the last bite

The Whole Belly Fried Clam Roll at Chatham Fish Pier Market

By / Photography By Tom Dott | July 01, 2015
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Whole Belly Fried Clam

Sand dunes and salty air: check. Quaint little villages here and there: yep. Lobster stew served by a window with an ocean view: easily done. So here’s what I’m wondering: did Patti Page ever come here in February? Where are the lyrics about front loaders stuck in snowy driveways, oak trees leveling the neighbor’s garage, and shoveling out ice tunnels at 11pm so the dogs could go to the bathroom? If I credited moving here from listening to the seductive lyrics of “Old Cape Cod”, I’d demand a serious explanation after enduring this winter. But you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain, and our rainbow hath arrived—time for some fun! With Ali’s brother Jimmy visiting from out of town, we drove directly from the airport to the quintessential Cape Cod experience: the Chatham Fish Pier Market. The pier is one of the largest and busiest in the Northeast, and the spot to watch the fisherman unload their catch. The pier’s market is a well-respected place to buy fish to take home to the grill, but famous for serving some of freshest, most perfectly crisped fish and chips on the planet. The dining experience is 100% Cape Cod kicked-back casual with a relaxed “sit where you can find a spot” attitude. We went for the picnic tables that were chock full of lucky lunchers from Philly, Silicon Valley, Osterville and the U.K (we asked), and all having a grand time slathering, dunking, squirting and slurping. At the working docks we found a bench where Ali started in on her fish and chips and I positioned mine for a photo, when Jimmy wandered over with one of the most majestic mounds of whole belly fried clams on a bun I’ve ever seen. I must have gone all sad-seal-face because he graciously offered me the first bite (please note that a few malted-milk-ball sized clams are missing from the photo, and although I admit this kind of gluttonous spontaneity could come off as unprofessional, it should also be noted that perfectly fried clams bring me more joy than just about anything in the world). With fishing boats chugging by, Jimmy educated us on the finer details of a properly fried clam, noting the shaded hues of crispness in the tighter folds, which balanced the slightly pale rounds of the exposed juicier parts. As Jimmy picked up each bronzed jewel, giving it a slight and disciplined dip into the sweet, fresh tarter sauce, he went on about his days as a young fry cook in the late ‘60s at a place called Smokey’s on Nantucket’s Steamboat Wharf. “I know what makes a great fried clam,” he declared, “and these are some of the best I’ve ever had.” He claimed, “You can always tell a great fried food joint by how good the coleslaw tastes.” I’ve heard this said before, and personally it holds little merit. I say judge a great fried food joint on what comes out of the fryer, but nonetheless, if we go on the Slaw Theory this clam roll would be considered exceptional, but not because of the flavors of said slaw, but rather the fact that our teacher was so enamored with his lunch that his container of coleslaw went unopened—a sure sign of a killer clam roll. You made it through the winter: time to grab summer by the horns. Call a friend and head over to the Chatham Fish market to taste what Cape Cod is all about.

At the Chatham Fish Pier: 45 Barcliff Ave, Chatham
508-945-3474 /

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