Welcome back to Food Crawls, a series in which Eater Boston staffers guide you (virtually) on various food (and booze) crawls in the Boston area.
When we go out, we often find ourselves wanting to try more than one restaurant or bar at a time — a drink and a snack here, another drink and perhaps a dessert there — and want to share our favorite multi-stop combinations with you. These crawls are meant to be relatively walkable, and the amount of food and drink is meant to correspond roughly to a couple of average appetites (so bring a friend), although your mileage may vary. Email us if there’s a particular theme, specific dish or drink, or neighborhood you’d like to see covered in a future installment.
Essex, Massachusetts, is situated in the Great Marsh, a breathtaking span of 20,000-plus acres of continuous salt marshes north of Boston, which stretches from Cape Ann, Massachusetts, to coastal New Hampshire. There are winding waterways and heather-dotted wetlands and sandy beaches, and because the Great Marsh is designated an Important Bird Area, there are many gorgeous nesting birds.
There are also mudflats filled with some of the most sought-after soft-shell clams on earth. As such, Essex (and its neighbor Ipswich) is the place to go for fried clams.
More specifically, J.T. Farnham’s and Woodman’s are the places to go for fried clams. Much lore is attached to the version served at Woodman’s — whether true or not, the legend asserts that Essex restaurateur Chubby Woodman invented them in 1916. However, a menu from the Omni Parker House hotel dated 1865 lists fried clams for 40 cents. (Origin stories should always be taken with a grain of salt.)
Cape Ann — which includes Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport — is a quick summer getaway filled with culinary treats, and you should make as many day trips as possible this summer. Here’s one possible food crawl (of many) to try on your next trip to Essex.
Fried Clams at J.T. Farnham’s
88 Eastern Ave., Essex
Farnham’s is a dictionary-definition roadside joint, situated on Rte. 133 and smack in the middle of the Great Marsh. Get a heaping plate of fried clams, and pair it with some onion rings (Farnham’s onion rings are unmatched.) Eat it all outside while gazing into the deep beauty of the salt marsh. The biodiversity of the area is astounding — expect to see various species of winged friends as you munch away.
Brisket Sandwich at C.K. Pearl
112 Main St., Essex
It’s not all fried clams in Essex. The menu at C.K. Pearl (also situated on Rte. 133) is a mix of seafood and food from the dry land. The play here is the brisket three-ways, which is a playful take on the classic North Shore roast beef sandwich. Replace the roast beef with brisket, add pickled red onions, and keep the mayo and barbecue sauce.
Clam Chowder at Woodman’s
It’s unclear if Woodman’s actually invented the fried clam; it’s not unclear whether Woodman’s has a perfect cup of clam chowder. Opinion is divided on whether New England clam chowder should be thick and creamy or thinner and more brothy (the right answer is thinner and more brothy.) Woodman’s clam chowder is decidedly in the more brothy camp. Grab a cup, and if you’re still hungry, grab some more fried clams. And again, sit outside and take in yet another breathtaking view of the Great Marsh.