By Meaghan Casey
Though beach days might be in our rear window until next summer, that doesn’t mean the hunt for the perfect fried clam plate has to come to an end. And with foliage season upon us, there’s no better time to drive up the coast and indulge in some of the top contenders.
Starting in Swampscott, you can keep your taste buds satisfied by visiting Mission on the Bay for fried clams served year-round with fries and coleslaw. If you’d rather enjoy them with saltwater breezes, the Cove still has the plate and roll options available.
In Salem, the Clam Shack at Salem Willows offers the perfect takeout treat, while Sea Level Oyster Bar offers a more gourmet twist, serving its clams on a brioche roll with lettuce, tomato and house tartar. (It also offers the plate and fisherman’s platter).
Essex is still in the major league of clam shacks with both Woodman’s and J.T. Farnham’s. Both are no-frills institutions serving up generous portions of the fried staple. Their secret is carefully selecting fresh whole-belly clams from the local clam beds, arguably among the best in the world. Other frontrunners in town are the Village Restaurant and Essex Seafood Restaurant.
With a detour east, the Causeway Restaurant in Gloucester is another local go-to for fried clams, or you can opt for more variety with the restaurant’s Peter’s Platter, which includes fried haddock, shrimp, scallops, calamari and clams. Of course, the Clam Box in Ipswich is always a fan favorite — possibly due to the twice-fried method of cooking, and possibly due to its iconic structure.
As we continue north, the Park Lunch in Newburyport serves a hearty portion of whole-belly fried clams that are sure to please. You can find a number of counter-service spots in Rye and Portsmouth, N.H., like Petey’s Summertime Seafood — a year-round shack, so don’t be fooled by the name — or the Beach Plum. For a more upscale treat, check out Row 34’s fried clams (which can be ordered in two sizes).
Crossing the border into Maine presents even more options. Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery is in its 61st year and has gotten quite a few nods as one of New England’s best clam shacks. Fisherman’s Dock in York is also known for its fried clams, and you can stock up on locally caught seafood at its adjoining market. In Kennebunkport, the Clam Shack is the tourist’s pick, but Mabel’s Lobster Claw has the locals’ vote.
Lucky for us New Englanders, this whole route can be traveled in less than two hours. Choose wisely, but we guarantee you’ll leave any one of these spots happy as a clam.
(Meaghan Casey is a freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.)