[Sidebar] June 4 - 11, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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Flo's Clam Shack

History has a way of making things right

by Johnette Rodriguez

4 Wave Ave., Middletown, 847-8141
Open Thurs-Sun, 11 a.m-8 p.m.
(The original Flo's in Island Park is currently open only on Fri, Sat, and Sun and serves only takeout)
No credit cards
Personal checks accepted
Sidewalk access

To judge by the fact sheet put out by Flo's Clam Shack, their history is intimately connected with hurricanes. In 1936, the owners moved a chicken coop to the beach at Island Park in Portsmouth and started offering fried clams and chowder. Destroyed in the Hurricane of '38.

A new building was moved in and two more buildings were added on. Demolished by Hurricane Bob in 1991; the tiny structure was rebuilt. And in a burst of optimism, a second location was opened in Middletown in 1992, in a building that survived the '38 hurricane. Judging by the add-on porches and upstairs bar, this Flo's is here to stay.

On a recent Thursday night, the joint was jumpin'. The parking lot (behind Flo's) was full. The takeout line was backing out the door. Upstairs, the raw bar was boisterous and diners relaxed on the deck, with a glorious view of Newport's Easton Beach.

Back downstairs, the inside order and pick-up windows moved like clockwork. Hungry people studied the menu, made decisions, and were given a small beach rock with a number on it. Patient people heard their number called and picked up their order (to eat in or take out). The helpful, efficient crew behind the windows kept their cool and packed up platters of clams and pints of chowder. And although their time estimate was way off (25 minutes instead of 10), it was well worth the wait.

A baker's half-dozen of the clamcakes ($2.25) proved to be more than a friend and I could resist on the drive home to South County. By the time we got there, my husband, Bill, was left with just a taste. It must be a tradition in Rhode Island to drop in approximately a half a clam piece per cake, so the clam aspect was the juice in the batter. Nonetheless, they were the lightest, non-greasy cakes I'd had in a long time.

As for the clams themselves, we had more than we could cope with when we opened the takeout platter ($10.95 with French fries and a tangy pasta salad). They were the most tender, sweet, and huge whole clams I'd eaten in many a summer. Just dusted with batter -- not glommed up with it, as so often happens -- these fried clams maintained the integrity of the clam itself. Similarly, the cod in the fish and chips ($6.95) was lightly battered, not greasy, and very tasty.

The chowder we chose was the Rhode Island variety, with a clear broth. It was very traditional, with diced potatoes, onions, and clams in a broth that carried primarily salt and pepper as its spices. Still, it was good-to-the-last-drop good.

Posted on the wall is a recipe for baked fish chowder, which sounds like a winner and is available come summer -- onions, potatoes, and green peppers baked until tender and then topped by cod, sole, or haddock and baked a bit more.

On the menu, the fried clams are joined by fried campeche shrimp, clam strips, scallops, calamari, and Chesapeake oysters on the seafood platter side (which also includes a "no-nonsense lobsta roll -- all lobster meat, mayo on the side"). And there are combos as well, such as one offering chowder, clamcakes, and beer for $3.95 and another suggesting two "gourmet" hot dogs and a bottle of Moet for $50!

These clam-shack items, all available at the original Flo's, have been augmented by the raw bar and baked and sautéed seafood dishes at the Middletown restaurant. Baked scrod, salmon, swordfish, or "candied scallops" range from $8.50 to $10.95. And these dinners are served with salad and a choice of wild rice or oven-roasted potatoes.

There are testimonials galore on the walls of Flo's, along with a smiling clam on the sliding door. Create your own testimonial. Grab dinner at Flo's, go for a walk on the beach afterwards, and I guarantee you'll be as happy as the proverbial mollusk!

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