Saturday, July 9, 2011

Road Trip to Rhodie

Ahhh a road trip. As it happens, my bigger half hails from Portsmouth, Rhode Island, or at least mostly there as he spent a good deal of his educational years skipping around the world, the passenger of a military family lifestyle. Anyway, as a result, we have the good fortune about once a month to visiting Aquidneck Island to see his folks. Never heard of Aquidneck Island? You ignorant fool. Just kidding. Aquidneck Island is the "island" part of Rhode Island, the other half occupied by the Providence Plantations. But those that live on the Island have access to the mother of all fritters: the clam cake. 
Clam cakes. Oh the glory! What a world, what a world! Now, I myself was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, and spent a good amount of time attending high school in the city whose slogan is "we'll try." Ugh. We're also known along with New Bedford as the Armpit of Massachusetts. So many flattering terms for a city that really has had a rough patch since say... the decline of Industrialization. I digress. In Fall River, and all along the South Coast, people have enjoyed clam cakes, have looked forward to trips to Rocky Point, where they might get their bowl of chowder (red or white) and a basket of the light, fluffy, bready on the inside, and crunchy fried on the outside, little balls with bits of clam throughout. It just so happens that up on the North Shore, and elsewhere in New England, you're not going to be able to find clam cakes. You might be able to get something that's way too big to be light/fluffy/crunchy but resembles the original, or something that resembles a crab cake and has clams in it, but are just plain wrong in my book. True clam cakes are a native of places like Fall River, Narragansett, and lucky enough for me, Aquidneck Island.
Now the best place to grab a paper bag filled with clam cakes on the island is Flo's, a little shack in Island Park in Portsmouth. (There's another location in Middletown across from First Beach, but it's not quite a shack - more of a restaurant.) The tiny building is located across the street from a beach, and is pretty hopping on a hot day... just like today. Families are abound, crossing the street from the beach, and quickly retreating back to the sand with a big bag of clam cakes in tow. Unfortunately for Flo's, it's also often associated with being a favorite target of any and all hurricanes that meander up the coast and into Rhodie. I am often reminded of how it was washed away by Hurricane Bob back in '91.
But thankfully Flo's has long since been rebuilt and is in full form, as it dishes out its offerings of clam cakes, chowder (clear/white), fried clams, fish and chips, and stuffies among other things. Today's feature, of course, is the clam cakes. A "baker's" half dozen of these beauties will set you back all of about four bucks or so. You place your order, they give you a light up buzzing lobster to wait for your food, and sit back and watch the follies going on at the beach across the way. A few minutes and a vibrating lobster later, you can pick up your lovelies, eat them straight away, or take them to your next destination (though I find it doubtful that they will survive however long a journey you may have).  

Each clam cake is about the size of a toddler's fist and the outer crust is the same shade of brown as Donatella Versace's skin at the height of beach season. Bite into the dough ball, and you are treated to something savory, and though oily, not really greasy. There are bits of diced clam throughout each bite. These are addictive little snacks, and I myself can rifle through a half dozen with a shit-grin on my face the entire time. They're substantial, but also light, fluffy and delightful. And they're a Rhodie classic. 
So it's summer, and there's no better place to be than by the beach in New England. It's so sweet to live here in summer that we are all given a little amnesia when it comes to the suck-fest that is winter. So dig into a few clam cakes and if you're feeling saucy, you might want add an order of a cup of the "clear." (Photo to tease you of chowder tales to come comparing New England institutions at a later date.)

Location Rundown:
Flo's Clam Shack
Park Avenue
Portsmouth, RI

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