The Fisherman's Platter from The Clam Bake Restaurant in south Fort Myers. / Special to news-press.com
The lobster roll from The Clam Bake Restaurant in south Fort Myers. / Special to The News-Press
The Clam Bake Restaurant
16520 S. Tamiami Trail, south Fort Myers
• Price: $$-$$$$
• Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
• Call: 482-1930
• Noise level: Moderate
• Web: clambakefortmyers.com
• Etc.: Full bar, limited wine list, takeout available, recommended desserts include the pineapple upside-down cake and strawberry-rhubarb pie.
SAMPLE OF THE MENU
• Stuffed quahog, $4.99
• Lobster bisque, cup, $5.99
• New England steamers, ½ pound, $9.99
• Lobster roll, $15.99
• Fried oysters, $17.99
• Fisherman’s platter, $24.99
• Rib-eye, $24.99
View Clam Bake Restaurant in a larger map
Mark and Laurie Thomas reopened their restaurant, The Clam Bake, in a larger space in south Fort Myers with a full bar. / The News-Press file photo
The plate is a deep-fried sea of beige, and yet it sets your pulse atwitter.
Fat scallops and tight curls of shrimp, a rectangle of flaky cod and, scattered over top, those whole-belly Ipswich clams; the plump ones with the crisp, thin-batter shells surrounding sweetly briny bites of the North Atlantic.
The Fisherman’s Platter at The Clam Bake ought to be eaten after a day hauling up lobster traps from the muddy ocean floor. It’s a reward for long hours of backbreaking work. Or a splurge after a hard day at the office slapping at keyboards and slaying emails.
That you can savor such New England specialties here in humid south Fort Myers is a testament to Clam Bake’s nine-year owners Laurie and Mark Thomas. They are the Rhode Island natives determined to serve the authentic foods of their homeland; the ones who struck a culinary chord with Northeastern expats drooling for tastes of home.
Those loyal Clam Bake regulars would wait an hour or more for a coveted spot in the restaurant’s once-tiny dining room. Laurie and Mark needed more space, so when a 150-seat restaurant came available a few doors over in the same Island Park Shopping Center, they jumped on it.
The new Clam Bake debuted in May. It feels less like a roadside diner and more like a proper restaurant, one where you can sip a dry martini at the brick and copper-lined bar before being escorted to a comfortable booth.
Meals should still start with a stuffed qhahog, the fist-sized half-shell jammed with bits of clam, savory bread crumbs and spicy flecks of chorizo if you so choose to add it (and you should). And meals should still continue with a creamy cup of clam chowder, no matter how wrong it may seem on a 90-degree night.
There is seafood gumbo in a savory, umber-colored broth. And hearty New England steamers, their mud-sifting siphons making for convenient handles when dipping the bodies into melted butter.
One of the perks of a larger kitchen is a larger menu. I don’t remember spinach and artichoke dip being offered at the old Clam Bake, though the simple, bubbly crock can seem a bit yawn-y amid so much good seafood. And I certainly don’t recall a pork loin as juicy and thick as the gravy-soaked version I tore into the other night.
Whole lobsters remain on the menu, as does the classic lobster roll, the toasted top-split bun (never to be confused for a hot dog bun) piled with fresh lobster meat bound by a subtle dab of mayo. It’s beauty in simplicity, in the daring it takes to let that lobster stand sweetly on its own.
A crab cake, soggy and plain, is disappointing by comparison; a rare misstep.
And service in the new, larger space is a work in progress. Waiters come off as overeager, popping in early and often to see if you’re ready to order when menus have barely been cracked. That’s fine in a diner, where getting in and out quickly is the priority.
But this new setting deserves to be savored, whether you’re a lobsterman or not.
Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).