We spend time in New England a few times a year, visiting my husband’s family in the fisherman’s town of Gloucester, MA (made famous by The Perfect Storm and, more recently, fishing shows Wicked Tuna and Swords: Life on the Line.) During each trip, it’s our goal to eat as much fried seafood, lobster rolls and clam chowder (chowdah) as possible. We’ve hit most of the famous spots such as Woodman’s and the Clam Box. However, we had never made it to JT Farnham’s in Essex, just 15 minutes from Gloucester. The first full day of our vacation started off dreary and rainy so we thought it would be a great day to visit my husband’s grandmother and grab lunch at Farnham’s. My ulterior motive, of course, was to stop at the cripplingly cheap Ipswich Bottle Shop to stock up on (cash only) spirits.
By the time we made it to Farnham’s, just down the road from its rival, Woodman’s, the weather had cleared. A rule of thumb in New England is that often the shabbier-looking the place, the better the seafood.
We stepped inside and got into line.
While lobster rolls are usually our fave, Farnham’s is known for their fried clams so we figured we’d go with the house special (aptly named “Our Famous Fried Clams”) of fried clams with onion rings and french fries. In our neverending search for the best bowl of clam chowder, we got an order to share. I ordered a large and had a humorous interaction with the counter lady whose iteration of “large” is much different than mine.
We headed outside to grab a slightly damp picnic table overlooking the salt marsh.
Don’t feed the waterfowl, by the way.
My husband brought our food to the table. Lots of greasy, fried goodness stared us down.
Check out the butter swimming in the creamy chowder. Unfortunately, the chowder was completely bland. The same went for the fries and onion rings. But the clams, oh the clams. Dipped in a vat of their homemade tartar sauce and gazing out over the salt marshes, there’s pretty much nothing better. If you go, stick to the clams. You’ll leave full and happy.
2 thoughts on “JT Farnham’s: New England Fried Clams at their Best”
Suggest you come north to Kittery, Maine and give Bob’s Clam Shack on Route One a try next time you’re in the neighborhood. On the scale of shabby, certainly, Bob’s has Farnham’s beat to pieces…though there are better places for lobstah rolls, even Beach Pea in Hampton, NH. However, Beach Pea unfortunately, has become quite upscale and I do believe they are now using unsaturated fats in their fryer, so don’t bother with the clambellies, which is what I do believe you are sampling here. For fresh lobster itself the places that not only cook but catch their own — Morrison’s, also in Kittery, or B G’s Boathouse — can’t be beat. Morrison’s looks across the Piscataqua River at Portsmouth, where we live. The Pis is the second swiftest tidal waterway in the US, very amusing to watch those unfamiliar with the currents trying to come into harbor. Aside from such entertainment, Morrison’s is located on a dock, serves only Lobster landed there that day, slaw, steamers and corn in season, has a BYOB policy, and you bring your own sides. B G’s is also on a dock where lobbies are landed, overlooks Sagamore Creek, but has an undistinguished wine list and no BYOB policy, though the local beer is available and has been judged among the best in the US by the NY Times — try “Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale,” as “Kate the Great” always sells out on the day of release.
Looking forward to your visit here, or ours there. Will try to coordinate our visit with your God-brother Gabriel. See the new Barnes, hit some BYOB places armed with a case of his finest, bought at “wholesale minus 20%.”
If you’re gonna head up to Kittery you should plan on having lobsta at Chauncy Creek (http://www.chaunceycreek.com). Summer only. No other entrees available, Sit outside (only) on picnic tables. Bring your own cooler with appetizers, beverages, tablecloth, candles (if no wind). Long waits on weekend evenings. Unique Maine experience.