PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Where the oyster is Queen, the clam is often treated like Cinderella – undervalued and unsung. But for many Jersey beachcombers, it is the meaty, briny clam that provides the dominant nosh. We casually chew them fried in strips, slurp them in chowder, slide them raw or fork them, barbecued or as clams casino in a hot shell. And the place to enjoy them at lunch, happy hour and dinner is the New Jersey Cape. Here’s where we clam feasted on a recent Cape May visit.
I first set foot in the C-View Inn on my graduation day at Coast Guard boot camp, down the street in 1952. It was and still is a locally populated shore town tavern. Beer is the drink of choice and the Cape clam is put to good use. The traditional “steamer” has had an incredibly delicious upgrade, swimming in a tomato flecked buttery, wine and garlic broth. Standing like sentinels in the bowl are a pair of long cut, perfectly toasted garlic bread slices. By the way, the C-View has the most reasonable prices in town.
The iconic Cape May seafood house moors right alongside the commercial fishing fleet. The fin and shell fish are as fresh as deck to table. But it’s the raw bar that sets the salty tone. Aboard the Schooner American, part of the Lobster House outdoor scene, one dish stands above all. The Hot Combination allows a contrast between dressed clams and oysters with a pair each of Clams Casino, Oysters Rockefeller and Barbecued Clams. You can spend an afternoon nibbling while watching the fishing boats dock and depart from your railside table. If you’re planning a shore house Clam Bake, the retail store has the fixin’s – from clams and lobster to seasonings and claw crackers.
Across the street and right on the road into town, we satisfy the craving for golden fried clam strips and tartar sauce at Lucky Bones, a combination waterside tavern and casual eatery. The fried clams have that perfect chew combined with the sweetness of a time tested batter. Wash it all down with an impressive collection of popular and craft beers from Belgians to crisp Pilsners. Round out your clam quest with a unique shell fish broth chowder.
A broad waterside deck that looks across Cape May Harbor to the Coast Guard Base and the yacht anchorage provides the view. The kitchen turns out a clam feast. Harbor View, serves one of the best and meatiest Clam Chowders I’ve ever dipped a spoon into. They call it, “New Jersey Clam Chowder”. The combination of broth, tomato and a touch of cream suggests it’s the perfect blend of Manhattan and New England Chowders. But the large helping of clams makes it just jump off the table. Follow-ups here include clams on the half shell, fried strips, steamers and casinos. One suggestion: Hey guys, you have a fantastic location and view along with the best chowder. Could you please put the chowder in some crockery instead of those waxed cardboard cups. I promise we won’t swipe it.
This has to be the best, friendliest and most comfortable bar on the Cape, and over the last 65 years I’ve been in most of them. It is on the upscale side in menus and service, but local in flavor and gossip. The Oyster Bay bar is part of a restaurant with a mid-range priced fin, fur and feather menu. But it’s the unique bar menu and appetizers that draw us in. On a visit last week, the Clams Casino here were a high point. Paired with an order of Lobster and Crab Crostini while sipping a Manhattan and Martini, they were enough for a meal. It gets busy at Happy Hour, but we’ve never failed to get seats at the bar.
The sound of the surf adds an undertone to conversation at the Rusty Nail, an indoor/outdoor bar and eatery, directly across the street from the Cape May boardwalk. Here, clams can fuel a sun filled lunch – steamers, barbecues, casino, half shell – a top spot for a quick beach break. Go straight from surf to bar and tuck into a half or full dozen plump raw clams topped with a tangy cocktail sauce washed down by a hoppy Cape May brewed brew. Then head back to the beach perch. Doing it two – three – four times a day is not unheard of.
Enjoy the slurp!