The Clam Shack Trail
It was eleven years ago this weekend that Eric and I celebrated our ‘union’. As far as honeymoons go, this one was an adventure. When Eric and I set out to follow the path we chose, we had no idea whether the idea was a good one or not. It was our first big road trip, and it was basically compiled by the seat of our pants, trusting in a tour done by someone we had never met, with a hand drawn map of the east coast of America. What were this person’s standards? Would we enjoy things on the same level? Were we asking too much?
Once we had eaten that first night at The Place Restaurant in Guilford, Connecticut however, we were well on our way to being sure that our gastronomic expertise would not be disappointed. They were high hopes indeed, but those coastal roads took us to our destinations with a surety that these places stood tall for good reason!
Day #2 was The Sea Swirl in Mystic, Connecticut. This was my first encounter with a whole belly deep fried clam. I was not sure what to make of it, as it was rather large… The batter was light and crisp, and the insides were juicy and piping hot! It was glorious, the clam burst within the confines of my mouth with a wonderful Atlantic salinity. I was officially in Heaven! Needless to say, I did not share.
As brunch settled nicely, we were off to our next sojourn, Champlin’s, In Narragansett, Rhode Island. It has enjoyed a long and grand history in the area.
We feasted on rich and buttery baked scallops as well as some spicy jalapeno shrimp. Both were enjoyed immensely.
I also saw the largest live lobster in my entire life, before and since, at the market at Champlin’s. He was shy of 13 Lbs. I shall never forget him.
We spent the evening in town at a great Italian restaurant that unfortunately is not longer there, but if anyone remembers Vinny T’s, it was home-cooked goodness to drool over.
#Day 3: The following day, we drove the Cape to the end, enjoying a lovely summer day. Then we arrived at Captain Frosty’s in Dennis, Massachusetts for lunch.
We shared a lobster roll and a plate of clam strips, ‘clam cakes’ [fritters], and fries. Yummy Yum! They also have an ice cream counter if you are looking for a cool dessert.
Dinner was at Chopmist Charlie’s, in Jamestown, Rhode Island as we came back from the Cape. This unassuming restaurant of ‘seaworthy fare’ is very welcoming, serving fresh local seafood. They are known for their ‘stuffies’ [baked stuffed clams] which have a spicy kick.
Eric and I lightened our dinner after all the Italian pasta the night before.
Day #4: Breakfast dawned to a cloudy day, which certainly demanded a warm cup of chowder… But not the kind you’d think. We happened upon Essex Seafood in Essex, Massachusetts.
Cape Ann’s style New England Clam chowder uses clams that are much too big to use whole, and is not thickened with flour! This light milky, slightly briny broth was exactly what we needed to warm our bones from the cool drizzle that began. And there is not picture because it went into my face too fast! At 10:30 am! Had I been ready for them, I heard their clams were lightly dipped in evaporated milk, dredged in corn flour and deep fried in pure lard! They emerge from the fryer lip-scaldingly hot and crisp… Well, you get the idea.
Enter the Clam Box! Situated in Ipswich, Massachusetts, the Clam Box is a wonderfully quirky diner. The area is known as the North Shore clam belt.
Their fried clams are apparently the ‘ultimate’ and you can see why. The fryers oil is changed twice a day and maintained, which turns out light, crisp and golden clams, scallops, haddock, oysters and shrimp.
We then took the rest of the day to drive through to Kennebunk Port, Maine. It is a lovely town, full of life and leisure. We stayed here for a few days, enjoying the Eastern hospitality.
Our dinner that night was at the Arundel Wharf Restaurant. Scallop, shrimp and lobster in an Alfredo cream, incredible… Did I mention I love seafood?!
The Clam Shack itself sits on the Kennebunkport bridge and it is the inspiration behind the trail route and the cookbook. Oh, and they do the best clams in all of Maine. They are lightly breaded, tender whole bellied clams and you best watch your box of them lest the seagulls swoop in and steal them. We actually watched a lady lose her lobster roll to a rather large and voracious gull which almost seemed to sneer at us, then laugh from an old wharf post down in the low-tide bed. Dangerous work I tell you!
Lobster roll… Butter AND Mayonnaise! Oh good gracious! [Those of course not being my exact words!] HA!
Day #6: After our short stay, we wandered up the A1 Coastal highway again and found our way to Shaw’s Fish and Lobster Wharf in New Harbor, Maine. They still don’t have a website, but their address is 29 ME-32, New Harbor, ME 04554, USA.
This in-the-rough style lobster wharf was a great break from clam and deep-fry, though you can find all that there. Drawn butter and a claw cracker are all you need.
Clean and fresh lobster cannot be beat. Unless of course, if it comes from a competitor…
A scant two hours later, Eric and I arrived at Cod End, Tenants Harbor, Maine. I understand the restaurant is closed now; I can imagine after 39 years and the death of the matriarch Anne Millar, things may have changed. It has opened again under a new name but I have no idea what it is like now.
But let me tell you of our adventure there…
This Cookhouse was family owned as I mentioned for well over 30 years, built on the dock of a working fishing wharf. True in-the-rough style was to be expected. But we weren’t there for the seafood. We had heard that Anne’s famous wild Maine blueberry cakes and pies were not to be missed.
All of Millar’s family worked there, the dock, from hauling lines to the restaurant and cooking. As we had actually been doing for the entire trip, we queried to meet the owner for a signature in our cookbook. While Eric went to order our desserts, I was taken up to the family home on the second level to meet her. Anne Millar was an incredibly sweet, unbelievably old woman who warmed my heart with the tale of her business.
She asked where I had had the best lobster on my trip, and as I had just been to Shaw’s, I told her it was quite good. With a twinkle in her eye, she delved more, “And was it soft shell or hard?”
Now, I admit, back in 2007, I had no idea there were kinds of lobsters, as to what type of shell they wore… Was it a choice?
Shaking her head ever so slightly, Mrs. Millar called to her grandson. As he bounded up the stairs, never taking her eyes from mine, she bade him to steam up two lobsters, one hard shell and one soft shell, not to under cook them, and that he damn well better not over cook them, and to bring them out to us on the dock!
I gasped! Not at her demands, but at the lobster meal already swimming in my belly. I said nothing of it, lest I feel the wrath of a woman scorned.
The thing is? These were the best damn lobsters I have ever had, and not even for the taste… Hard shell lobsters are thick and juicy, full meaty and rich, where a soft-shell lob is tender and sweet, light and briny. But it was Mrs. Millar herself. The story and the joy of meeting a woman so rich herself in memories and willing to share them with us.
She made her way down to the dock after, using two canes to walk, and sat with us in the sun, smiling, eyes glinting with the sun over the sea water, happy.
And so here it is. In memory of Anne Millar, the Blueberry pie…
- Hot Water Crust:
- 12 Tbsp Lard, cut into several chunks [about 1½ sticks]
- ¾ tsp salt
- 3 Tbsp boiling water
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- Blueberry Filling:
- 5 cups blueberries, preferrably wild Maine blueberries
- ¾ cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp nutmeg
- 2 Tbsp butter
- For the crust: Combine the lard and salt in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over and work the mixture with a large fork until the lard is softened and the salt is mixed in. Add the flour and, using a fork or your fingertips, work the mixture together until you can squeeze the dough into a cohesive mass. Divide in half and shape into two flattened disks. Wrap in plastic film and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge 30 to 45 minutes before rolling out. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll half the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Ease into a 9-inch pie plate. Roll out the top crust.
- Pour the blueberries into the pie shell. In a small bowl, toss together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reserve 1 Tbsp of the cinnamon sugar for sprinkling over the top crust. Sprinkle the remaining ¾ cup of cinnamon sugar over the berries, stirring gently to mix. Cut the butter into several pieces and distribute over the top.
- Cover with the top crust and trim the overhanging dough to ¾ inch all around. Turn the edges under, and crimp or flute the dough to seal. Use a sharp knife to cut several vents in the crust and sprinkle with the reserved tablespoon of cinnamon sugar.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the crust is a rich golden brown and the berry juices bubble through the vents, about 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.