Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with fried clam strips from Massachusetts, which joined the union on February 6, 1788.
The state: Known as the Codfish State, the Pilgrim State and, somewhat pompously, “The Spirit of America,” Massachusetts was only the sixth state to ratify the Constitution in 1788 but furnished an entirely disproportionate number of statesmen and revolutionaries in the Revolutionary War.
The food: Clams are an integral part of summer in coastal New England, just as important as tall ships, widow’s walks, and sipping a Dark 'n' Stormy in a bar on the water next to ten men all wearing the same Red Sox baseball cap. Chowder and clam cakes have their charms, but the popular bivalve reaches its apotheosis when it’s ever-so-lightly breaded and deep-fried, served in a slightly greasy paper container with some French fries, and preferably handed to you from a roadside mom-and-pop stand at a midway point between your house and the beach.
Other dishes considered and rejected: Boston cream pies and donuts. Codfish! Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, Fluffernutter sandwiches, baked beans. Welch’s grape jelly.
Get it from: The Fishwife on Lombard is an unassuming storefront in a random strip mall in the middle of the endless hellscape that is Lombard between Kenton and St. Johns. But it also serves some of Portland’s best seafood, in a cool blue dining room adorned with all sorts of quirky sailing and fishing trinkets. The clam basket ($9.75) is a heaping mound of plump fried clams atop waffle fries, served with generous helpings of tartar sauce, cole slaw and seasoned ketchup. We suggest renting a convertible, wrapping a scarf around your hair à la Jackie O, and picking up a basket on your way to Kelley Point.