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The Clam Box--do we have a problem?

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We found ourselves near Ipswich today, and couldn't resist stopping by The Clam Box for lunch. While it's long been our favorite for fried clams, the wait was unbelievably long today. What would have been 30 minutes from arrival to ordering, judging by length of the line, was more than 45 minutes. We waited another 20-25 minutes for food post-ordering. Even by Clam Box standards, that's mighty long. What made it worse was the frustration with watching a normally hard-working crew operate at painfully slow speed. It looked like some sort of forced slowdown during a labor dispute (though I doubt it actually was). Just before the food arrived, I vowed this would be my last visit.

But then the food arrived. The clams were AWESOME!!! A perfect medium size, just the right brininess, light flaky batter. When confronted with such an assault, I was forced to withdraw my solemn vow.

I then went to speak with the owner, to ask what's up. She wouldn't come out to speak with me, but I had a nice chat with the woman she sent in her place. No real explanation and a very small sorry from her, followed by a plea from me for them to please watch the clock.

Has anyone else confronted this problem? Not the long line and commensurately long wait we've all come to expect, and not the delay caused by a mid-afternoon oil change, but what appears to be an incredibly slow team of workers causing the long delay.

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  1. And crappy, disinterested management ?

    1 Reply
    1. re: C. Hamster

      Ugh, seriously! I'm from Ipswich, and can confirm that the Aggelakis family is just icky.

    2. I've never worked in a clam shack, but would expect if you picked up the pace and tried to fry faster, the quality might go down. Whatever the reason, if there was really a problem, seasonal changes in staff, the morning fog and mist burning off, the bottom line is the clams were AWESOME.

      1. It's probable that they gradually draw down staffing levels post Labor Day, and it sounds like planning for the peaks on indian summer days isn't their priority. Maybe their calculus is correct though, as you'll be back anyway.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gabatta

          Totally agree that this sounds like the classic Post-Labor Day transition to the B-Team (high school kids) just not being able to hustle like the (back to college for the fall) A-Team.

        2. Depending on the time you arrived, the delay may have been that they change their fryer oil at 2pm daily. The food was great so, it's worth the wait, correct?

          1. any thoughts? is this better than ICOB or Neptune?

            15 Replies
            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

              The classic clam shacks are in many ways a totally different beast than Neptune or ICOB.

              All the best are no-frills (think picnic tables) old school, and most have been around for many years (Clambox since 1935.)

              No glitz, no cocktails, just chow in the rough.

              Better than ICOB or Neptune... sort of apples to oranges though the food is certainly comparable.

              I am partial to Essex Seafood myself, shorter lines, BYOB, and great chow.

              Farnham's also has it's fans.

              I also love Lobstaland Gloucester, which is somewhere in between, great chow, cocktails, and an amazing view of the marsh.

              Strictly on say the fried clams, I think any of the places I mention is at least on par with ICOB or Neptune, but you have to get in the car...

              Heck, Twin Seafood in West Concord, or Fresh Pond Seafood, Arlington are both fish shops with great chow. No ambience, and no cocktails, but the food rocks.

              1. re: StriperGuy

                Thanks for the info.

                I have not been to the reconstituted Fresh Pond Seafood. Do they have fried clams?

                If I were driving up to the North Shore, i would stop in, but I doubt that I would make a special trip. Can you get fried clams at Court House?

                1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                  Fresh Pond has excellent fried clams. I posted here at the end of this thread:

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/906189

                  1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                    Courthouse does have fried clams, and might good ones at that!

                  2. re: StriperGuy

                    A big YES to Essex Seafood. And I'm an Ipswich native!

                    1. re: misseri

                      Yikes! Seriously? Last three times the clams were small, overfried and gritty, Never Again.

                      1. re: ScubaSteve

                        I'm with you Scuba.....bad nasty oil last time we went to Essex. Yuck!

                  3. re: cambridgedoctpr

                    Agree- apples to oranges. However, if you did a blind tasting removing all external factors such as price, atmosphere, etc, I would pick the clam from Neptune Oyster every time over either the Clam Box or Woodman's. They are crisper and less greasy in my opinion. And that's not even getting into the tartar sauce which is a whole different beast.

                    1. re: Parsnipity

                      I think that is BS. I have done Cape Anne clam strolls, and each and every time there was a different favorite. One year it was Clam Box, another it was Farnhams which another year was horrible. I have had clams at Neptune that were fantastic and mediocre. I've had amazing clams at Legals, and horrible clams at Legals.

                      A lifetime of eating fried clams, I stand by order small and then, if you hit the perfect storm of purveyor, oil and execution, order more.

                      1. re: Bellachefa

                        BS is a bit strong but in general I agree that Neptune has no special clam magic.

                        1. re: Bellachefa

                          Bella.....try a Cape Cod clam stroll sometime. Many swear by Arnold's in Eastham but I've never been let down by The Original Seafood Restaurant in Dennisport. But my absolute favorite of anywhere, is an old converted Ho Jo's in West Dennis owned by a couple in their 80s who you will see their every day. It's called Marathon Seafood. Never had a bad clam there. If you like big bellies ask. Small bellies, ask. Medium Bellies...well, you get it.

                          1. re: CapeCodGuy

                            I've had some great clams on the Cape and Islands! Arnold's can be hit or miss. Love the joint in Menemsha on the vineyard - (the bite?)but have only been twice. (first time a woman offered us her clams as she was a clam strip kinda gal! she tried one and was done - nice memory with lots of laughs) Surprisingly I've had a few great experiences at The Flying Bridge in Falmouth - but it's been a few years.

                          2. re: Bellachefa

                            smaht, smaht advice!

                          3. re: Parsnipity

                            I've read so much about snarky service at Neptune, and I do believe everyone who experienced it. Granted, I've probably been only 8 - 10 times over the past few years. But I personally have never seen it. Last time, in late August, we were so lucky....there were no feasts going on, it was a week day, and we actually were able to park right in front. We waited 20 minutes and got the call for seating. We were first seated at a communal 4 top and did not want to join the conversation of the 2 women already eating and so we moved to the bar and the staff were fine with that. We ended up seated next to a couple from AZ who were in Mass. after a funeral. I commented on the lovely color of the rose they were drinking and got the same. When I ordered a second glass, the bottle was close to empty and the server poured the last of the bottle into the glasses of our "neighbors" and she spent some friendly time conversing with them in a really pleasant way. The food....fried oysters on pork and the tuna crud...was wonderful. We left very happy.

                            I do understand that many people have had far worse experiences, this was mine.

                            1. re: Madrid

                              I've said it many times here. I've had the snark, and I've also had great service at Neptune.

                        2. i tried the clams at courthouse; way too much batter per clam strip for my taste though from what i could tell the clam strips were tasty. I also ordered onion rings, which i thought had the same problem.

                          I had the fired calamari a few days ago along with 18 oysters at Rialto; the balance was not perfect but much better. But that was calamari and not clams.

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                            Clam strips?? reminds me of the old Howard Johnson's, no thanks, I'll take avec bellies, actually large bellies!

                            1. re: treb

                              i did not clean my plate, and i would not order it again.

                              i will try the clams at iCOB

                              1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                Yah, your post didn't sound to encouraging. Thanks for taking the hit for us.

                              2. re: treb

                                They offer both strips and whole clams. (As does the Clam Box, for that matter.)

                                1. re: treb

                                  While I am a strictly bellies gal, not all strips are the frozen HoJos type you might recall. Most reputable shacks make their own using sliced giant sea clam. Just a different beast. My Mom likes strips and she can tell good, fresh ones from frozen nasties.

                                  1. re: Science Chick

                                    well of course she can! she didn't birth a chowgirl for nothin' !

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                      :) Thanks OpC....I just get a little bothered when I continually read these knee-jerk reactions to strips. Just because *I* love bellies, it doesn't mean others may not. I can see why some prefer a less squishy alternative to getting that fresh clam taste.

                                      1. re: Science Chick

                                        There's room in my world for both,

                                        1. re: Science Chick

                                          sc chick, i am reminded of taking a 1970 Cape road trip with a friend who was scouting possible potters to apprentice with. Not raised up here, 'fried clams' were a fav of mine, but were those same strips found at HoJo and the like. At the end of the very long scouting day, I asked my friend to detour into a clam shack and i ran up to the window and asked "do your clams have stomachs?" The beaming woman, filled with pride, exclaimed "Yes!" to which i made a frowny face and returned to the car. Ah, youth.....I eventually learned .

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            :) ....great story! Yes, I was also raised on HoJo's clams. A huge treat for our family was to go to the All-You-Can-Eat fish fry there and stuff ourselves with them. I can't recall when I made the switch to bellies, but I'll bet if I was given a plate of those HoJo's clams I'd still eat them with abandon.

                                  2. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                    The scallops there are awesome.

                                  3. Problem (or advantage) is that every order is individually cooked to order. While I have found their clams to be excellent, I don't find them to be worth the extended waiting time.

                                    I don't live in the area, so when I need a clam fix, I can gladly satisfy that fix elsewhere without all the wait.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Clams047

                                      don't know where you live, but next time go to Lobster Claw in North Reading. Not on any of the scenic routes but really good fried seafood and onion rings and chowder etc and friendly family run with no lines. Ipswich River Park nearby is really nice so I guess you could still have a scenic trip..