National Deep-Fried Clams Day may seem like a fun little food holiday for New Yorkers, but for all those New Englanders north of us, it’s serious business. Fried clams have been served in New England since at least 1865, and have become a staple for inexpensive, oceanfront shanty seafood restaurants. The traditional way to prepare fried clams is to dip the clams in evaporated milk, coat them with flour (or cornmeal), and deep fry them in oil or lard. (Yum!) Fried clam fanatics are very picky over what you call a “fried clam”: a fried clam means it’s the whole body of a soft-shell clam, whereas frying just chopped up parts of a clam (which are inevitably cheaper) makes them “clam strips.” New York restaurants aren’t as discerning about what they call fried clams (it’s clams, we fry them, ergo!), but New England nitpickers definitely can tell the difference.
There is a new seafood restaurant in New York that’s looking to emulate the love of fried clams–the real kind–that New England and other cities have really embraced. Inspired by their Long Island hangout Bigelow’s New England Fried Clams in Rockville Centre, Aaron Lefkove and Andy Curtin decided to build Littleneck, a clam shack in Gowanus, Brooklyn (where all the good New York seafood shanties seem to be moving) that serves their clams with lots of New England flair. You can get the regular seafood staples like New England Clam Chowder and clams on the half shell, but their specialty is fried clams. Real, whole-bodied Ipswitch clams that Littleneck imports from Mass itself, their fried clams are most often ordered within a buttered, toasted split-top hot dog bun and eaten as a clam roll. There’s no fancy chili oil used here or some newfangled breading: just the plain, traditional fried clams done exceedingly well and right. New Yorkers can finally get a taste of what a real fried clam roll should taste like, and it’s even warmed itself to New England transplants who want a taste of home.
288 3rd Ave (between President St & 4th Ave)
“The clipper-ship-size clam roll ($16) pretty much redeems the mollusk; fat-bellied fried Ipswiches burst from their griddled split-top roll. Dressed in spicy tartar sauce, the clams taste swell, though their batter, sadly, lacks crunch. Still, the clam roll trounces the mayonnaise-drowned lobster roll ($18). Perhaps we are indeed experiencing a changing of the guard.”–The New York Times
“Likewise, gigantic whole belly clams are fried as expertly as at any New England clam shack—that is, greaseless, tender, crisp, and hot—then stuffed into a buttered toasted top-split hot dog bun for their Whole Belly Clam Roll ($16). Even my mom, a self-proclaimed fried clam perfectionist, gave the roll her stamp of approval, and let me tell you, she rarely approves of anything (Tiger mom ain’t got nothing on mine).”–Serious Eats
“This new Gowanus seafood shack serves a damn fine clam roll. The full belly Ipswich clams are perfectly crisp without being greasy, and they’re topped with a big dab of thick and creamy tartar sauce. This is also a very pleasant place to go when you are hungover because it smells like fresh chowder, the people that work here are super laid back, and the dining room looks like something from Robert Altman’s Popeye.”–New York Eater
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The whole belly clams were perfectly fried and had that mineral/animal/creaminess that makes them so addictive at the best seafood shacks on the CT coast. Served in a generous portion on a grilled split hot dog roll with tartar sauce, a few greens, and some pickles on the side – it was a satisfying morsel of food.”–Winona K.
“I started out with a special appetizer of grilled sardines which came with three large sardines which was very good once you got past picking out all the bones. For the entree, I had to go for the clam roll which was also very good. The breading for the fried clams was crispy and flavorful, the tartar sauce was zesty, and the roll itself just helped to soak up any potentially lost, greasy flavors. There was a small side of pickles and slaw which were nice flavor additions. My friend ordered another special, a duck salad and while she said it was good, the size of it was a little underwhelming. I will stress that this was listed as an appetizer and not an entree salad. She also ordered a few of the East Coast oysters which she had no complaints about after sucking them down.”–Troy K.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!