Last month, we asked you about the best clam shacks in New England. More than 200 Globe readers eagerly responded with their suggestions.
Locally, the clam shack that got the most shout-outs from Globe readers is Woodman’s of Essex. Of the 205 people who responded to our poll, 15 percent cited Woodman’s as their favorite location. Clam-shack fans swear by this marshland classic with ample outdoor seating and generous portions. Founded in 1914, Woodman’s is a family-run business, operated over the years by five generations of Woodmans, and is (Woodman’s says) where Essex fried clams were invented.
“We won … because our founders had a guaranteed, quality product,” said Maureen Woodman. “We’re traditional, and the recipes are unchanged.”
This long history also stretches back to its patrons; Woodman said people who visited with their grandmothers as children bring their children and families as adults. Three generations of the Kimball family from Boston have been regulars at Woodman’s for more than 60 years. Fans from all over the country enjoy their sweet clams and freshly fried lobster tails. Trisha Corleto has even shipped Woodman’s to California and Virginia.
“Only Woodman’s for me … Never a bad meal!” Corleto wrote in response to our survey.
Globe readers said their go-to order at Woodman’s is a plate of fried clams — and Woodman confirmed that fried clams are indeed the best seller. Lobster rolls and the Down River Combo, with scallops, jumbo shrimp, fish, fried clams, french fries, and onion rings, are also popular. Several respondents said they appreciate that Woodman’s uses a corn flour batter at Woodman’s, making it friendly to people with gluten sensitivities.
“Food is emotion,” Woodman said. “Woodman’s is a feeling. When you walk away, you can’t wait to come back.”
With beautiful wetlands and fresh clams caught right nearby, it’s no wonder the North Shore is famous for its clam shacks. “They say the brackish waters of the Ipswich River make clams harvested there taste better than anywhere else,” wrote Daren Follweiler from Dorchester.
Readers also said they don’t mind waiting in long lines for great seafood. “Standing in line is a civic duty,” wrote Doug Owen of New York.
The Clam Box in Ipswich, Tony’s Clam Shop in Quincy, and JT Farnhams in Essex battled for second place.
Beyond the Commonwealth, the most popular clam shack was Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine. Rhode Island also had several clam shacks with big followings: Flo’s Clam Shack in Middletown, Evelyn’s Drive-In in Tiverton, and Blount Clam Shack in Warren all got nods from Globe readers.
If you prefer Rhode Island-style chowder (which omits the cream), Mark Kasindorf from Quincy recommends Evelyn’s for all Rhode Island-style specialties — clam chowder, fried calamari, and quahogs stuffed with clams.
The can’t-miss menu item at a clam shack — no surprises here — is fried whole belly clams. (“Duh!” Many readers responded to this question.) The favorite side, chosen over coleslaw and french fries, was onion rings. Seafood platters, with a little bit of everything, are also a hit.
So, we asked, what makes a great clam shack?
“Nothing fancy; just the clams, ma’am,” wrote Doug Owen.
Our expert clam-shack fans know that clean oil makes or breaks fried food and said that frequent oil changes are a must for crispy, fresh food. Light batter, not too greasy and with just the right amount of breading, is a priority. Friendly service, affordability, and a robust menu are also key, Globe readers said.
But a summertime seafood stop is about more than just the food.
People want a no-frills experience with “working-class charm. All set with the hipster joints selling $25 oyster po’ boys,” wrote Andy Silva of Providence.
Below is a list of Massachusetts clam shacks that got more than one vote.
Woodman’s of Essex (32)
The Clam Box, Ipswich (23)
Tony’s Clam Shop, Quincy (21)
JT Farnhams, Essex (20)
Kream ‘N Kone, West Dennis (7)
Belle Isle, Winthrop (3)
Ronnie’s Seafood, Charlton (3)
The Take Away, Norwood (3)
Cobie’s, Brewster (3)
Captain Frosty’s, Dennis (3)
Red Wing, Walpole (3)
Seafood Sam’s, Falmouth (3)
Sullivan’s Castle Island, Boston (3)
Yankee Lobster, Boston (2)
Clam Shack Salem Willows, Salem (2)
Essex Seafood, Essex (2)
The Bite, Menemsha (2, closed)
Jim’s Clam Shack, Falmouth (2)
Oxford Creamery, Mattapoisett (2)
Kool Kone, Wareham (2)
Sayle’s Seafood, Nantucket (2)
Charlie’s Seafood, Lynn (2)