Seeking Midcoast Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam – Week 3

I sampled fried clams this week at two more local Midcoast Maine seafood establishments, both recommended to me by readers: Rockland’s Hills Seafood Company and The Captain’s Fresh Idea in Waldoboro.

Hills Seafood Company: Rigger recommended the seafood, so I went. Hills is a new restaurant taking over at Brick’s former location. It is right across street from the Time-Out Pub and Rockland’s Harbor Park-prime seafood country with the broad blue Penobscot Bay backdrop right across the street. The North Atlantic Blues Festival is here next weekend, where a seat on the outside deck here will put a chorus of “Down to Chicago” front and center with your ocean feast. Mame and I decided to eat on the deck, a prime spot to watch the unique parade of passers-by that tend to frequent this part of town. The fried clam plate at Hills sets you back “ market price,” which was $24 right today. I passed on the fries, opting for the veggie side plus cole slaw.  Twelve clams were tastefully presented on top of a piece of blue and white checkered paper that decorated the plate, looked good, but not so useful this time.

HILLS
The whole belly clams were lightly batter fried, and characteristically chewy-they were good, but the whole experience was not great. Things would have been much better if the steamed broccoli was served in its own little plate, instead of being placed next to my sacred fried clams. I’m not one to slowly savor the glory of the clam-they are best hot, crisp and fresh. The hot water from the broccoli side soaked through to the point where little pieces of colored paper deteriorated and started sticking to my treasured clams. Nope. However, the quick and friendly service helped, as did the Allagash White draft beer. This plate could have been a contender if the side had not leaked into the good stuff.

The Captain’s Fresh Idea:
The Captain’s Fresh Idea, on Route 1 in Waldoboro, has been across from the Wooden Screened Door place since 1987. It looks like a take-out. However, the dining room is super clean and loaded with summer-in-Maine stuff. There is also a screened in deck and a take-out window if you would like to sit outside on one of the picnic tables. Lobster rolls are at the top of the menu. The fried seafood is reported to be hand breaded.
The only fried clams appearing on the menu were a full basket with all the sides. I inquired about other options and learned that they’d make up any amount I wanted-I chose a half-pint with a side of home made cole slaw. It was $14.95 for a single serving of 15 delicious fried clams, with the giant cup of slaw $2.99 more.

20140715-155229-57149074.jpg The service was speedy. The clams were very good, lightly battered, slightly crispy, and hot. The clams here tied for first place with the Red Barn, reviewed in week two. Any coincidence that both establishments sport red metal roofs?

Week 2- Seeking Midcoast’s Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam

I recently sampled the fried clams at two establishments that were recommended to me by readers: Lincolnville’s Chez Michel and The Red Barn in Augusta.

Chez Michel’s:  I was Father’s Day, with Auntie Mame picking up the bill, so we went to the home-town choice down on Lincolnville Beach.  The clam plate at Chez Michel’s sets you back $25, a bit high for a plate of clams, but with the above average setting, with the view from the upstairs room overlooking the harbor, the price sort of fits.  The offering included a dinner salad with home made parmesan peppercorn dressing, fresh baked french bread, and garlic mashed potatoes.  Fifteen clams showed up too, making a mighty large and attractive plate of seafood-  The clams were batter fried, with a good clam taste-a slightly chewy experience. The tartar sauce cup needed a second replacement.   A decent plate of clams here, and frankly a mound of clams that was indistinguishable from the fried clams that I had at Andy’s Brew Pub at the Lobster Pound last week, where the price was $16 for 11 clams.

A thing of beauty- Chez Michel's clam plate
A thing of beauty- Chez Michel’s clam plate.

The Red Barn:  Since 1977, the Red Barn has been a popular spot on Route 202, above the intersection with Route 3 on Riverside Drive heading out of Augusta.

A very good find
A very good find

I’ve never eaten at the Red Barn but was visiting my friend Lock, so we went there for lunch. We were dismayed by the almost completely filled parking lot at lunchtime on a weekday.  I felt a wait coming on.  However, there was no line when we bellied up to the order counter, where our selections were quickly dispatched, and we were told our names would be called when the food would be ready. I decided to cut to the quick and order just a single serving of clams, accompanied by a side of cole slaw. The clams came out in 5 minutes!  My iPhone’s camera put an unappetizing green cast on the Red Barn’s clam plate, so I don’t have an inviting pic.  I am compelled to taste my fried clams while they are still hot, and from now on, will avoid filling up on and getting derailed by french fries, or any other potato options and focus on just the clam ( and the slaw/salad and the tartar sauce).  I got my recommendation for the Red Barn from Jason, who was adamant that it’s the home-made tartar sauce puts these clams over the top. The tartar sauce may have even had a bit of cumin added, and was bottomless, coming from a large pump dispenser on the condiment counter, which also had a few large pump containers of genuine Heinz ketchup. It’s a plus to have the ability to take enough of one’s own tartar sauce, and a welcome cut above requesting another of those tiny paper cups of tartar sauce that often punctuate one’s fried clam experience. It’s $14.95 for a single serving of clams here, and only $1 more for two servings (a whole pint) of the tasty little devils. The cole slaw set me back another $.75.   OK, now the taste -wow!  It took about two seconds to move these clams right to the top of my admittedly brief list of fried clam favorites-due to the fresh out-of-the-fryolator status, thin batter, light fry, and very smooth clam consistency.  Not much chewing needed here.  Clearly, a superior fried clam.  Highly recommended!  A half-price cone of vanilla soft serve for just $1 also sweetened my ride back home. Yeah!