By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The clam shacks of Cape Ann

The Clam Box or Woodman’s? To those of us who live on the North Shore, it is a theological question. The Clam Box, of Ipswich, slightly out of the way, with huge lines and the challenging logistics of finding a seat, is the hardcore choice. Woodman’s, of Essex, spacious and fast-moving, is easier. But is easier better?

Boston Globe food critic Devra First hits Route 133 today to come up with her take on Cape Ann clam shacks. In addition to the Clam Box and Woodman’s, she reviews Essex Seafood and J.T. Farnum’s, both of Essex, and neither of which I’ve visited. First, a Boston Phoenix colleague a few years ago, has written an enjoyable feature. But who’s the best?

First gives the nod to the Clam Box by a nose, and I agree — but not for the same reasons. I find the food at Woodman’s and the Clam Box to be close in quality except for the onion rings, which I think are better — flakier, less greasy — at the Clam Box. First prefers Woodman’s thick, heavily breaded rings. The default at Woodman’s is onion rings and french fries, but they’ll let you substitute their excellent cole slaw for the fries.

Despite my slight preference for the Clam Box, Woodman’s generally wins out during my two or three clam-shack forays each year because it’s just more convenient, especially now that they take plastic. And Woodman’s serves beer.

A confession: I’m a native New Englander, I love shellfish, but I don’t eat fried clams — I don’t like the gritty bellies. So I generally go for fried clam strips, shrimp or scallops, and maybe once a year (or once every other year) a steamed lobster.

Good thing I just ate, or this would be making me hungry.

Photo (cc) by Peter Dutton and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Adam

    Dan, another former colleague (Adam Reilly) here. As a non-native New Englander who DOES eat fried clams, let me take vigorous issue with your contention that Woodman’s and the Clam Box are comparable. The latter is so much better that they really shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.

  2. acf

    I won’t get into the Woodmans/Clam Box shuck, but jeez, I wouldn’t admit I only eat the strips, not the bellies. It’s so Howard Johnson’s. OTOH, what do I know, I like tripe.

  3. Rick

    My mouth is watering hahaha

  4. Neil

    Clam strips ugh, no wonder you need beer. My mother bought those Hojo frozen clam strips sometimes. They’d be good as a side order, to a box of actual fried clams. I grew up next to the “famous” Clam Plate in Peabody, 100 years ago when clams were cheap. Often on Fridays my mum would send me there for a clam plate so she didn’t have to cook haddock. Later we moved to Nahant and we’d get boxes from the Tides and sit on the rocks out back.I maybe like Farnham’s best if I’m up that way, but have never got used to the idea of taking out a second mortgage and driving half an hour to eat clams. Fortunately humble Bob’s on Highland Ave in Salem has reopened. It’s no cheaper but at least it’s close. It’s been around since the ’50s but the original shack got bought and razed, and replaced with another Dunkin Donuts. Because you know, we need more of those. Now Bob’s is in a strip mall across the street which also houses a urologist and a Chinese buffet. It’ll never make the papers since it’s not scenic, but if you couldn’t be bothered to drive to Essex and are willing to elbow your way through the elderlies, the clams are great.

  5. bsh

    I know the article was only looking at the “shacks,” but the best fried clams on Route 133 in West Gloucester, Essex, Ipswich by far are at The Village restaurant in Essex. I have no connection with them; I’m just a fan who remembers when the fried clam dinner plate was $4.95.

  6. Brendan

    J.T. Farnum’s of Essex gets my vote. Man, I wish I was there now.

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