct taste of tired fryer oil left in my mouth, too bad there was no beer allowed at the picnic tables.

              thanks again Treb for organizing, note taking and posting.

              1. c
                chowfamily Jul 29, 2008 01:57 PM

                Another big thank you for the informative report - I've been looking forward to it!

                1. steinpilz Jul 29, 2008 04:17 PM

                  Good job treb! Sorry I couldn't make it, glad to hear that ClamBox still reigns supreme.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: steinpilz
                    ipsofatso Jul 29, 2008 04:52 PM

                    its not in the rough but The Village in Essex has by far the best fried clams anywhere up this way. Maybe the next trip thru Clambodia hounds can get over the blue hair image of the place and check out the fried clams there.

                    Also July clams are not that snappy or plump. Come back in October.

                    1. re: ipsofatso
                      ScubaSteve Jul 29, 2008 06:32 PM

                      they were Plump at both the Clam Box and (somewhat) Woodmans.

                  2. d
                    DemBellyFull Jul 30, 2008 07:58 AM

                    I live in the area and have frequented all of these spots and agree that the Clam Box is in a league of its own. I would also throw out The Causeway in Gloucester as having very good clams, the best clam chowder around and by far the best value seafood place in the N. SHore, Huge portions, cheap prices, great fresh quality. I do have some issues with your analysis of the clams as your crew seems to view "grit" as a bad thing, I disagree with that and believe that is a sign of freshness and authentcity. Also, the crew seems to be infatuated with the size of the clam and associates that with good quality, however it is easy to be duped by soaking clams in cornmeal to plump up the bellies and make them bigger, in which case you lose quality and sweetness but do end up with a bigger clam, not a trade-off I'm willing to make.

                    17 Replies
                    1. re: DemBellyFull
                      galleygirl Jul 30, 2008 08:14 AM

                      Insightful comments,DBF...

                      1. re: DemBellyFull
                        t
                        treb Jul 30, 2008 08:24 AM

                        Agree on the Causeway, I didn't put it in play because it would have required eating at a table, thus a lot of wait time etc., and the same reason for not putting the Village in play as well.

                        As for the grit it was not from the belly but, rather on the exterior part, which a better washing would have cured. Believe me we're not rookies, no corn meal plumping to make the critters bigger, the size comments were about the entire clam.

                        1. re: treb
                          d
                          DemBellyFull Jul 30, 2008 09:48 AM

                          I agree with your grit comments on the grit now, good color. Althought not totally related to this topic there is a new restaurant I'd suggest in this general area, it is the Stone Soup in Annisquam, the owners of the Ipswich Sone Soup opened a place there for the summer, great spot right on the water, just opened for dinner, and like the Causeway it is BYO for alcohol, local fisherman bring fish right up to the dock for him, have had a gread haddock sandwich there, no fried clams as of yet, though there could be as he has a deep-fryer here unlike the one in Ipswich

                          1. re: DemBellyFull
                            hiddenboston Jul 30, 2008 09:54 AM

                            Is this where the Annisquam Market used to be?

                            1. re: hiddenboston
                              d
                              DemBellyFull Jul 30, 2008 10:23 AM

                              I am not completely familiar w/ Annisquam as I don't go to often but I think it is where that mkt used to be, they are open for breakfast and lunch too, and just opened for dinner, so I've not been for dinner yet, plan to go this w/end if weather is nice

                        2. re: DemBellyFull
                          ScubaSteve Jul 30, 2008 08:43 AM

                          i'm sorry but sand in my fried clams is a Bad Thing.
                          and the larger clams at the CB were Very Sweet.

                          1. re: ScubaSteve
                            mjg0725 Jul 30, 2008 10:29 AM

                            Come on, a few little grits is not that bad. It makes the experiece better. I agree that a lot of grit is no good.

                            1. re: mjg0725
                              ScubaSteve Jul 30, 2008 10:53 AM

                              it was more than just a few bits. i'd say of the 10 or so clams i sampled from ES at least 6 had noticeable sand/grit. they just weren't good at all.

                          2. re: DemBellyFull
                            Infomaniac Jul 30, 2008 10:10 AM

                            I love the clams at The Causeway and everything else they serve but do not understand why the use packaged tatar sauce. I think it was Kens Steak House tatar sacue.

                            1. re: Infomaniac
                              d
                              DemBellyFull Jul 30, 2008 10:21 AM

                              totally agree with that, a good tartar can make an OK clam good, and a bad tartar can make a good clam, just OK, I'm a fan of the CB tartar myself

                              1. re: Infomaniac
                                t
                                treb Jul 30, 2008 11:13 AM

                                Yah, I don't know why they serve Ken's, it's horrible. Go to be a cost thing.

                              2. re: DemBellyFull
                                mjg0725 Jul 30, 2008 10:25 AM

                                DemBellyFull, welcome aboard the SS Chowhound! Fellow hounds, this poster is a good friend of mine and knows his Chow. He was waiting for the Klam Krawl review and it finally got him to get an account and post.

                                I envy him for his close proximity to the Clam Box. But then again, it's probably a good thing that I am not within striking distance of such a fine establishment.

                                Great work on your report Treb, thanks!

                                1. re: mjg0725
                                  xcptnl Jul 30, 2008 10:49 AM

                                  We have been to the Clam Box a couple of times (we live wayyy out in Western MA) and really enjoyed it. We tried Woodmans about 2 weeks - we both liked that as well but I like the Clam Box's onion rings better although for beer batter onion rings - Woodmans were VERY good. I think they are pretty comparable to me but I give the nudge to the Clam Box for their quantity!

                                2. re: DemBellyFull
                                  s
                                  sablemerle Jul 31, 2008 09:32 PM

                                  OMG yes! The Causeway has a great Clam Plate. Mostly because it's about 2/3 clams, 1/3 french fries (first time that's ever happened). The clams are sweet, the batter fresh (clean oil).

                                  Alas, I did not participate in the Clam Crawl, but I'm not surprised at the findings. Clam Box is my fave, Woodman's a close second. I know Farnham's is a CH favorite, but I've never had a decent clam box at the place.

                                  For Boston-area folks trying to save gas, has anyone tried the clam plate at Moulton's Seafood yet? 'Cause their other fried seafood is delicious.

                                  1. re: DemBellyFull
                                    s
                                    SASSYMI2 Jun 25, 2009 08:16 PM

                                    Do you know if the Causeway serves fried clam strips?

                                    1. re: SASSYMI2
                                      Infomaniac Jun 26, 2009 04:28 AM

                                      No fried clam strips at Causeway.

                                      1. re: SASSYMI2
                                        t
                                        treb Jun 26, 2009 06:04 AM

                                        Sassy, if you go there and rip off those belly's and just eat the strips, please invite me, I'll bat clean-up for you.

                                    2. PaulB Jul 30, 2008 03:58 PM

                                      Too much of a wuss to attempt the crawl but this thread inspired me to finally make my yearly trek to the Clam Box. Arrived at noon to find no line and we enjoyed giant big belly and regular belly clams, some perfectly cooked scallops, clam chowder and fries and O rings. Look forward to checking some of the other spots that rated highly, including revisiting Woodman's.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: PaulB
                                        c
                                        chompie Jul 30, 2008 11:02 PM

                                        Is Clambox still using lard? cuz that has kept me away.. I agree with Causeway on the good seafood, bad tarter. Best clams last summer i had in Newburyport at a dive on a street near the bridge with great fries too. Anyone remember the name? Also I just surprisingly discovered fried oysters at the Century House(tavern side) in Peabody. They had huge juicy bellys, no necks so no chewy and light crisp batter and for 6.75 for a huge plate with great rings and fries and slaw it was better than the clams i have had this year! Also Rte 1 Brothers Kouzina has had a fantastic seafood plate, but last time i got it take out the clams were horrible and chewy so dont know if that just happens when you eat them cold..

                                        1. re: chompie
                                          c
                                          chompie Jul 30, 2008 11:06 PM

                                          can you rate the Krawl Tarters?? I prefer a little onion taste to the really pickly stuff. My very fave, almost like an aioli is by far at Amelias in Gloucester but the seafood is spotty.. Bad tarter can really ruin a great clam..

                                          1. re: chompie
                                            ScubaSteve Jul 31, 2008 05:31 AM

                                            oh, i don't think the CB is using lard, if they were i think it would be so delicious they would have to pad the floors so that people swooning would not get hurt when they passed out in ecstasy.

                                            i think they use veg oil or peanut oil.

                                            1. re: chompie
                                              mjg0725 Aug 27, 2008 05:34 AM

                                              Hey Chompie,

                                              Accoring to todays Globe food section article in which they do their own clam shack review (similar to this informative Klam Krawl), they state that the Clambox clams are fried in a blend of vegetable oil and beef tallow (rendered beef fat).

                                              Interesting. Must add a few levels of richness to them.

                                              They also share another Clambox trade secret. "After the clams dip in evaporated milk, the clams are battered in a blend of 3 parts corn flour to 1 part white pastry flour; the pastry flour helps the corn flour adhere."

                                              Glad I do not own a fry-o-later!

                                          2. s
                                            Spike Jul 31, 2008 12:37 PM

                                            Nice writeup. Did you guys get attacked by greenhead flies while you were up there? I've been meaning to hit the Clambox but wanted to wait a few more weeks until those things died off ;-)

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Spike
                                              c
                                              chompie Jul 31, 2008 02:14 PM

                                              ok, i got mixed up.. i called them and it's not lard, it's beef fat mixed with veg. oil. So you dont get to roll on the floor in joy! but i still cant eat them :( I don't get why clams have to be beef flavored...

                                              1. re: chompie
                                                steinpilz Jul 31, 2008 05:56 PM

                                                Good info and effort, thanks.

                                                1. re: chompie
                                                  ScubaSteve Jul 31, 2008 06:51 PM

                                                  really no beef flavor if that is your adversity, it contributes to flavor dispersion, and quality of the Fry mostly.

                                              2. m
                                                mimish Jul 31, 2008 08:51 PM

                                                A little late to the discussion, but wanting to wait till I hit the Lobster Pool that we missed on the Krawl and where I had to meet some relatives tonight before a Shakespeare performance at the nearby Windhover Center. The clams had as mentioned; a good crispy fry job but were small and only one or 2 noticeable bellies in a small box. The tartar sauce was dreadfully sweet with too much pickles or else Miracle Whip-yech. The lobster roll was decent on a grilled hotdog roll with a little mayo and nothing else. I also tried bites of others’ clam chowder (no thanks), french fries (awful), cole slaw (again too sweet and not crunchy. Why is it so hard for most places to get that right?) and fried haddock (very good!)
                                                This was our first Chowhound outing and I’m so glad we chose the Krawl. I feared not being able to keep up with such eloquent posters but everyone was so charming with interesting stories and further chowish tips. We were the ones who ordered the scallops and shrimp at the end but our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. I have to give a shout out to Scuba Jr. too. When asked what was his favorite food, he said he liked the hot stuff and mentioned Vietnamese Pho. Oh, where do you get that?- My Dad makes it! We are teachers and that boy is too cool for school! It was fun, fun, fun. I hope to go on other outings but will have to keep up my gym membership.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: mimish
                                                  m
                                                  mimish Jul 31, 2008 09:33 PM

                                                  Here's the view from Farnhams (with house) and Lobster Pool

                                                   
                                                   
                                                2. p
                                                  pamlet Aug 8, 2008 10:29 AM

                                                  Thanks all for the wonderful report. Sounds like you all had a great time. Can I make a humble request, however? I was keen to see the result and did a search... took me some time to find it. I suspect the alternate spelling slowed things down. Next time, perhaps stick with a more orthodox spelling, please?

                                                  1. junescook Feb 16, 2010 12:26 PM

                                                    Reading this posting brought tears to my eyes though I had fried some good fried clams only three days ago at my favorite fish market/restaurant, Close Harbour Seafood in Plantsville, CT. But quite a few years back we were regular visitors to Cape Ann and we ate in all of the places you mentioned with the exception, alas, of the Clam Box, which I don't remember being around.

                                                    But reading your criteria for the perfect fried clam, sweet, tender and mild, etc., just reminds me why I've become a prusuer of the perfect fried oyster. They are indeed milder in flavor, sweeter, and don't have as much of the gristly part that clams do. (Not to mention that they are a great source of zinc, which reputedly supplies much needed lead to the pencils of us guys of a certain age.)

                                                    Now that folks are seeking larger clams, that might just find what they're looking for in a well fried oyster. (Ironically the fried oysters I was served recently at the Max Oyster Bar in WHtfd recently were very disappointing, small and very overcooked, to the point of chewiness that they stuck in you teeth -- the worst I ever had.).

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: junescook
                                                      p
                                                      Pegmeister Feb 17, 2010 04:12 AM

                                                      Now that we've dragged up this old post, I can tell you that I had the crispy fried oysters at 606 Congress and they were amazing. Of course at $4 an oyster they should have been. I would definitely go back.

                                                      1. re: Pegmeister
                                                        StriperGuy Feb 17, 2010 08:08 AM

                                                        $4 an oyster... wow.

                                                        1. re: StriperGuy
                                                          p
                                                          Pegmeister Feb 17, 2010 08:47 AM

                                                          Yes is was a $16 appetizer with four oysters. I have to say though everything about them was perfect. The batter was light yet crunchy, probably panko crumbs and the oysters were a nice size. For a hotel spot, I really like 606 Congress, but I don't get over that way often so I don't think of it. Plus, you never see anyone post, good or bad.

                                                        2. re: Pegmeister
                                                          junescook Feb 18, 2010 12:26 PM

                                                          Normally, as an entree, fried oysters are less expensive than fried clams.

                                                      2. s
                                                        scratchie Feb 17, 2010 07:44 AM

                                                        Following up on this two-year-old post, I thought I'd throw in my two cents':

                                                        1) Part of the Clam Box's secret is that they change their fryolator oil twice a day. If you're there between 2:00 and 3:00, at some point they will stop the line and close the window for 15 minutes while they're making the change. Makes a big difference in the "fresh" flavor.

                                                        2) There are no greenheads at the Clam Box. The greenheads are at the beach, and in the salt marshes.

                                                        3) Even long-time Essex residents are off Farnham's these days (or, at least, those of my acquaintance). Even back in the day, I didn't get what the big deal was about that place (e.g. the aforementioned soggy batter) but nowadays, I think it's safe to give them a pass.

                                                        1. j
                                                          joth68 Feb 17, 2010 10:53 AM

                                                          Ok, I realize this is chow sacrilage but I just don't think the clams at the clam box are that amazing. I have been three times and all three of those times they have been out of the large belly clams. The small clams just didn't wow me, at all. The places I grew up going to for clams on the south coast didn't give the option for large or small they were always large.

                                                          I will say that the fried scallops are top notch and their chowder is one of the better versions I've ever had. I just haven't been impressed with the quality of the clams.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: joth68
                                                            s
                                                            scratchie Feb 17, 2010 11:07 AM

                                                            That's not a criticism of the food, though, just a criticism of the fact that they were out of what you wanted to eat. Which probably means that the large-belly clams are really good. Personally, I think it's great that they give you the option of ordering large or small-bellied clams according to your taste (I prefer the smaller ones).

                                                            What's great about the Clam Box is that the oil is always fresh and (as someone else pointed out) the clams are almost 100.00% grit-free. I don't know how they do it, but I've never bitten into one of their clams and gotten that "under the dock" taste that you get (at least once) at most places.

                                                            1. re: scratchie
                                                              j
                                                              joth68 Feb 18, 2010 06:56 AM

                                                              The small belly clams that I had there had almost no belly at all and were missing that fried clammy goodness that seperates fried clams from say fried oysters. They were only a small step up from strips and didn't taste any better than what could be had at kellys. Getting burned 3 times makes hesitant to go back or recommend it as a special trip out of boston.

                                                              Also in a bonus devils advocate round, i would venture to say that the clam box needs to change their oil twice a day due to the high volume they receive. A place with lower volume that changes their oil once a day will be just as fresh tasting.

                                                          2. opinionatedchef Sep 16, 2012 11:10 PM

                                                            well treb, sorry to have missed this clam crawl. So much good info; i'll keep this link and try to remember to insert it in recent/current clam threads.THX much to fesenjan for linking this thread ,because i couldn't find it!

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: opinionatedchef
                                                              ipsofatso Sep 17, 2012 07:28 AM

                                                              The best fried clam is the one you haven't eaten yet.

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