Woodman’s of Essex

Sometimes, if it has been a really long time since I have visited one of my “happy places,” I feel the need to write about it, just to try to recapture that feeling of the “perfect meal,” when all of the sensory elements are in full effect. It has been years since I have eaten one of my all time favorite “local/regional delicacies,” the whole belly fried clam. On first glance, and description, this may not sound very enticing. If you live along the sandy waterways of coastal New England, from about say, Portsmouth, NH, south to Connecticut (the Maine coast is rocky, and it is lobster land), then you are very familiar with this dish. By the way, the Grumpy Grouper in Lantana serves these guys, if you want to try them, under the heading “Ipswich Clams.” I haven’t had them, for the same reason that i have never eaten a lobster in Florida, aside from a lobster roll. Sure, the seafood will taste good and be prepared correctly, but all of the other sensory elements will be missing. Your favorite foods take you back to your childhood, a simpler time. For me, without the sound of seagulls, the smell of the salt air, the cool breeze, and the creaky dockside outdoor setting, these foods do not have the same meaning to me, and eating them would never achieve the main purpose, to literally take me back to being 10 years old, to driving with my family to the beach, which took an hour from the city. To spending the entire day lounging and swimming in the ocean, all the while thinking ahead to the main reason for coming all of this way, for an excuse to go to¬†Woodman’s.¬†Situated on a tidal salt marsh, Woodman’s is an institution. There are many other roadside stands trying to do what Woodman’s does. Don’t be fooled. For the freshest in New England fried seafood, there is no other. You order at the counter, and sit on an old-ass picnic table overlooking the marshlands at sunset. The whole belly fried clams are gigantic, juicy, salty, and perfect dipped in tartar sauce. The belly “explodes” with a rush of hot salt water when you bite into them. You are eating the original, the ocean, coastal New England in one bite. Listen to the soft bells from the bobbing boats, the foghorn in the distance, the hungry seagulls overhead, and feel the cool mist rolling in off the marsh….

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