Summer in New England isn’t complete without enjoying some deep-fried seafood at a dine-in-the-rough clam shack. Food and travel writer Mike Urban, author of Clam Shacks: The Ultimate Guide to New England’s Most Fantastic Seafood Eateries (Cider Mill Press, 2011) has been noshing at and writing about these iconic eateries for years. Here are his picks for the 10 best clam shacks in New England.
The Clam Box This shack, located in a shingled building that resembles an open-topped clam box, is hands-down the best place for fried clams anywhere. Owner Marina “Chickie” Aggelakis personally selects all the clams from her suppliers’ trucks each morning. The chosen ones are “washed” in evaporated milk, coated with corn flour and white pastry flour, then twice-fried for perfect taste and texture. The Box changes its cooking oil twice daily, insuring an amazing deep-fried treat that never disappoints. Ipswich, MA. 978-356-9707; ipswichma.com/clambox
J. T. Farnham’s Seafood and Grill This modest roadhouse on Route 133 (also known as the “Clam Highway”) cooks its clams and other deep-fried seafood in a mixture of vegetable oil and animal fat, providing a major flavor boost to everything that comes out of the deep fryers. Also, be sure to try their “Best Seafood Chowder,” with its creamy, tomato-streaked broth that’s loaded with fresh clams, haddock, shrimp, sea scallops, and lobster. Essex, MA. 978-768-6643
Markey’s Lobster Pool One of two large seafood emporiums located at the gateway to Seabrook’s public beaches (the other is Brown’s, across the street), Markey’s is a rollicking, fun place with a large covered deck out back that hangs over the tidal Blackwater River. Owner Tom Markey presides over the deep fryers, and he cooks up some excellent clams, scallops, haddock, shrimp, and fried lobster. There’s also a monstrous fried seafood platter topped with two fried lobster tails. Seabrook, NH. 603-474-2851; markeyslobsterpool.com
The Clam Shack (Kennebunkport, ME) Perhaps best known for owner Steve Kingston’s award-winning lobster roll, this diminutive shack, teetering on the edge of the Kennebunk River, also serves up amazing fried clams. Other taste treats at the Shack include a flavorful clam chowder and a light, crispy fried haddock sandwich. Kennebunkport, ME. 207-967-3321; theclamshack.net
Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale This Connecticut shoreline institution, just up the road from Hammonasset Beach State Park, is a year-round seafood palace, serving up deep-fried platters of clams, scallops, shrimp, and wonderfully tasty scrod. Lighter fare in the form of grilled and broiled seafood and fresh, steamed lobster round out the menu. Their hot, buttered lobster roll is a shoreline classic. Madison, CT. 203-245-7289; ljfishtale.com
The Clam Shack (Falmouth, MA) This tiny, rough-hewn, wooden shack shares dock space with ferryboats shuttling fun seekers to and from Martha’s Vineyard. It’s only open three months each year, and there are maybe ten items on the menu. But the fried clams are likely the best on Cape Cod, due to the freshness of the clams and the love and care the father-and-son owners put into their preparation and cooking. Be sure to grab a picnic table out back to enjoy the comings and goings of the ferries and other boats in the harbor. Falmouth, MA. 508-540-7758
Evelyn’s Drive-In Serenity reigns at this clam shack nestled on the shores of Nanaquaket Pond in eastern Rhode Island. There’s a sign by the kitchen that reads: If You’re in a Hurry, You’re in the Wrong Place. Owners Jane and Domenic Bitto delight their customers with deep-fried seafood, excellent clear-broth clam chowder, light, fluffy clam cakes, and exotic lobster chow mein. Be sure to catch a sunset from the back patio while sipping a Newport Storm beer, glass of wine, or cocktail. Tiverton, RI. 401-624-3100; evelynsdrivein.com
Woodman’s of Essex This is the place where, they say, the fried clam was invented nearly a hundred years ago. To many, Woodman’s is the gold standard for fried clams. The key to Woodman’s success and longevity in the deep fried clam world is the lard they use in their deep fryers. Founder Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman used it back in 1916, and lard is still used today. The clams are sweet, tender, and crunchy, and they come from local clam beds in Essex and Ipswich, considered by many to be the best in the world. Don’t miss the batter-fried onion rings or the deep-fried lobster tail. Essex, MA. 978-768-6057; woodmans.com
Five Islands Lobster Company This famous lobster place doubles as a clam shack, with its succulent fried clams and other deep-fried seafood. Try the locally sourced sea scallops and fried haddock sandwich. Also popular are the “Somewhat Famous” crab-cake sandwich and the grilled burger. Five Islands Lobster is situated on a large, wooden town dock overlooking lovely Sheepscot Bay and is serviced by numerous local fishing boats, so the seafood here is as fresh as can be. Georgetown, ME. 207-371-2990; fiveislandslobster.com
Cobie’s Clam Shack In the tony Cape Cod town of Brewster, there are several fine clam shacks, and Cobie’s is at the top of that list. Housed in a tastefully whitewashed shack at a bend in Route 6A, this place has heavenly fried clams, juicy burgers, thick milk shakes, and a great cold lobster roll made with knuckle meat only. The ice cream stand, with more than 30 flavors of hard and soft ice cream, makes for a great dessert or mid-afternoon snack spot. Brewster, MA. 508-896-7021; cobies.com
Do you agree with Mike’s picks for best clam shacks in New England? Let us know your favorites in the comments below!