When it comes to clams in the little town of Essex, Massachusetts, there are no bad options. Whether you prefer steamers, fried clams, strips, stuffed quahogs, or anything in between, there is a place for you. From the world-famous Woodman’s to some of the newer places on the causeway, the bounty of the Essex River is well represented. Part of the fun is trying out all the places around and deciding for yourself. But if you want to know where I’m going to get my fried clams, look no further than The Village Restaurant, located just up the hill from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum.
The best endorsement I can give for The Village comes from my grandmother. She would always give me a hard time if I was going to pay for fish in a restaurant. “I can make that for you, save your money.” she would say. Except, if I planned on going to The Village. When a restaurant gets a thumbs up from a Gloucester fisherman’s wife, you know it has to be good. In fact their baked haddock is my favorite around…if I’m not making it myself.
The real star of their show however, are their fried clams. Crispy, not greasy, golden nuggets of fried perfection. For the record I only count the clams with bellies, clam strips are a different item, usually made from a different type of clam. I’ve fried many a local soft-shell clam during my stints fry-cooking on Cape Ann, including at nearby Periwinkles (another great local choice), so I consider myself a pretty good judge.
With everybody getting the same clams from “down river” what differentiates each restaurant is their breading (ratio of corn flour to regular flour), what type of oil (vegetable or lard) and how often that oil is changed. The reason I like The Village’s fried clams so much is their use of lots of corn flour in their breading, which makes them sweet and a little crispy. They also change their oil regularly so the clams come out golden, not dark brown. They also don’t co-mingle their fried items, so your french fries and onion rings don’t taste like a Fisherman’s Platter.
This time of year, you pay a premium for fried clams as the clammers can’t dig them fast enough for all the demand. But sometimes you gotta treat yourself…
With a steady stream of visitors all day, I didn’t have time to sit down for a big plate so I got myself a fried clam appetizer. It was devoured within about two minutes after I took that photo. They were perfect, as they always are from The Village and gave the boost in morale I needed to keep up my very thorough guided tours of our Museum’s shipyard.
For new visitors to the area who want to sample the best fried clams in the world, I suggest starting with the place that invented them: Woodman’s – that is unless the line is a quarter-mile long. But from there you have to venture out and try the competition to find your favorite. There is nothing fancy about The Village, it’s just good old-fashioned Cape Ann seafood and when you fry clams like this, you let the food do the talking.