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6/9/10 The Clam Box of Ipswich: NOW I Get It: Unquestionably the Best!

You know how you live 1/2 hour from the Washington Monument and you never go there after your first trip as a 10 yr. old?
Well, ditto with us and the Clam Box of Ipswich, except we had never been there at all. As a newbie to New England in the 1970's, I came to decide I loved fried clams but they hated me. What it really was was that they were always too greasy and fried in too-old oil with an improper coating. Woodman's is a perfect example of this. Given all the yrs of hype I had read about it, I tried it long ago and then I took my visiting mom there 4 yrs ago. After that fiasco at such a 'famous place', I swore I would never eat another fried clam. Well, all that is changed now.

I have found the one place that does these guys right. Imagine being able to truthfully say that "my fried clams were light and airy , greaseless and crunchy" and "with no off tastes". And THEN to be able to say the same thing about the ONION RINGS!!!!! Wow wow wow.
Sometimes, there is just ONE place to get the best of something. I and many thousands know that about Regina's in the North End, and now, I finally know that about the Clam Box of Ipswich. Many thanks to all the vigilant CH crawlers who helped get me there.

http://www.ipswichma.com/clambox/inde...

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Clam Box of Ipswich
246 High St, Ipswich, MA 01938

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    1. Yup. It is #1. No QUESTION about it. You'd think the 'others' would figure it out but such a seemingly simple dish (clams, breading, fried) is so hard to pull off the way the CB does it.

      1. Totally agree - it's the only fried food I know of that doesn't make me feel sick. And the flavor and texture is really unbeatable.

          1. re: L2k

            Thought I'd mention another great spot for anyone who might be in the southern NH area: Clam King in Manchester, NH, just around the corner from the Macy's in Bedford, NH. Very casual, old fashioned diner type atmosphere with every kind of seafood available. Super fresh and the batter is just right. Voted best clams in New Hampshire for many years running. Take it from a clam snob, definitely worth the drive if you're anywhere nearby.

            1. re: amerikiwi

              Have they gotten better recently? I used to stop by for years on my way back from ski country, then I hit a spell of bad service and subpar food a couple of years ago and stopped going.

          2. I don't know about best, but it's my favorite of the North Shore clam shacks. Have not yet gotten there this summer, alas.

            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

            1 Reply
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              And remember ask for the big bellies if they have em. Also would sugest, eating outside where you can sneak a beerThe dining room is cramped and leaves a little to be desired.

            2. Anyone tried the lobster roll?

              3 Replies
              1. re: nsenada

                I did last year. Very very good! Lots of fresh lobster and lightly dressed on a properly grilled bun.

                1. re: nsenada

                  i've had them in the past and thought they were Very Good but the one i saw at another table a few weeks back looked amazing.

                  1. re: nsenada

                    I went a few weeks ago and was dissapointed with the lobster roll as well as the clams. Lobster was a bit tired on a soggy bun, the clams were just ok, definitely not worth the hype or hour wait. I will have to try again when they are not so busy. On a seperate note the two best orders of fried clams I had this summer were from Farnhams(on a weekday afternoon) and Jordans Snack Bar in Ellsworth,Maine.

                  2. Went to the Clam Box yesterday and while it was very, very good, I think I have enjoyed my clams at Essex Seafood more. I've consistently had large bellies and clean tasting fry job at Essex. The Clam Box clams simply didn't taste as "clean."

                    -----
                    Essex Seafood
                    143 Eastern Ave, Essex, MA 01929

                    Clam Box
                    789 Quincy Shore Dr, Quincy, MA 02170

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mirage

                      Sometimes when you hit that place right it is right on. Consistency seems to be a problem with nearly every clam shack on the strip. I think its a craps-shot as to who is frying the best clams on any given day. Sometimes Farnhams is heavenly, sometimes not, same with Essex Seafood. Light and just crispy brown one day and maybe not so the next. The one time recently I was at the Clam Box I thought it was nearly transcendent. At other times tho I have thought the same of all of the above - with only Woodmans being the most often disappointing. Not worth the wait but they get it right too at times. Its what they do and with noted success.

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                      Essex Seafood
                      143 Eastern Ave, Essex, MA 01929

                      1. re: ipsofatso

                        ipsofatso, if you want some excellent fried fish, scallops, calamari etc. go to Ricon Limone on Chelsea St. in E. Boston and order the 'classico', man they can fry, it also has a nice portion of cheveche. Oh... and bring someone to help it's easily enough for 2 maybe three.

                    2. Is this one related to the one in Quincy?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: purple bot

                        No. Same name, but entirely different owners.

                      2. It's not that the Clam Box doesn't serve great fried clams, but I'm having a real hard time with the OP's hyperbole. If I'm reading her post correctly, shes says she never eats fried clams, but then she goes to a place she likes and it's "unquestionably the best." What are you comparing it to? One visit to Woodman's four years ago?

                        I like the Clam Box, but I think Farnham's serves up some mighty fine clams, too.

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                        Clam Box
                        789 Quincy Shore Dr, Quincy, MA 02170

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Blumie

                          In my former pre-Clam Box(CB) life, i had Woodman's dreadful fare numerous times, but I'm happy to be able to say now that I am 6 years clean... of Woodman's. Since my Clam Box conversion (converts make for the loudest testifiers), i have returned to CB twice, and have now also tried fried clams at Neptune Oyster, Island Crk Oyster Bar and the Village____ in Essex. And I'm still testifyin' for the CB. Must try Farnham's some time.

                          -----
                          Neptune Oyster
                          63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

                          Clam Box
                          789 Quincy Shore Dr, Quincy, MA 02170

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            and you still feel that it is head and shoulders above Neptune and Island Creek? just a question, not a comment.

                            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                              I ate at Neptune a coupla times with work pals...loved it...raved to the family...dragged SO and son (SO does not like much fish-wise) and oops! the fried clams had one bit of grit in each and every clam. I mean, like, perfectly distributed. I mean, if Purgatory was a fried clam restaurant, that evening at Neptune's with my family would be the perpetual meal. Not gross, or awful, or Really Bad...just annoying...and annoying...and annoying.

                              Never had anything like that at Clam Box.

                              1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                I think Neptune's are good (haven't had them at ICOB) but I would put Clam Box's way ahead of them. I don't really think it's possible to improve on them. Delicious as the clams are, you can also eat huge amounts of them and not feel sick. I don't think I could say the same of any other type of deep fried food I have had.

                          2. I love this ever reoccurring thread.

                            For the record, I always liked The Village better than the Essex shacks for clams, but, if you want clam heaven, it is at the Surf in Nashua, NH.

                            1. Essex Seafood is #1 in my book. I live in Gloucester.

                              -----
                              Essex Seafood
                              143 Eastern Ave, Essex, MA 01929

                              1. I love clam box for their chowder, scallops, and other fried things but have been seriously underwhelmed by their clams. I've found them lacking flavor and the bellies always to be small.

                                If i'm going to take the 50 minute drive I'll head south to Oxford Creamery in Mattapoisett or Kool Kone in Wareham

                                -----
                                Oxford Creamery
                                98 County Rd, Mattapoisett, MA 02739

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: joth68

                                  wow, now it seems fried clams have as many varying opinions as hamburgers and pizza. oh my!

                                2. I just watched a PBS show about unusually shaped buildings that included The Clam Box. To my surprise, it featured an up-close-and-personal look at the clam prep itself. Turns out the clams are first dunked into a buttermilk bath and then into a mix of cornflour and pastry flour. Then it is fried in one oil for a max of 15 seconds," to cook off the extra flour"; and then it's finished in its last frying oil. I just found that fascinating. I would guess that they worked out this system to make their frying oil last longer. While for different reasons, the technique for producing the best french fries -includes 2 fry baths as well (described here):

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/810498

                                  1. Does Clam Box close for the season or is it open year round? If so, when does it close and re-open?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: robertlf

                                      They seem to be staying open longer than in the past but even the website

                                      http://www.ipswichma.com/clambox/

                                      says, "(978) 356-9707 Our hours vary and are subject to change without notice, please call ahead of time."

                                      Penny
                                      http://www.bostonzest.com/

                                      1. re: BostonZest

                                        I'm pretty certain they've stayed open year-round the last two years, with exceptions during blizzards and the like.

                                      2. re: robertlf

                                        They usually stay open till the end of Oct, depending on the weather. I always try to get my end of the season fix before Oct 31st.

                                      3. Warning: Rant!

                                        There is NEVER just one place to get the best of something. To say that does an injustice to all the other CH (and non CH) who have different opinions. There are as many opinions as there are CH. Not only that, I must confess that personally I find it objectionable for any one person, no matter how knowledgeable or experienced or discerning they may be, to set themselves up as a self-appointed spokesperson for all CH and say things like "this is a CH favorite" or "according to CH, this is the best" etc. This is co-opting the CH name to foist one's own opinions (or the opinions of those who agree with you) on others. (I may be guilty of this myself on occasion) We need to resist this temptation orelse this board will degenerate into a tyranny of the majority. Nobody needs to have a CH majority (whether real or imagined) behind them to give validity to their personal experience. Let's keep this a forum of equal individuals. Rant over-- Keep on chowing!

                                        14 Replies
                                        1. re: barleywino

                                          @ barleywino - Right on brother hound, right on! All I can say without doubt is that YOU are a CH favorite, lacking a "like" button for your post.

                                          1. re: barleywino

                                            Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Very well put.

                                            1. re: barleywino

                                              Agree, and appreciate your posts. We should always remember that these are our opinions and not edicts.

                                              1. re: barleywino

                                                Thank you, this should be part of a sticky or the manifesto. I don't think that the OP is trying to be a "self-appointed spokesperson". From other posts it seems to be her way of showing great enthusiasm for a meal/restaurant. But it is a nice reminder.

                                                We went to the Clam Box in Sept after apple picking @ Russell's. Disappointed that the whole bellies had a surcharge (completely understood that they had a high demand and low avaliability) so they were more expensive than normal. Instead BF ordered the clam strip meal and I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich. Both hit the spot. I was a little concerned that the sandwich might have a fishy flavor or order but it didn't. Basic (lettuce, tomato, mayo), but the chicken was flavorful and juicy. I wouldn't hesitate to bring a non seafood eating guest there. We got there about 45 min before they planned to change the oil.

                                                1. re: viperlush

                                                  I haven't ever seen a place that offered both whole clams and clam strips for the same price. In my experience, whole clams are always more expensive. That said a lot of the places I have been for fresh seafood do not serve the strips at all.

                                                  Edit: upon re-reading your post I see maybe you meant the whole bellies has extra charge beyond their regular price. I should also say that I haven't been to Clam Box in years so it is possible they have a unique price structure.

                                                  1. re: calliope_nh

                                                    Sorry if I wasn't clear. The whole bellies are always more expensive than the strips. And when they have big bellies they are even more expensive than the smaller bellies (?). This summer because of the demand and low supply they had to raise the cost of whole bellies and charge more than the normal menu price. So instead of changing the prices on the menu they just put up a small sign with the explanation. Normally we get a mix of strips and whole bellies, but this time just the strips.

                                                    1. re: viperlush

                                                      Back in the day, we use to call clam strips, especially the one at HoJo's, rubber bands. From then on, I always order whole belly clams and, when available at The Clam Box, I like to get the large bellys.

                                                      1. re: treb

                                                        Whole bellies get too mushy to me after awhile and the strips are a nice change in texture and flavor. I've loved strips since I was a little kid. Clam Box has nice tender ones.

                                                        1. re: viperlush

                                                          i haven't had strips since i was a teenager. I wonder , since they come from large sea clams(?) if they have to beat them up, like conch, to get them tender.

                                                          1. re: viperlush

                                                            Yah, gota eat them while they're hot and crisp, I'm sure the strips at CB are nothing like the old frozen HoJo's stuff. Guess I'm really dating myself.

                                                          2. re: treb

                                                            HoJo's clam roll is a long lost guilty pleasure of mine (probably would hate it now), was my favorite HoJo order when I was a little boy. Used to be one right near Blue Hills reservation (building is still there actually) and would go there for lunch with my mom on the way to visit my Nana in Hyde Park.

                                                            1. re: devilham

                                                              I remember the HoJos clam strips, they were a favorite treat when I was a kid. Now that I have a shellfish allergy, I remember them fondly!

                                                              1. re: Kat

                                                                My family would occasionally go for the "all you can eat" fish and clam nights. Man, I would put away a boat-load of those strips!!! :)

                                                    2. re: barleywino

                                                      I've told you a hundred times not to exaggerate. :-}

                                                    3. Would someone be willing to post a description of what it is like to eat a big belly clam? I have been reading about these things for ages and drooling at the thought of them but haven't had the guts to order them. I have eaten the small bellied ones and observed that the bellies are full of black grimey stuff. If you were a little freaked out by that (but not too much), would big bellies be a no go?

                                                      39 Replies
                                                      1. re: sleeloo

                                                        I think you might be a bit skeeved out by the extra large bellies.

                                                        1. re: sleeloo

                                                          Big bellies just have more "black grimey stuff!" Though I don't think of it that way. More "gooey yummy essence of the sea." YUM.

                                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                                            Thanks to StriperGuy and total13! I know the answer eventually is going to be "you're just going to have to find out for yourself" but I'll press my luck. When you bite into the belly is it gritty? Does black, gunky juice ooze down your chin?

                                                            1. re: sleeloo

                                                              I am in the minority I think in that I prefer the smaller bellies, but to each their own says I.

                                                              1. re: devilham

                                                                I don't think that's necessarily so: both Allstonian (who's lived here her whole life) and I (comparatively recent settler) prefer smaller-belly clams if there's a choice. Not that we think big-belly clams are necessarily gross or anything, more along the lines of might as well leave the big bellies to those who prefer them.

                                                                Heck, I've even been known to order strips. It's not like they're the rubber-band things that come out of the Mrs. Paul's box or anything.

                                                                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                  Another lifelong coastal New Englander here who prefers small bellies.

                                                                  As to the "unquestionably the best in Boston" issue, I try to avoid saying what I think is best, which smacks of the Chowhound-anathema pretension to authority, in favor of merely saying what is my personal favorite.

                                                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                    Oh yeah, born and raised in NE to, it's just a texture thing for me, too squishy and I gag :(

                                                                    Can't eat summer squash unless it's COMPLETELY raw either for the same reason.....kind of a freak like that

                                                                    1. re: devilham

                                                                      I am a lifelong New Englander also, but I cannot understand how people like the big bellied clams. I prefer the small bellies always.

                                                                      Taking a page out of McSlimJB's book, I won't say which I think is best, but my personal favorite for clams is Ipswich and my personal favorite for scallops is Woodmans.

                                                                      Devilham, funny. I like summer squash in all forms, but my favorite is raw in a salad. Not a big fan of cucumber so I prefer chopped zucchini and summer squash in salad.

                                                              2. re: sleeloo

                                                                I like big ones... some times. Some times I prefer the smaller bellies.

                                                                But yes, a bit gritty, a bit murky, usually not so much goo that it runs down your chin.

                                                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                                                  I personally cannot tell the difference between the grit of the clam and the crunch of the fry coating. Just avoid looking at the black grimey stuff.

                                                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                                    I was thinking that might be my best bet - to not really look at it.

                                                                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                                      Just have to pop the big ones in your mouth and never look! Just enjoy the awesomness of the briney sea!

                                                                  2. re: sleeloo

                                                                    As a life-long Clam Box customer I've never had a bit of grit in either regular or big belly calms.

                                                                    1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                      Do you swallow them without chewing at all? Steamers (which are what is used for fried clams after all) generally have some muck/grit in them. No comment on quality, just the nature of the beast.

                                                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                                                        I like to pop the belly against the roof of my mouth with my tongue and then chew a reasonable amount.

                                                                        And the photo below is a plate of steamers I had at The Lasting Room in Haverhill a couple of weeks ago and there wasn't a bit of grit or sand in the lot.

                                                                         
                                                                        1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                          I'm guessing they were farm raised clams which I never find sand or grit in them.

                                                                          With steamers, I like to get two or three out of the shell and pop them all in my mouth and just chew away. I just can't get any satisfaction popping then in my big mouth one at a time.

                                                                          1. re: Infomaniac

                                                                            They were local Ipswich. I always ask.

                                                                            1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                              That's great! One of the guys who runs that small kitchen is a Johnson & Whales Culinary grad. Glad to see he is being smart serving local clams.

                                                                          2. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                            is The Lasting Room the old Tap?

                                                                            1. re: treb

                                                                              Nope. The Tap is still up and running. The Lasting Room is about 4 doors down and has been there for years.

                                                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/846730

                                                                        2. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                          steve, i also am a Clam Box fan. just curious- a couple i met today live right by the Clam Box but they told me their favs are at Farnhams. Ever tried their clams and how do they compare? (you may have discussed this before, but plse remind me!)thx.

                                                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                            IMO, Farnham's are by far the best. Clam Box is good, but closer to Woodman's than they are to Farnham's.

                                                                            But it's all pretty subjective.

                                                                            1. re: Fly

                                                                              close to WOODman's?? wow, no comparison imo, but i will try farnham's next time i'm up there.

                                                                              1. re: Fly

                                                                                I know LOT'S of folks are Farnham's fans, but I had an absolutely rotten meal there a while back.

                                                                              2. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                I like Farnham's although I find their portions to be smaller and the coating on their clams a bit more substantial. While not a deal breaker for me I still prefer the CB.
                                                                                Also, Farnham's often has cod cheeks which I really like. And Farnham's has beer.

                                                                                1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                                  steve, that is a very helpful description. I def don't think i'd want a heavier coating than the Clam Box coating.

                                                                                  I wonder if any CHound has actually compared them side by side. I've not ever seen a report of that- Farnham's and Clam Box clams sampled together. I may just do that next time we're up there.(Of course, the take-out clam would suffer by being lukewarm or cold by the time it was joined by the eat-in clam, and an insulated bag would prob promote sogginess.)

                                                                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                    2nd the cod cheeks at Farnham's and agree with Scuba on the clams, heavy coating, I prefer CB.

                                                                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                      In case you have never seen this ipswich area clam crawl write up in the Boston Globe from a few years ago...

                                                                                      http://www.boston.com/ae/food/restaur...

                                                                                      1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                                        I've had great fried clams (on a slow weekday) and mediocre fried clams (busy weekend) at Farnhams.The great ones IMO were better than waiting an hour for the clam box.

                                                                                        1. re: phatchris

                                                                                          To avoid the lines at the CB we go mid-week around 3pm.

                                                                                          1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                                            surprisingly, there was no line even at 1pm midwk when we went last month.whew!

                                                                                    2. re: ScubaSteve

                                                                                      my experience as well, such that it never even occurred to me that they might have grit in them.

                                                                                2. re: sleeloo

                                                                                  Not sure what you and the other hounds consider to be "big" or "small". I like mine to have a belly about 1.5" to 2" in length, not including the neck. Less than 1" would be too short for me. That's the size I would pick when buying fresh ones, and I don't think I have come across any longer than 2" fried.

                                                                                  The "black grimey stuff" of the belly is what makes it special. Texture wise, it is not unlike a lobster's or crab's tomalley, which I crave also. When dining with those who think it is disgusting, I would be in seventh heaven and offer to take it off their plates.

                                                                                  I have yet to fry clams at home, but have steamed them often. Perhaps that's an easy and inexpensive way to taste test one. Here's how I clean them:

                                                                                  http://www.saveur.com/article/Techniq...

                                                                                  1. re: eatntell

                                                                                    I remember when fish mongers used to have lobster tomalley in their cases, haven't seen it like that in years.
                                                                                    Yummy!

                                                                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                                                                        Rowand's in Beverly had that and there was a place on the Marsh Road in Lynn, or maybe Revere that used to do it. I'm also going back about 25+ years.

                                                                                    1. re: eatntell

                                                                                      thx for being thoughtful enough to link that! i'd never heard that the cornmeal didn't work so this is very useful info!

                                                                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                        I've never cleaned shellfish with cornmeal, so can't tell if it works or not.

                                                                                        It may be one of those "urban legends in cooking", which can be an interesting forum topic.

                                                                                  2. I too can only eat really good, not greasy fried clams. I usually don't make the trip to the North Shore because I have Moulton's Seafood 178 Winthrop St Medford right down the street. I can eat buckets of their clams (I usually get with a baked potato or rice) and have never been disappointed. Clams are fresh daily and cooked to perfection.

                                                                                    All their other seafood is excellent as well. To be honest, I usually get an appetizer (med. clam box) and then order my broiled scallops for dinner.... Saves me from having to make up my mind which I want to eat!