Upper Shack, Lower Shack 10/26/2011
What distinguishes a clam shack from a seafood restaurant?
Interesting question, which you could only ask if you are a complete landlubber.
Chef Pierre and I discussed the question, relevant as it was as we embarked recently on a search for a new clam shack dining experience. We created a quick clamshell rating system, according to our very personal and somewhat arbitrary criteria:
The clams have to be good. The oil has to be fresh. In fact, everything has to be good and fresh. Lemon wedges should be standard. A side of parsley indicates Upper Shack.
Picnic tables, with or without table cloths, are best situated overlooking more than Rt. 1 or a parking lot; preferably your view will be of some New England cove, and you will have to fend off the gulls—all part of the ambience. (If you dine at Abbott’s, you will find fishing line strung discretely overhead, foiling--if not entirely thwarting--the gulls).
Napkins: optional. If they are cloth, you probably have an Upper Shack, unless they are also red-checkered, slightly stained from a half-century of use, and frayed at the edges, in which case you are definitely Lower Shack. More likely, you will find the cheap paper kind, in those tinny holders that may be seen in the Visual Dictionary (see previous post).
Surliness is not necessarily a negative, and can earn extra clam shells if it provides some entertainment value.
Creative activities for children earn another clamshell, as does sand in your meal. A clam shack has to have some grit to it.
Grit is not to be confused with filth in the bathroom, which will eradicate any potential clamshells. We want clean, efficient, and working toilets! A ceramic turtle on the wall is a plus.
A clam shack can’t be too chichi. How clam shacks originated we do not know; but they cannot have been chichi, of that we are sure. Not too much about the New England character is chichi, especially in the last century when clam shacks were born.
Perhaps the original clam shacks originated with fishermen flipping a few tasty morsels to their wives while cleaning the day’s catch. A quick fire, a picnic table, a few hungry mouths to feed…et voila! My thoroughly un-researched information may get followed up one day.
In the meantime, Chef Pierre and I don’t get too fussed about any criteria. We just want a good meal with a good view at the end of a joy ride on a balmy night, with or without surliness, and yeah. We’re happy. A clam shack is, after all, as much a state of mind as a square meal.
Clamshack Iconography 09/24/2011
The Portable Clamshack 09/05/2011
The Great Machipongo Clam Shack 07/02/2011
Driving up Route 13 in Nassawadox, VA,
26 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel,
Just north of the hospital, we’re looking for seafood.
‘THE GREAT MACHIPANGO CLAM SHACK”
looms on a billboard, followed by
another billboard: “JUST SEAFOOD”
followed by: “CLOSED FOR THE SEASON”
followed by: “MOVED.”
We note the painted red arrow, dripping like a bloodthirsty fish hook,
pointing left past “Yuk-Yuk and Joe’s BBQ Grill,” Shukey’s Fireworks
and against all logic, but yes! The Great Machipango Clam Shack
is not closed for the season.
The Great Fish Deal is Grilled Veri Teri Ahi Tuna—marinated and seared.
Specials on oysters, seaside salts and bayside beauties, 50 count bag,
100 count bag, shucked, cooked, peeled, deveined.
Heat and eat cat fish, grouper, fat jimmies, claw, calamari, crab cakes
or lump backfin. Alligator tail sits with salt cod and seafood cakes,
Upper Crust Gourmet Fish fillets, ready to cook and serve, cooking instructions included.
Enter the waitress, black glasses sliding down her ski slope nose, pert as a prawn,
teeth as wide as the Coconut Crusted Tilapia, a New Zealand accent in her mouth,
mango and papaya sauce on her beige sweater.
Primping frizzed hair, spritzed with oyster and lime, she elbows through swinging doors
with a boisterous “Hey!” before she sees and greets us with: “Get your omega-3 Fatty Acids here!”
Cornbread Crusted Catfish on her collar, she brings us shrimp and roasted corn chowder,
wipes chives and cheddar on her apron, and with garlic on her breath counsels
“Any 10 fish - $29.95”
The ginger ale fizzes up our noses. We toss our cans in the recycle bin,
bolstered by this bayside beauty and omega-3 fatty acids, wave goodbye
as she calls after us: “Doctors Say Eat Fish Twice a Week!”
And pulling out on Route 13 with tuna in our teeth, zest of lemon under our fingernails,
mango and papaya sauce in our spirits, we take our leave of Nassawadox, VA,
digesting the feast.
Welcome to the Clamshack Chronicles! 05/12/2011
Who doesn’t love the smell of fried grease mixing with the scent of the sea, the lilacs and honeysuckle bobbing along a stone wall, with the screech of clamoring gulls overhead?
Ok, maybe it's a New England thing, but my brother and I are professional clamshack crawlers, and invite you to join us for random posts as we crawl up and down the east coast looking for the perfect lobster roll or crab cake. Join us for the vicarious crunch of sand as we bite into the fried clam roll, with onion rings and slaw on the side. The pert little waitress, earning her next college semester this summer, looks on. Or maybe it's the surly and seasoned matriarch of a fisherman's family.
Maybe I scratch a poem on the paper placemat. Maybe Chef Pierre, browsing the morning catch at the local docks, concocts a new recipe to share. Photos and artwork will go into the Boatyard Gallery. Or Uncle Jack's Attic. Creative synergy WILL be happening.
First stop: Route 13, Nassawadox, VA. A pert little waitress...