While Maine is known for it’s seafood, busy roadside restaurants may not be the best places to go for fried clams, lobster rolls or “chowdah”. But Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine is an exception to the rule. It’s been around since the late 50’s for a reason! We’re talking award-winning fried clams, lobster rolls, bisque, chowder and more served efficiently at a roadside seafood restaurant that’s made a commitment to the environment.
Best Seafood Roadside in Maine
When Bob’s Clam Hut was established roadside in 1956 along Route 1, there were no outlet shops and the area wasn’t nearly as busy as it is now. Bob’s was a seafood restaurant catering to the locals. But these days, there’s a line along the road just to get into the parking lot. Bob’s roadside seafood restaurant proudly displays its mission at various spots around the restaurant: “To wow our guests with consistently great food, and fast, friendly service in a casual and fun Maine setting.” That’s why it is the best roadside seafood in Kittery, Maine.
It’s All About Those Clams
Travelers and locals make the trip Bob’s Clam Hut to experience roadside seafood, made in the tradition of Mainer’s in the area.
Clams are perhaps the most popular items on the menu. Bob’s serves clams two different ways: done with a light flour coating (Bob’s way) or fried in a heavier batter (a la Lillian). If you want a bit of both, go “half and half.”
Some of Bob’s portions verge on the obscene—so be prepared to share with family and friends.
The staff at Bob’s explains the clams are delivered daily. “Specials” are all about the clams, known for being consistent in size and good quality.
Massive volumes of oil go through the “fryolator.” Since food is cooked to order, no need to worry that yours will have been sitting in grease. Recipes (including the tartar sauce) and various cook-to-order systems date back to when the restaurant was first established. Hey, if it ain’t broke…
More Seafood Roadside Options
Choose from plenty of other fried options on the menu, including haddock, scallops, and fries.
The lobster rolls are brimming over with lobster. Choose from various degrees of butter or mayo/dressing. If you’re watching your calories, you can actually do so (to a point). Fries and pickles accompany many of the meals. As advertised, the stews and chowders are chock-full of seafood and sizeable enough to make a full meal.
While waiting in line to place your order, a large menu brags plenty of choices for adults seeking seafood — and children who may not be quite as appreciative. The walls leading to the bathrooms (which are very clean!) are lined with memorabilia.
While reading the walls, entertain yourself with fun facts and articles about Bob’s Clam Hut, which has been featured in magazines and newspapers around the word. Fun Facts: Want to see what it would have cost you to dine at Bob’s back in 1958? Invoices and checks reveal a gallon of clams cost $7 back then! More than 3,300 gallons of clams are served per year—enough to fill about 78 standard bathtubs in the U.S More than 48,000 lobster rolls are sold per year.
Conscious About the Environment and Doing Good
While most things harken back to the good ol’ days, signs posted throughout Bob’s announce the shift towards a commitment to a sustainable environment. Paper plates are no more. Now reusable plastic is used for both plates and baskets. Cutlery is strong but compostable. Different bins for recyclables vs compostables are available. Signs remind customers to think twice before just dumping everything in the garbage.
If you’re wondering why the parking lot is just gravel after all these years, staff explain it helps protect the nearby creek from runoff that can harm its environment.
As you pick-up your meal, you have the choice of donating your tip to various causes chosen by kitchen staffers at the restaurant.
Roadside dining options include picnic tables and umbrellas which turn over fairly quickly. If you need more shade, a tent and trees cover a backyard area offering a break from the sun and traffoc out front.
Don’t Forget the Dessert
For those who crave their sweets for dessert, order Rococo Ice Cream (a favorite of the Kennebunkport set), available at a different window. With local flavors to choose from (Maine Whoopie Pie or Goat Cheese Blackberry Chambord anyone?). you’ll see why local ingredients are a part of its success. Need something simple? Soft serve in traditional chocolate, vanilla or twist are on hand. Whipped cream, nuts, dips, sprinkles, hot fudge and caramel are all additional options—no charge for the sprinkles.
For the Kids
A fun house mirror lets children glance at an odd version of themselves. A coloring book with crayons and a story are available. As the restaurant is right next to outlets, plenty of families use Bob’s as a break from the rigours of outlet shopping.
Inspiration and a Chowder Recipe
After eating at Bob’s, I was inspired to try my hand at a New England clam chowder, which turned out delicious, if I do say so myself. This recipe is adapted from Sam Sifton’s “The Best Clam Chowder” from The Chowder Wars in the New York Times. Thanks to Bob’s for the encouragement, and thanks to Mr. Sifton for a great recipe!
Recipe: New England Clam Chowder
- 24 medium clams (top neck or cherrystone), rinsed
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/4 pound slab bacon, diced
- 2 leeks, tops removed, halved and cleaned, then sliced into half moons (No leeks? Try Vidalia or sweet onions)
- 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed (Here I used 2 medium Yukon gold, and 2 red potatoes)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups cream
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 2 celery stalks (diced) (I added these. Although not in the original recipe, I’m used to having celery in my chowder)
- Oyster crackers (optional)
Cook the clams in a large Dutch oven, add about 4-5 cups of water and set on medium-high heat. Cover and cook until clams have opened, approximately 10-15 minutes. Discard clams that fail to open. Strain broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or doubled-up paper towels and set aside. Remove clams from shells and set aside as well.
Rinse out the pot and return it to the stove. Add butter and turn heat to medium-low. Add bacon and cook until the fat renders and pork has started to brown. (Approximately 5 to 7 minutes.) Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon from the fat and set aside.
Add the leeks (again, be sure they are cleaned well!) or onions and celery to the fat and cook, stirring frequently until they are soft, but not brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and wine.
Continue cooking until the wine has evaporated, and the potatoes have just started to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add enough clam broth to just cover the potatoes, approximately 3 cups, reserving the rest for another use. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Partly cover the pot and simmer gently until potatoes are tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the clams into bits about the size of the bacon dice.
When potatoes are tender, add cream and stir in chopped clams and reserved bacon. Add black pepper to taste. Let come to a simmer and remove from heat. (Don’t let chowder come to a full boil.)
Fish out the thyme and bay leaf and discard.
Let the chowder sit a while to cure. Reheat it to a bare simmer before serving and garnish with chopped parsley.
Serve with oyster crackers.
Where is your go to roadside seafood restaurant? What’s your favorite New England Clam Chowder Recipe?