This clam castle is in fact a clam shack, and we mean that in the nicest possible way. A breezy roadside eatery with a pleasant dining room adjacent to the order windows and picnic tables set back from Route One, it has been a significant shoreline source of fried clams and clam chowder for more than half a century.
The whole-belly fried clams are plump, juicy and sweet with vividly seasoned crust that is brittle but virtually melts on the tongue when you crunch into it. For those who like only a hint of clam flavor as part of the fried-food package, the Castle also offers clam strips. While not the bivalve connoisseur’s choice, these strips are in fact quite tasty … reminding us of the fried clams that originally helped make Howard Johnson’s famous.
There’s a full array of other fried seafood, as well as seafood salads, burgers and hot dogs for the fry-basket-frowner; but in our book there are two non-fried things that must be eaten. First, chowder: a brisk, oceany brew typical of the southern New England shoreline, bright with clam flavor and ballasted by the starchy goodness of potatoes. Second, the lobster roll! A striking Connecticut beauty, it is loaded with immense, butter-glistening pieces of meat, many of them two- or three-bite size (no shreds or stringy stuff here!) Barely holding them all is a split-top Yankee bun, so fresh and soft inside that it absorbs massive amounts of butter-lobster flavor and is impossible to stop eating even after the big hunks of lobster are gone. Its outside has been brushed with butter and grilled to a golden crisp.
The food is better than ever, and service has gone a bit upscale since the Clam Castle formally became Donahue’s Clam Castle a few years back. You still place your order and pay at the counter, but now a member of the waitstaff will bring it to you at the table. Everything is still presented on or in disposable dishware.