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May 27, 2012 02:13 AM

[Essex] Woodman's

Opening in 1914, Woodman’s proclaims itself as the first of the area’s clam shacks. I don’t know if I fell for the advertising but it seemed as though I ought to order a plate of “Chubby’s Original Fried Clams”. It’s all self service. You order at one point and, a few minutes later, pick up your freshly cooked lunch from another point.

And what you’re picking up is a vast mountain of deep fried, crispy loveliness – sweet clams, delicious onions, in a light batter and some excellent chips (or fries as Americans call them). There really is enough for two. Well, p[erhaps not, if yuo’re as greedy with this sort of food as I am.

My partner had gone with something altogether more modest. A lobster roll – generously filled with the seafood and lightly bound together with mayo. The roll – nothing fancy – just toasted bread, offering a little crispness, in contrast to the soft succulence of the lobster.

It isn’t food you could eat everyday. Nor, truth be told, is it food you’d want to eat every day. But, now and again........

(Mods - apologies if Essex is not regarded as Greater Boston. My knowledge of local geography is only as good as you'd expect from a visiting foreigner. Please move if appropriate)

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  1. did you taste the lobster roll as well? i'm dying to have the genuine article. sounds like a great meal.

    9 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        Woodman's will also happily make you a Connecticut-style lobster roll on request -- hot lobster meat with melted butter, no mayo, in a toasted bun. Luscious!

        1. re: lyden

          That's interesting, lyden. i've never heard of the melted butter version as "Ct style". Certainly the mayo vs butter debate has had lots of CH coverage but I've never seen the 'Ct' reference.

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            Ever since I can remember, a lobster roll with butter was always called a CT style roll.

            1. re: Infomaniac

              yup on the CT style role. ever since I can remember

              hey cut them some slack they don't have a chowder!

              1. re: Bellachefa

                Of course, growing up in CT, we just called it a lobster roll :0

                But I still remember how stunned I was when I moved to MA in my 30s and ordered a lobster roll. Was served a mayonnaise-bound lump of lobster meat in a bun and politely told the waitress, "I'm sorry, I ordered the lobster roll, not the lobster salad." The next few minutes were a classic example of two people separated by a common language. Waitress: "That is a lobster roll." Me: "What do you call a lobster salad?" Waitress: "The same thing you have but on top of lettuce without the bun."

                And Bellachefa, on the CT shoreline, we did have a chowder -- a clear broth, no milk or tomatoes. Onions and celery sauteed in lots of butter, then water, clam juice, cubed potatoes, simmered until the potatoes were tender, then clams, parsley, pepper. Some families stretched it with corn.

                Thanks, Harters, always enjoy reading your posts!

                1. re: lyden

                  that's Rhode Island style chowder!

                  1. re: Bellachefa

                    Always loved eating in RI -- still do! -- and grew up close to the border -- the recipe must have migrated over to CT.

                    1. re: Bellachefa

                      Either I am confused with the term RI chowder, or others are.... Last time I went to Evelyn's in Tiverton, I asked for the RI chowder - and it was clear chowder with cream (or other milk product) added before serving. When I inquired with the waiter, why it had cream in it, he said that what he gave me is RI chowder and if I wanted it without the cream, I had to ask for clear chowder. They also have a creamy, thicker version of chowder there too I believe.

      2. Yes, Essex (and all of the North Shore up to the NH border) is considered a part of the Boston area. So you've posted in the right place.

        It's really great reading your take on all of our New England specialties in your various posts....thanks for reporting back on all your meals. And good work making it to Woodman's!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Dave MP

          The information on Woodmans (and the other clam places we visited on the trip) came from Michael Urban's guidebook "Clam Shacks", which I was able to find in the UK. We kept a shortlist of places we might try that were along our route. I'm a great believer that you can't do too much planning about where to eat, particularly when you're only passing through a town.

          1. re: Harters

            Many thanks once again to the Harters for taking the time to give us their reviews.
            It was very heartwarming to read your lovely reviews of some of our restaurants.
            Hope you had as nice a time in our country as I have enjoyed in your country.
            Enjoy all the festivities going on the next few days. So very historic! Looking forward to
            watching the Olympics this summer especially the opening ceremony. Cheers!

        2. Ugh. Woodmans. I can't believe people still eat there...cooked lobsters sitting out in the hot sun on tables 5 feet from cars driving by. Greasy clams fried in lard. We regularly eat at Tom Shea's across the street and have lovely meals while we laugh at the tourists standing in blistering heat waiting to eat at an overhyped, overpriced place.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Rozalia

            I tend to agree with you, but I have had awesome fried seafood at Woodman's - granted it was a cold May afternoon with about 20 people in the place.

            They actually have good product, but with high volumes comes an (inevitable?) decrease in oil temp in the fryers, which basically brings everything down (or at least that is my theory).

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              Love the Ct. lobster roll....last had one at Lasse's restaurant on the Milford (Ct.) green. (About a million years ago. ) I know the oil at Woodman's resembles Quaker State by about 1 in the afternoon but those deep fried scallops are magic.

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                agree with this and the reason for it (too many tourists). I actually go elsewhere because of it.

                1. re: gourmaniac

                  Apologies from this tourist for being part of the cause of the oil problem. If ever we visit New England again, I'll make sure to look up the places you favour and try to avoid them.

                  1. re: Harters

                    Not meant as a attack on tourists (or you). Just an explanation why Woodman's, which is justly famous, can be inconsistent. They invented the fried clam and hence they get swamped even compared to the other fine fried clam places in Cape Ann.

                    1. re: gourmaniac

                      "Too many customers" might have been a less contentious observation.

                      But I take your point about popular places. They become popular for a reason, as here. Being in the area, there was no way that we were going to be having lunch anywhere else but the place that invented the fried clam.

                      Similar story here in the UK. There was a fish & chips place not too far from home that, for decades, was wonderful. Eventually, it was bought up and developed into a chain about 15 years ago. Now, even the original place is poor quality.

                      1. re: Harters

                        It's like the old Yogi Berra line: Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded.

                2. re: Bob Dobalina

                  I've gone for their fried clams, when Clam Box line is wrapped around the building, they're OK. They should take a pointer, from Clam Box, and change their oil in the early afternoon.