Clam Shacks

Woodman's of Essex
Foodies that come to New England are in search for a few of the traditional fares that make up the “traditional culinary” delights of the region. Lobsters, Clams, Blueberries, Strawberries, Moose Meat, Woopie Pies, Baked Beans, Apples, Moxie, Haddock, Fluff, Anadama Bread, etc… to name a few of finds of the New England food scene.  Summer time is more synonymous along the New England coast with the endless number of seasonal “clam shacks” or “lobster shacks”, where patrons typically eat “in the rough”, a typical New England expression that literary means no frills dinning, come as you are to the restaurant where the days of dressing up do not matter, kids can run freely & some tend to be self service facilities where paper & plastic are the norm for your plates & utensils. How can I forget to mention the famous cardboard box to get all your pints of freshly fried seafood from the “clam shacks”? My food journey yesterday took me to the North Shore of Massachusetts in search for clams, well the famous Ipswich Clams.
I found out that the Ipswich Clams are world famous due to how the clams are harvested. Growing up in Maine clams traditionally live in a gravel bed, not a sandy one.  But for clams that come from Ipswich there is something special about them. The town of Ipswich has the Ipswich Bay where foodies will be in clam heaven because the flavors of the clams come from the cleanest sand, unpolluted water, gentle tidal flow to name a few of the natural environmental habitats that characterize the circumstances that produce what most will call the sweetest & most tender clam that they ever tasted. To harvest clams they must be raked by hand, at low tide & any clam smaller than two inches is put back.  I ended up in the neighboring town of Essex for the famous Woodman’s of Essex “A Yankee Tradition Since 1914”,Woodman's (as locals would refer to it), for clams & other seafood deities for lunch.
Ordering Counter
I found out while I was at Woodman’s that there is quite the legendary story behind this famous “clam shack”.  Back on July 3, 1916 quite the gastronomical history was born.  Lawrence Dexter “Chubby” Woodman, was preparing for the holiday weekend at his small restaurant. A local fisherman named Tarr, was visiting the stand & Chubby complained that, “business was slower than a couple of snails headed uphill.”  Tarr while snacking on some of the homemade potato chips, noticed a bucked of clams nearby, pointed to them & jokingly said, “why don’t you fry up some of your clams?  If they’re as tasty as those potato chips of yours, you’ll never have to worry about having enough customers.” Apparently the fisherman suggested to Chubby that frying clams might be a good idea & the birth of the fried clams was born.  
Today, fried clams are a summertime staple in New England of amazing versatility, a very basic food that can be very appealing when it is bought by a shack near the beach & eaten straight away from a pint of cardboard containers. They are eaten straight away like popcorn with the many condiments & not to forget to squeeze fresh lemon on them for some zest. There’s something special with the smell of the fried seafood’s that scream a delight for any true New England day at the beach. 
Fisher Burger with Onion Rings
The "Famous" Fried Clams
For many foodies no better place to eat fried clams & other seafood delights is Woodman’s located on the marsh off of Route 133 in the middle of the town of Essex near the local river.  Woodman’s is a self-service “clam shack” where you place your order at the front of the house.  The menu is a large board listing all the specialties from pints of fried clams to fried fish, seafood sandwiches, steamed clams, kids menu & side items. I was quite impressed on the selection of seafood, but really wasn’t in the mood to eat a lot of fried food.  You place the order & the counter assistant gives you your receipt with your number on it for you to pick up your order at the pick up counter.  Beverages must be order at the bar.  There is a wide selection of both non-alcoholic & alcoholic beverages with local beers too from Sam Adam’s, Shipyard, Ipswich & Narragansett. Water can be found in a self dispense pitcher.  Patrons can sit wherever they like on the picnic tables & booths.  Also, the fixings like ketchup & salt ‘n peppers are self-service too right next to where you get your fork & paper napkins.  I found out that you got to ask for the fresh cut lemons for your order.  Don’t forget that there is no bus person, so picking up after yourself is greatly appreciated by the staff.  Rumor has it that during a busy summer day, patrons will line out side & wait a half an hour or more to get their order in.  I had a hard time making up my mind with the menu to be honest where as my dad easily order his pint of clams. He did claim that they were the best he has ever ate too. I ended up getting the fried fish burger where the local fish was cod not haddock, but very good with a side of onion rings.  I’m a little food conscious to be honest when ordering salmon from living in Alaska because up there “friends don’t let friends eat farm raised fish”, the same can be true for New Englander.  I grew up in a family where eating Wild Caught seafood was a top a priority not only to support the local fisherman but for the quality of the food as well. There is a thing in New England & other coastal communities around the world that when you get something off the docks it’s the best tasting & freshest.  In Japan, I recall when buying seafood it was dated & timed for the consumer to know how fresh it is.  Also, I tried the famous Nana Bessie's Famous Clamcakes that were chocked full of clams. However, with all the fried food that I ate a nice local beer came in handy. The food was quite good to be honest. All of the items are gluten free except for the onion rings.  It’s nice to see that they accommodate special dietary needs today where not doing so was a thing of the past. Overall, I would say that a true die-hard seafood lover looking for a true experience of a traditional New England culinary delight would be in heaven here or a tourist looking for a that special thing to do while on holiday.  However, Woodman’s is a hidden jewel that should not be missed. They have won numerous awards from Boston Magazine’s Best of the Best award to write ups by Forbe’s Magazine to name a few of the many awards & recognitions.  There are other clam shacks around & the Boston Globe's, site's New England Clam Shack Review has put out a lovely find of what they claim to be the top rated ones in New England, but  bear in mind that each person does have their own opinion on what is the best of the best though.

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