Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, May 19, 2024

New England Clam Chowder (r)

New England Clam Chowder is a quintessential New England food, along with (to quote Judd Hale) baked beans, codfish, lobsters, maple syrup, jonnycake, and apple pie.
Who makes the best clam chowder?   Traditional clam chowder tastes best using fresh, local ingredients.  It can be served on the dock or at a wedding.  Or, at a wedding on the dock.  This question can elicit not only the digging up of old recipes, but a weekend-long road trip to taste samples first hand.
New Englanders are always arguing with each other and with outsiders as to the proper ingredients and/or correct preparation techniques. 
- Judd Hale

Black Pearl, Newport, Rhode Island

Black Pearl in Newport has consistently received the highest marks from readers.

Comments include:
Without a doubt the Black Pearl is on the top of my list for clam chowder. (JRC)
 Talk about chowder heaven!
Always good to have some chowder at the Black Pearl.  (Marie) 
I've had The Black Pearl's chowder a number of times. It's "wicked good" and best I've ever far. NE Clam Chowder is my favorite over any other chowders or soups.  (JSprouse)
The Black Pearl on Bannister's Wharf had the best clam chowder in the world. (Keith Baker) 

Other Suggestions and Comments 

In Nantucket... walk down Main to Straight Wharf Fish Store for excellent chowder and a good-sized lobster roll. (John G.)
The best chowder? On MacMahan Island (near Georgetown, Maine), residents who summer there (most) are closing up their cottages over Labor Day weekend. But all gather for one final goodbye to summer: a chowder boil by the dock landing, on Saturday night. Lobsters, of course, are the main ingredient - but plenty of potatoes, fresh corn, a few onions and red peppers, and some spices all cooked in a big pot over an open pit fire make for a mighty fine dish. In other words - when it comes to chowder - the ingredients are often secondary to the setting. (Feeling Blue, Seeing Red)
Legal's is superb but I try to avoid chain restaurants whenever possible. Jasper White whips a good bowl of Chowder but if you're just looking for Fried Clams, you can't beat Woodman's in Essex. If you're a fan of "The Perfect Storm" and you happen to be in the North Shore, be forewarned that the establishment mentioned in the book are not too accommodating for tourists. Lobster Rolls are all the rage during the Summer months in Maine but if you want to be adventurous and experience authentic living, do a Lobster Boil right on the rocky shore. For a Preppy desert, go with Apple Crisp. 
Wimpys in Osterville, MA is the best, IMO. (Elizabeth )
The gris is nice but i love the chowder at the seal. (chris)  
Essex is very special and the chowder at the Black Seal was great. (Kurt) 

Downtown Essex (1970's - Obviously). Original Photograph from Archives
Not sure if its the best, but my favorite is Johnny Ad's on Route 1 in old Saybrook, CT, with a close second of the Black Seal in Essex.  
As for CT Eats on the shore my favorite is Johnny Ads on rt 1 in OS. Hot Lobster Roll and Clam Chowder <>
In the early 1970s my wife and I "discovered" the Barnacle (Marblehead, Massachusetts) while visiting relatives in the area. When we told one of my aunts about it she smiled and said it was my grandfather's favorite for chowder and lobster rolls in the "old days". We always enjoy the chowder, lobster rolls, and view at the Barnacle when visiting back east.  
In Marblehead, Massachusetts

RI Clam Chowder

Some inevitably prefer the "variety" that was first created in Rhode Island, and was the subject of such state-wide pride that they quickly named it "Manhattan Clam Chowder."    But this "chowder" was so offensive to so many New Englanders that in 1939 a bill was put forth in the state of Maine that would have made calling clam chowder made with tomatoes illegal.  It came close to passing.  (Some New Yorkers deny all knowledge of it, and swear they've been framed, wrote
I vote for RI Clam Chowder as it used to be made at George's of Galilee, out on Pt. Judith where you get the Block Island boat. It's made with surf (skimmer) clams, not quahogs, and the broth is CLEAR. Out of this WORLD! (Greenfield) 
I love New England Clam Chowder with oyster crackers. It wasn't until we moved to Mystic, CT that I tried RI Clam Chowder which is wonderful too. I don't prefer one over the other. Unfortunately, we moved away to the Bay Area where we really didn't have the luxury of choice. And we have since relocated to Texas, so I can forget about it altogether. *sigh* I miss living out East.  

Farewell to Cappy's Chowder House

One favorite had been Cappy's Chowder House, which closed in 2016 after 38 years.

...Amazing chowder with a cold Geary’s (Chuck Ramsay)  
Cappy's (1991).  Original Photograph from Archives

In Conclusion,  Herman Melville:

“Queequeg,” said I, “do you think that we can make out a supper for us both on one clam?” 
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.


  1. The very best I ever had was the Quahog Chowder at the Jared Coffin House on Nantucket in 1987. It was not at all the heavily-thickened, starchy kind with herbs or salt pork/bacon added .... just, I think, cream, milk, butter, quahog juice and quahog meat, maybe some salt & pepper. Its simplicity and authentic local ingredients made it memorably delicious.

  2. Delicious clam chowder can have many variations. Personal taste dictates the favorite. I prefer oyster stew and my mother made one of the very best. Ingredients were oysters, potatoes, onion, milk a bit of cream, butter, salt, pepper. Simple ingredients, cooked slowly on low heat.

  3. Captain Parkers in West Yarmouth and the Squire in Chatham both offer excellent clam chowder

  4. "Or, at a wedding on the dock." Love that!

  5. Best " New England" clam chowder I've ever had was in St. George, New Brunswick....sorry, maybe this will help, but the second best was in a tiny cafe on Buzzard's Bay in Mass.

  6. Husband does not like "stand your spoon up in it" chowder. I make a thinner version for New Years Eve dinner which is our family favorite. Guess I vote for that. PA

  7. Iggy's in Point Judith! White, clear, and red chowders are all excellent.

  8. Based on your previous posts, we knew about Black Pearl in Newport. When our daughter was in college in RI, and we traveled from CA to see her, we tried the Black Pearl and its clam chowder. THE BEST!!

  9. Maddie's in Marblehead always had good chowder. I'm going to have to try RI chowder!

  10. My favorite clam chowder is at The Black Pearl on Bannister's Wharf in Newport.

  11. I have to agree with so many others here...The Black Pearl in Newport.

  12. The enemy of great soups especially Chowders is the Bain Marie or Steam table. I believe each bowl should be heated to order. There are exceptions I suppose if the restaurant is very busy and the sitting time was 15 minutes or so.

    I think proper chowder should contain dairy, bacon, freshly steamed clams and their poaching liquid, roux and potatoes.

  13. Lenny’s in Branford Conn. Their clam chowder is second only to their lobster bisque.

    1. I second Lenny's. The burger (if you ask for medium rare you will get it) on an English muffin and lobster rolls are also great.

  14. Make your visit to Lenny’s a double delight. After your “chowdah” head over to New Haven and Pepe’s ahbeets for their world famous clam pie.

  15. Wimpy's in Osterville is an old favorite of mine, too. I stopped by The Clam Hut in Ipswich, Massachustetts over the weekend while going to the new (spectacular) boathouse dedication at my old boarding school. The Clam Hut chowder was good and the bowl very generous. Too much to finish actually. LF Herreshoff describes his recipe for chowder in 'The Compleat Cruiser'. It requires a dedicated cast-iron pot and seasoned beach cobble rolling the ingredients around in the bottom for best results.

  16. Schooners in Hull is the best I've had. Schooners is not the best looking restaurant, and there isn't much of a view, but I've never had a bad meal there. Second place is The Snug in Hingham. It's almost a good as Schooners, but not as consistent. I know both of these are on the South Shore, but I've had NE Clam Chowder at almost every restaurant I've been to that serves it. And this is not the clam chowder I grew up with; I only started eating it as an adult, so it's not some form of nostalgia. What I'm saying is, if you're in the area, give these places a shot.

  17. We do miss Cappy's so very much!

  18. The Sail Loft in Boston is tough to beat.


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