JT Farnham’s: New England Fried Clams at their Best

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.

Advertisements

Salem Beer Works

One rainy day in Massachusetts, we decided to take a trip to Salem to check out the history. My husband, who has known me for over eight years, learned of my fascination with witches and the Salem Witch Trials and agreed to take the 30-minute drive from Gloucester to explore the town. Once we mentioned that we were going to Salem, everyone said that we just HAD to go to Salem Beer Works and try their fried pickles. Fried pickles?! You had me at hello.

We made our way down 128 and settled in for a morning at the Peabody-Essex Museum, which had a fantastic exhibit on ManRay and Lee Miller (seriously, check it out if you’re in town) and a fun, interactive exhibit on water. After a little culture, we headed over to the big event: the Salem Witch Museum! I was so excited.

Following a lackluster, but slightly interesting tour of the museum, we headed to the Beer Works for a late lunch.

While we knew the fried pickles were a definite, we checked out the beer menu to select our beverages. We had heard chatter of a tasty watermelon beer but I was drawn towards a few different options and ended up with a pick-your-own flight while my husband opted for a 12oz pour of the Victory White. My flight ranged from Witch City Red and Watermelon Ale to a Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale (made and garnished with Maine blueberries) and a Cask IPA.

I’m no beer expert like this guy but I enjoyed each of them, especially the light and playful watermelon ale and the blueberry ale, which had some richer flavors. The cask IPA was mellow and more drinkable than I expected. Best of all, the 4 ounce pours were only $1.50 each so I got the whole flight for $6. What a deal!

We each ended up opting for two of their many burgers, after seeing the construction workers to the left of us devouring theirs with gusto. I went with the Charlestown Burger topped with bacon and cheddar and he went all out with the Fenway topped with chili, scallions and cheddar. The Beer Works has a ton of different french fry cuts and seasonings, any of which we could pick to accompany our burgers. I went with the potato sticks while he opted for the more traditional hand cut fries.

The pickles were actually whole spears battered and fried with a ranch dipping sauce. While I expected them to be sliced, I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The creamy ranch, hot and crispy coating and warm, sour pickle all did a little dance in my mouth together. What great beer drinking food!

The burgers followed and were top notch. Mine was cooked to a perfect medium–something I’ve had trouble finding these days.

I didn’t care for the potato sticks, however. I was expecting matchstick fries and what came out were, quite literally, potato stix (remember them?)

My husband’s burger was messy but received two chili-smudged thumbs up from him. And I got over my fry disappointment by eating most of his.

Look at all that chili!!

After finishing lunch, we picked up to six-packs to go (for under $9 each!) They also offer growlers but we were walking around and they were a little less portable. We headed over to my tarot reading and I’ll find out in 4-7 months if any of the work, health, financial and travel predictions she made are true!

Beer Works has a number of locations around Massachusetts, including one across from Fenway Park. Stop in and check out the fried pickles if you’re ever in the neighborhood!

Lobster Dinner

When one goes to New England, one must engage in typical New England behavior such as devouring enormous amounts of lobster and forgetting how to pronounce the letter “r” at the end of words such as chowder (chowdah) and bar (bah.) It’s truly a cultural experience. Although we have yet to indulge in lobster rolls (waiting for our side trip to Maine,) we perpetuated the tradition of a family lobster boil. It didn’t hurt that lobster (lobstah) currently stands at $4.99/lb which is UP one dollar from last week!

My husband and I volunteered to pick up the lobsters from one of the multitude of lobster retailers along the bay. We were directed to Captain Joe’s by my father-in-law. This is after we stopped to stock our cooler with ice and get cash from the ATM because the lobster shop was cash only, of course.

It was nice to have some sort of direction because there were tons of viable options along the bay, including a place that lured people in with the alluring scent of a smoker–a respectable side business. When we pulled into Joe’s, there were empty lobster pots stacked around the parking lot. Can’t get much more authentic than that.

We walked up to the garage-like building that butted the harbor.

Unassuming, right? And I didn’t even notice the Porta-Potty until I posted the picture. How appetizing. The structure had openings at both ends and you could see where the lobster boats unloaded right into Captain Joe’s garage. We walked towards the back of the room, wondering if we were doing the right thing. You don’t want to look like an outsider or tourist at a place like this. At the very back, right hand side of the room, sat about a dozen lobster tanks and two men occupying themselves with something, obviously lobster-related. I was trying to fit in and all so I didn’t blatantly take a picture of the set up, although I did take a quick shot of the “price list.”

It’s hard to read, but I kid you not when I say that the lobster were $4.99/lb. That’s right, kids. They were cheaper than steaks and even some fancy, Whole Foods chicken breasts. Lobstah!?!

OK, I lied. Apparently I took one quick picture of the lobster containers. This ain’t fancy, folks. The lobsters were divided by size and stored in these long containers.

Here is a view from the dock where they “receive” the lobster–I literally stood in the edge of the dock.

Because I’ve been trying to write this post for about a month now, I’m not going to get into the lengthy argument, ahem, conversation we had about the preparation of the lobster. I will say two things, however, There were a few strong opinions and one too many cooks in the kitchen. My husband’s aunt had recently read an article in Yankee Magazine with a different technique of cooking lobster. They advocated steaming them in a couple inches of very salty water instead of boiling them.  The recipe came from Bertha Nunan, owner of the Nunan’s Lobster Hut in Kennebunkport, Maine and my husband’s aunt was very emphatic that we try it. Bertha Nunan believes that boiling the lobster leaves the crustacean too soggy, while steaming it allows for the perfect consistency. As a former vegetarian who has a terrifying lobster slaughtering experience, I wasn’t a fan of steaming them. I was a fan of the quick and dirty boil–we’d put those little suckers out of their misery in a snap–but realized that there were two many opinions and retired to the deck with a book in hand.

A few minutes (and lots of talking, pots clanging and timers beeping) later, my father-in-law emerged with this:

The Nunan method was a success! The lobster was perfectly cooked and the heavily salted water imparted just a hint of ocean flavor to the meaty lobsters. We pounced on them with dishes of butter by our sides and this beautiful tomato salad compliments of my sister-in-law. We had corn too, but I was too busy with my lobster to grab a photo.

Lobster Rolls Galore

One of my very favorite things about New England is LOBSTER. In fact, my husband and I rarely eat shellfish–lobster, in particular, is made solely on New Year’s Eve each year. Whenever we go to New England, however, we both do our best to eat as much lobster as possible. During our most recent visit, it was a few days into the trip until we were able to fulfill our lobster fix with a lobster steam (not boil) dinner at his aunt’s house (to be blogged about one of these days.) It was not until we got to Maine that we were able to dive headfirst into our lobster eating bonanza.

We started in Kennebunkport at the The Clam Shack, a complete tourist trap at the entrance to the small town of Kennebunkport (made popular by our dear friends, the Bushes.) It sits right before the bridge that welcomes you to town.

And you’ll almost always encounter a line–expect a decent wait during lunch hours.

We waited in line for a few minutes behind a surprisingly large number of foreign tourists. While most of the conversations surrounding us centered on what folks were going to order, we knew what we were getting without any conversation. When we got to the window, I quickly ordered two lobster rolls and clam strips. I felt like any regular at Tony Luke’s ordering a cheesesteak whiz wit. Unfortunately, I got knocked off my high horse when he asked me if I wanted butter or mayo on my lobster rolls. Butter or mayo? I dunno. Just make them taste good. I settled on butter because, well, it’s butter.

A poor shot of the menu. They have sandwiches too, and even some chicken–although who orders chicken from the Clam Shack?

After waiting about 10 minutes, our number was called and I picked up our food while my husband staked out our bench. There was a warning sign posted–“The seagulls love our food as much as you do. Please be careful.”

We took our seats on a picnic bench overlooking the water.

We eagerly tore into our lobster rolls first, but not without admiring the chunks of claw and tail meat loaded onto the hamburger-style bun. Unlike the traditional split-top hot dog roll that carries most lobster rolls, the ones at the clam shack were a little more sandwich-like.

How cute is that claw hanging over the side?! I couldn’t resist and grabbed a quick bite before taking a close up shot.

That’s what I’m talking about!

The clam strips are my personal favorite. Nice meaty chunks of clam breaded and fried. Honestly, I think my true affinity is for the tartar sauce. The clam strips aren’t half bad though.

Look how big and meaty they are! The Clam Shack was also giving out coupons to their ice cream shop that day, but mine must have disappeared (which is probably a good thing after all those clam strips.)

I learned something interesting during this meal. My epicurean dog, Jewels, does not care for lobster. I gave her a small piece that she tried and spit out. Because it had been in her mouth and on the ground, I tossed it into the water. As soon as the lobster bit broke the surface of the water, a striper that had to be at least 3 feet long attacked the tasty morsel and just as quickly retreated. Our neighbors (some people who had the bright idea to share our small bench with us…) were impressed and the four of us spent the next few minutes throwing in (a little more) food–not lobster–and watching 3 large fish lurking below. When we went kayaking in the same waters the next day, I was petrified that I was going to run into one of those big guys. Not my finest moment.

The next day we went looking for a dog-friendly lunch spot in the area. A shop owner suggested a few places in Cape Porpoise, a short drive from the area. My husband had biked to Cape Porpoise the previous day and agreed that it would be a great place to have lunch and sightsee. We drove past the Bush Compound which is a surprisingly magnetic attraction, regardless of one’s political inclinations, about ten minutes to another working harbor, Cape Porpoise. The Cape Pier Chowder House is an unremarkable building at the end of a scattered parking lot.  There is some signage on your way in, but it is actually facing the water so you do not see the House until you are on top of it.

A line is never a bad thing. It speaks to the popularity of the place which usually, but not always, correlates with the quality. DiNic’s Roast Pork in the Reading Terminal is a good example, while Pat’s and Geno’s are not.

The place had an interesting set up. It was completely open on one side and all of the seats were outside. The only things that took place inside were the ordering, condiment collection and preparation of food. It was neat to watch the woman (all women, by the way!) weighing and preparing the lobsters to order. ou can’t get much fresher than that!I didn’t get to snap a picture because I was, quite honestly,  a bit intimated by these hard working women. YBecause it was a little more off the beaten path than the Clam Shack, lobster rolls were a few dollars cheaper (having an affinity for lobster can certainly add up!) Instead of saving money, we decided to take the opportunity to order even more. A few minutes after putting in our order, this was brought to our table.

That’s right, folks! We had two lobster rolls, clam strips, a cup of clam chowder AND a humongous ear of buttered corn. It was delicious and fresh and everything you could possibly want a lunch to be. The tartar sauce was good too. While I give the edge to the clam strips at the Clam Shack, the Chowder House takes the cake for the lobster roll with the traditional split top bun and option for corn. Although we didn’t indulge, they also have a liquor license and an icy cold beer could have been mighty tasty with this meal.

Afterwards we took the dog to frolic in the water a bit and enjoyed the scenery.

New England Eats

Row Home Eats is on vacation!!! We’re spending a week in New England with the in-laws and the dog. A few months after my husband and I started dating, he brought me to Rockport, Massachusetts for a family vacation. His aunt rented a condo there every summer and I had the opportunity to get to know her and the rest of his family. Fast forward seven years (along with one major haircut, numerous job changes, and a little wedding) and his aunt, sister and brother-in-law live in the area and his parents just bought a vacation property.  In fact, we’ll be returning to the area in just over a month to celebrate the marriage of my sister and brother-in-law. I already have an amazing family and have married into one that’s just as great. I feel pretty lucky.

The day at the beach didn’t hurt either

With our impending trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts with a side jaunt to Kennebunk, Maine, we knew that we would be indulging in lots of seafood (with an emphasis on chowder and lobster rolls, YUM!) After a picnic lunch on the beach yesterday (sandwiches, fresh peaches, honey roasted peanuts and homemade pickles, of course) we embarked on our journey into town for authentic New England fare.

We began at the Bean & Leaf Cafe, a little coffee shop/cafe that happens to employee my sister-in-law as assistant manager.

Bean & Leaf is a typical, yet adorable cafe with a phenomenal view of the harbor. I’m kicking myself for missing a picture but I’ll have to get one later. They have an extensive menu of wraps, soups, sweets and beautiful Italian pastries. We opted for the chowder, of course.

I must admit that this is my mother-in-law’s chowder. I wanted to get an authentic shot with oyster crackers, but I choose to abstain so I wouldn’t let her eat until I got a picture. The chowder was warm and creamy with big hunks of potato. It filled me up pretty quickly and I let Jewels finish it off.

After a few slurps, she looked like someone had upended a bowl of chowder on her head. It was everywhere, but she certainly enjoyed it!

After warming our bellies, we headed over to Top Dog, a nearby hot dog shop, to complete our meal. Top Dog, along with Bean & Leaf, is right in the heart of “downtown” Rockport. It’s the central point of town where people come for an evening stroll, a quick bite and some serious people watching. During our short time there, I have already spotted a girl rocking a three-corner hat and the most ridiculously puffy dog I’ve ever seen.

Top Dog (surprisingly) has a dog theme. All of their hot dogs are named after types of dogs–although I’m disappointed there’s no bulldog. Come on, guys, the opportunities are endless!

After perusing the outdoor chalkboard menu, my husband and I decided to go with the “man’s best friend” chili cheese dog. My brother-in-law got the one that was second on my list–the “golden retriever” topped with MACARONI AND CHEESE!

Man’s Best Friend

Golden Retriever

Seriously–how could something topped with macaroni and cheese be anything less than fantastic? They also serve their hotdog on the classic New England spit top roll that looks more like a piece of bread than a roll itself. No roll, however, could have helped contain my fabulously messy hot dog.

I topped my already heaping hot dog with diced onions and relish. I love fixins. And you can never pronounce it with the “g” at the end (fixings) because it just doesn’t have the same effect as “fixins.” I think Top Dog had 4-5 different types of mustard alone. This is my kind of place.

We also went with an order of cheese fries to share. I tend to stay away from cheese fries outside of Philadelphia because they are something of a holy grail to me (please note: Row Home Eats loves anything cheese) but these had some bastardized version of cheez whiz that did the trick. While the fries themselves could have used a little work (twice fried for crispness, please!) the cheez itself was unobjectionable.

I forgot to mention that we ate our dogs outside while sitting on (boo, hiss) Boston Red Sox seats. They also had the game on in the restaurant. Apparently there’s some sort of special if the Sox hit a home run or do something good when you’re in the establishment. Luckily we were not privy to the special. No thanks. Meanwhile, Jewels sat outside proudly rocking her Phillies leash and collar set. That’s MY Top Dog.

After dinner, we headed over to the ice cream shop for some dessert. By this time I was pretty full, but figured I’d make a little room for something. The ice cream shop, located right next to Bean & Leaf, is a cute little shack with a line out the door. I figured it had to be good.

I’m still trying to figure out if it actually has a name besides “The Ice Cream Store.” Maybe it’s kind of like The Philadelphia School or Supper Restaurant. Who knows. Anyway, I ended my evening with a whopping serving of chocolate almond frozen yogurt in a waffle cone. It was decent but I’m still on the search to find ice cream better than Hillside Dairy, the little dairy and store just off the Wilkes-Barre exit of the turnpike and on the way to my parents’ vacation home.

Next up (hopefully) lobster rolls!