Sure, Maine is known around the world for its lobster. But no trip Down East to the majestic Maine coast is complete without a lunchtime stop at one of Maine’s iconic clam shacks. Nothing beats a picnic table above a scenic wharf, complete with a pile of fresh fried clams spilling off of a paper plate.
As you drive further and further Down East along the Maine coast, here are the five best clam shacks along the way.
There’s no need to wait long. The first stop on any tour of Maine’s best clam shacks starts just across the bridge from New Hampshire in the town of Kittery. New outlet stores open in Kittery seemingly every season, attracting hundreds of thousands of shoppers to this little Maine village each year. One thing that has remained constant through the decades, however, is Bob’s Clam Hut. Since 1956, the roadside stand nestled between a quiet marsh and bustling Route 1 has been serving delicious fried clams to generations of locals and visitors alike. Virtually unchanged as a walk-up, take-out stand for its first 30 years, Bob’s expanded in the 1990s to include a large heated dining room that allows it to remain open year-round. The menu may have expanded, and there may be more places to sit, but the fried clams are just as delicious as they were a half-century ago.
When The Clam Shack advertises itself as being “on the bridge” it isn’t kidding. Tucked up against the narrow bridge that crosses the river separating the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, The Clam Shack features delicious fresh clams, fried to a golden brown. Despite the name, they are also famous for their lobster roll which, unlike most Maine lobster rolls, is served with hot lobster and melted butter on a grilled hamburger bun. Everything on the menu here is well worth waiting in the ever-present line. Be warned, however – there are no tables. You’ll be eating your lunch standing up unless you can grab a spot on one of the wooden benches in the neighboring parking lot.
A short drive north of the center of the resort town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine is a neighborhood known as Pine Point. Here, The Clambake has evolved from a small walk-up clam shack to an expansive family-style restaurant. At one time, the menu consisted of just fried clams and clam cakes. Today it includes lobster, fish and other choices as well – plus a full bar. But the clams are still the attraction. Eat like a native and try the full-belly clams rather than the strips. You’re just a short walk from the beach – so you can work it all off with a long walk in the sand.
What better way to recover from the stress and strain of a long day of shopping than to relax with a plate of golden fried clams? Freeport is known around the world as the home of L.L. Bean, and the center of town features a seemingly endless number of little streets lined with shops and outlet stores. Not far away, along a waterfront many Freeport visitors never see, is the Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Company. This family-owned restaurant has been serving fresh seafood from its own fishing boats for over 40 years. Grab a picnic table under an awning above the docks and watch the boats unload their catch while you enjoy scrumptious fried clams prepared from a long-followed family recipe.
The town of New Harbor is perhaps the most picturesque in the state. Chances are, when you’ve seen a postcard of a small bay with lobster boats floating by a dock, you’ve been looking at a picture of New Harbor. This is the site where Paul Newman and Kevin Costner filmed the movie “Message in a Bottle.” Some of the scenes for the movie were filmed at the most popular restaurant in the neighborhood – Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf. The tender fried clams at this particular clam shack are unlike any you will find anywhere in Maine. Don’t ask what it is that makes them taste just a bit better than the others, though. It’s a secret recipe. Sitting on the wharf may tempt you to try a fresh lobster as well. Just pick your own from the salt water tanks and wait for them to steam it for you.