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Woodman's of Essex

121 Main St, Essex, MA - (978) 768-6451
Posted By Michael Stern on 4/18/2014 6:37:00 AM
Woodman's claims to be the place where the fried clam was invented -- on July 3, 1916, when Lawrence Woodman tried to drum up business by tossing clams into the deep fryer along with the Saratoga chips he was selling at his clam bar. Who knows if the story is true? Who cares? The fact is that Woodman's is today the Big Kahuna of North Shore clam shacks.

Overlooking a scenic marsh in the heart of the clam belt, where towns have seafaring names like Ipswich and Little Neck, Woodman's defines a whole style of informal Yankee gastronomy. They call it "eat in the rough" around here, which means you stand at a counter, yell your order through the commotion, then wait for your number to be called. The food is served on cardboard plates with plastic forks. Carry it yourself to a table … and pray that you can find a table that is not occupied. In the summer especially, Woodman’s can be insanely crowded.

If your experience eating fried seafood means a vaguely ocean-flavored morsel of food inside a thick gob of breading, Woodman’s clams (and all its fried shellfish) will be a total shock. The crust on a Woodman’s clam is lush and crunchy, but it exists only to play harmony to the sweet, soft lode of bivalvular goodness it contains. Although Woodman’s clams are available by the pint, or on a bun (known as a clam roll), the preferred way to enjoy them is as a platter, which means accompanied by both French fries and onion rings. It’s a deep-fried pig-out beyond any nutritional law or reason!

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
onion rings
Fried Clams
lobster
clam fritters
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Clams are Woodman's claim to fame, but the lobsters are mighty pretty, too.
"Clams are Woodman's claim to fame, but the lobsters are mighty pretty, too."
Michael Stern





Clam cakes, aka clam fritters have a red-gold crust that is wicked-good. The interior is dense and moist and laced with enough pieces of clam to give every bite a sweet-savory harmony.
"Clam cakes, aka clam fritters have a red-gold crust that is wicked-good. The interior is dense and moist and laced with enough pieces of clam to give every bite a sweet-savory harmony. "
Michael Stern


Woodman's fried clams are among the best anywhere.
"Woodman's fried clams are among the best anywhere."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


Woodman's is as much a lobster house as a clam shack.  There's a steamer going behind the iced lobsters.
"Woodman's is as much a lobster house as a clam shack. There's a steamer going behind the iced lobsters."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


Place your order at one counter, and pick your order up at another.  Part of the fun of Woodman's is the action and hustle-bustle - it can look very confusing, but somehow it all works.
"Place your order at one counter, and pick your order up at another. Part of the fun of Woodman's is the action and hustle-bustle - it can look very confusing, but somehow it all works."
Bruce Bilmes and Susan Boyle


At Woodman's order window, you decide what size clam box you want filled; a sign also informs you how the whole-belly clams are running.
"At Woodman's order window, you decide what size clam box you want filled; a sign also informs you how the whole-belly clams are running."
Michael Stern


Woodman's no-frills dining room
"Woodman's no-frills dining room"
Michael Stern


When the Roadfood New England Tour arrived, we got the upstairs raw bar dining room all to ourselves. But most of the time, at lunch or dinner hour, seats both inside Woodman's and outside under the tent are scarce indeed.
"When the Roadfood New England Tour arrived, we got the upstairs raw bar dining room all to ourselves. But most of the time, at lunch or dinner hour, seats both inside Woodman's and outside under the tent are scarce indeed."
Michael Stern


According to Woodman's history of the world, the fried clam was invented over an Independence Day weekend.  On Cape Ann, it truly is a patriotic food.
"According to Woodman's history of the world, the fried clam was invented over an Independence Day weekend. On Cape Ann, it truly is a patriotic food."
Michael Stern


As evening falls, customers gather around the front of Woodman's to admire the big, cooked lobsters on display.
"As evening falls, customers gather around the front of Woodman's to admire the big, cooked lobsters on display."
Michael Stern


This large clam shell sign outside Woodman's is a reminder that the fried clam was invented here on July 3, 1916 … or so the story goes.
"This large clam shell sign outside Woodman's is a reminder that the fried clam was invented here on July 3, 1916 … or so the story goes."
Michael Stern



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