We visited Plymouth, Massachusetts recently to see the celebrated Plymouth rock and the Mayflower. Although well past the middle of March, the temperature was in the low 30's and we were getting rain and slushy snow and the wind was finding chinks in our armor of coats and chilling us to the bone. I came to New England with a determination to have some lobster and clam chowder, or clam chowdah, as they call it in Massachusetts. We took some peremptory looks, at a distance, at the Mayflower, and stopped at the pavilion covered rock, carved with 1620, for a couple of pictures, and we'd had enough. I found new admiration for the pilgrims who lived here without automobiles and Gortex North Face jackets. The night before we saw some wild turkeys off the side of the road, outside New Haven, Connecticut, and I mentally connected those turkeys with this Mayflower and the cold weather. Those early New Englanders had to be a hearty breed. We asked a clerk at a local trinket shop where we could find some good clam chowder. She directed us to Cabby Shack, just down the road from the Mayflower, and on the pier (in the picture below, you can see specks of snow falling and the ocean in the background to the left).
She said it was voted the best clam chowder in town. There were only a few other brave souls with us in the place. We ordered a baked bread bowl of "clam chowdah," some fish and chips with coleslaw and some steamed mussels in garlic, white wine, and some other ingredient I don't recall, which was a special (not on their regular menu). The clam chowdah was really thick, the thickest I've ever had.
I spoon could stand upright in it. It was full of potatoes, not too large and cooked well enough that they were pleasingly soft. You could taste the cream and butter that saturated the mix and lent its pleasant taste to the clams that also inhabited the concoction. It was very, very good.
It would take a side by side comparison with the clam chowder at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo to determine which has the best. I think the bread bowl itself is better at Splash, but I do think Cabby Shack does beat Splash for the chowdah itself. In doing this post, I find that Beau MacMillan of the Food Network rated the "clam chowdah" at Cabby Shack as the "Best Thing I Ever Ate." The rest of the meal was a little bit of a disappointment, but it is hard to complain about bunts and singles when you also experience a home run. The fish was very fresh and flaky, but covered with a not particularly great or moist batter.
The tarter sauce seemed to be pure mayonnaise and dill and sweet pickle
and we polished off about half a squeeze bottle of it (no, this was not a Weight Watcher type meal).
Judy said it would taste better with vinegar, so I asked for some and she was right. I had a little of the fish and most of my chips with vinegar. The mussels were small, seemed overcooked and not as fresh.
The broth with the mussels was very different than any I've ever had. It was more creamy and had a bite and some sweetness to it. I'm not sure what the key ingredient was. I did enjoy soaking the leftover clam chowdah bread bowl in the mussel broth and then eating the broth-soaked bread.
Such a treat. If you ever get to Plymouth, I recommend a cold day and some warm clam chowdah. You might also take a quick look at the rock and the Mayflower while you're there.