Housed in a flared-roof, shingle-sided building that resembles an open-topped takeout container, the Clam Box in Ipswich, Massachusetts, has been serving up some of the best fried clams to be found anywhere in New England.
This one-of-a-kind eatery was built in 1935 by a man named Dick Greenleaf as a present to his wife, who wanted to try her hand at running a restaurant. Fast forward some 90 years and several different owners later, and the Clam Box tradition continues from its boxy quarters with no signs of slowing down.
What makes this place so special? For starters, the Clam Box uses native clams harvested from nearby clam beds by local fishermen and delivered daily to the shack’s kitchen. The Ipswich area of Cape Ann is renowned for its plump, flavorful bivalves, and the Clam Box stands first in line when it comes to getting the cream of the crop.
Then there’s the cooking method, which has been perfected over many years. The clams are measured by the order then dipped into a wash of evaporated milk. The moistened clams are then transferred into a large vat of flour consisting of three parts corn flour and one part pastry flour. They’re hand kneaded to ensure thorough coating then transferred to a fry basket.
Deep-frying is a two-step process. First the clams spend a few seconds in one deep fryer to remove any excess breading. Then the basket is immersed in an adjacent fryer for full cooking to a golden brown, crunchy, chewy tenderness.
The frying process is pretty much the same for the rest of the Clam Box’s deep-fried delectables, including strip clams, scallops, shrimp, oysters, calamari, haddock, and onion rings. The breading and frying stations in the kitchen are cheek-by-jowl and efficiently run. Some of the line cooks have been with the Clam Box for decades, a testament to the passion that workers feel toward the shack and their craft.
As if this isn’t enough, the Clam Box is also perhaps the only seafood shack that changes its cooking oil twice daily. At around 2:30 pm, the cooking ceases for approximately 20 minutes while the kitchen staff drains the deep fryers then refills and heats up fresh batches of cooking oil, which consists of a blend of beef fat and vegetable oil. This is an expensive undertaking but one that the owners consider essential to serving the best possible product.
In addition to its fine lineup of deep-fried seafood, the Clam Box also boasts a meaty lobster roll served chilled on a buttered, toasted split-top bun. And there are great hamburgers, hot dogs, and a variety of other sandwiches for those not inclined toward seafood.
The indoor dining room is small, dimly lit, and nautically decorated. But the preferred place to dine is outside under the large tent that covers a dozen or more picnic tables adjacent to the graveled parking area.
The Clam Box started coming into its own when Marina “Chickie” Aggelakis purchased the eatery in 1984. Chickie brought virtually all the current Clam Box practices to the establishment and was a constant presence at the shack. She would meet her seafood suppliers at the shack’s delivery door every morning to inspect the incoming goods for the day.
Chickie remained at the helm until her passing in 2020. Her son, Dimitri, briefly took over before he passed on a year later. Johanna Aggelakis, Chickie’s daughter-in-law, is now at the helm, keeping all the great Clam Box traditions alive. She recently gave birth to a baby daughter named Marina (named after guess who?), and Johanna vows that the Clam Box in Ipswich will remain in the Aggelakis clan for decades to come. That’s good news for fried clam fans everywhere.
Have you ever visited the Clam Box in Ipswich, Massachusetts?