This post comes form Steve Carter's Dive of the month for July 09 with permission. I have enjoyed his reviews before and was pleased to see this one that he pointed out in response to my post on My Favorite Cape Cod Beach - Cahoons Hollow Wellfleet MA. It is a great following to my post on The Battle of Essex Fried Clams – Woodman’s versus Farnham’s. What follows are Steve's words.
"For the past 50 years my family has spent a couple of weeks every summer on Cape Cod. This past month we enjoyed the yearly pilgrimage as brothers and sisters from Washington, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Vermont joined nieces and nephews and their broods from places far and wide. We have always stayed in Wellfleet, a small fishing village on the outer cape. While there is a bit more traffic on Route 6, and several houses and commercial buildings have been turned into galleries, not a great deal has changed over the past five decades. We share great memories and look forward to many more. You might be asking what the heck this trip down memory lane has to do with food. Well, here we go.
Over the past several years I have designated one day as “food day” when I will take a few nephews on a day trip to hit as many restaurants as possible. We normally have a theme such as oysters, clam chowder, scallops, and so forth. The goal is to eat in as many joints as possible and then rate the places. This year was the year of the fried clam. Now you have to understand that just about any dive worth its salt on the cape has fried clams. The clam we look for is the soft-shell clam. Wellfleet has some great clam flats and the native clams are some of the best around. The deal is that they have to be whole belly fried clams – no clam strips allowed.
I don’t drive to Wellfleet without a stop at Arnold's. Now Arnold's isn’t in Wellfleet (it is on the outer fringes of Eastham), but it has been the home of some excellent fried seafood for over 33 years. I have seldom been disappointed and I figured that this would set a high standard. I am used to waiting in line, giving my order, finding a seat to nurse a favorite beverage and wait for my number to be called. The anticipation is heightened as tray after tray goes by with huge lobster rolls, savory scallop rolls, tasty clam chowder, and some of the best onion rings on the cape (thin and greasy). I heard my number called and went to the counter for my fried clams and onion rings. No tartar sauce for me, just the taste of a full-bellied fried clam in a very light batter. I am afraid that for the first time Arnold's let me down. Many of the clams had more batter then belly. The order seemed to be a mix of strips and full-bellied clams. Arnold's always runs a bit on the greasy side of the spectrum, but they outdid themselves on this day. I had enough grease on my tray for a quart of biodiesel fuel. Arnold's had indeed let me down on this rainy day.
Next stop was a new restaurant in Wellfleet on the site of the old Captain Higgins restaurant. The place is beautiful. An open format with an open kitchen. The Pearl sits right across the street from the town wharf. One can have the best view of Wellfleet harbor by sitting on the rooftop deck. This place, though not a dive by a long shot, appeared to have a real chance. A very comfortable place to watch the day go by. I ordered the fried clams from a waitress who was a seasoned pro. I waited for the food for a bit longer then normal, but the place just opened in May and I am sure they were still working out a few kinks in June. The clams looked great! With that said, I am sad to say they were overcooked and had the consistency of overcooked calamari. I will give this place another shot, but will leave the fried food to the pros at a clam shack. I was 0 for 2.
Next stop was P.J.’s Family Restaurant. A fixture on Route 6 for many years, it has walk-up service windows as well as inside seating. The atmosphere is pure cape, with a mixture of locals and visitors. Everyone feels welcome, as the Reeves family strives to make you feel like part of the family. I ordered a full-bellied clam roll and settled into a booth with my vanilla shake. It wasn’t long before my number was called. Again, the clams looked great – golden brown with just the right amount of batter. I ate the biggest one I could find and I knew at once I was no longer skunked! This was a fried clam to love: a batter that didn’t overpower the clam, and a clam that had the taste of the fresh Wellfleet harbor. I was in heaven, and my faith in Wellfleet fried clams was being restored in a diner filled with kids celebrating the last day of school.
Not willing to stop at only one winner, I headed on down the road the ubiquitous Moby Dick. This place has all the ambience of a tourist trap, but I have had many great fried meals sitting out on the covered porch. I walked up to the counter and gave my order to a person who was undoubtedly enjoying his first day on the job. I ordered a clam roll and an Arnold Palmer. This place is a bit classier than the typical shack, as they actually bring the plastic tray with your order right to your table! It wasn’t long before I was staring down another clam roll. I am glad to say that Moby’s didn’t let me down. A bit heavy on the batter, but the clams were perfectly done and had great body and taste. I was on a roll!
I headed back toward the town wharf and pulled in to Mac’s Shack. This establishment is in the site of the Olde Helpee Selfee Laundry, the site of many rainy day trips to the Laundromat. It is now an interesting seafood restaurant featuring very fresh fish and some pretty good sushi (so I am told). This is a great place to sit outside and watch the traffic crawl up Commercial Street. I ordered the fried clams and didn’t wait long for a plate full of great looking specimens. I have to admit I also ordered some steamers, as the fried food was starting to play tricks with me. These fried clams were a bit upscale. You know when you get a plate with parsley on it that you are not in a true dive. I chose to ignore the parsley and had some pretty fair fried clams. While the clams were full-bodied, for some reason, they lacked the taste I had enjoyed at P.J.’s and Moby’s. Maybe the grease wasn’t greasy enough. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the steamers much more then the fried clams at Mac’s
It was a great day on the outer cape as we enjoyed the fried clam challenge. I would have to rate P.J.’s number one on this particular day, followed by Moby Dick, Mac’s, Arnold's, and Pearl. It was great to see the dives still serving up great fried fruits from the sea. Next year I may try the clams at Bookstore, Catch of the Day, Beachcomber's, Winslow’s, Duckcreek Tavern, or some other Wellfleet haunt when I venture out on my food day at the cape."
Thanks, Steve. I will be sure to stop at P.J.'s on my next trip.
P.J.’s Family Restaurant, 2616 Route 6, Wellfleet, MA 02667, (508) 349-2126 11:00 AM – 10:00PM (April – October)