Have you ever attended a clambake? Do you like seafood? Do you enjoy having a plate full of crustaceans? Were you exposed to the succulent goodness of chowders, lobster, mussels, clams, crab cakes, shrimp, oysters and crab legs? If you answered, “No” then I offer my condolences because I love it all with a passion.
As a child, I recall the utter shock while observing my dad and his friends consume unimaginable amounts of clams. Of course, they needed to do the preparation of melted butter and homemade cocktail sauce before the feeding frenzy commenced. “How can people eat that disgusting stuff?” I asked myself. As a boy, I did enjoy lobster tails, haddock, and freshwater fish, but the thought of sucking down a clam or oyster turned my stomach. Then I grew up and my taste buds exploded with new found delights.
Not far from where I attended high school was Hinerwadel’s Clam Grove (http://hinerwadels.com). The Hinerwadel family had a stellar reputation in the community. They were locally famous, not only for the hedonistic clam bakes they threw from April until October but also for their salt potatoes. Syracuse was referred to as “Salt City” because of the salt springs (brine) located around Onondaga Lake which was also referred to as Salt Lake. The commercial salt production in the Syracuse area (http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2000/0139/report.pdf) started back in the 1700s. There is nothing that can compare to having a Hinerwadel salt potato (https://youtu.be/_8A6EsgwEHs). It is a local food that Syracusans treasure and refuse to give up. Participants pay one admission price and a typical clambake menu includes:
Raw, steamed and fried clams
Peel and eat shrimp
Hinerwadel’s salt potatoes
Corn on the cob
Hamburgers and hot dogs
Tossed, seafood, pasta, and macaroni salads
Chicken breasts, wings, and tenders
Barbecued beef and pork sandwiches
Italian sausage, pepper and onion sandwiches
Desserts include ice cream sundaes, brownies, cookies and strawberry shortcake
Beverages of draft beer, iced tea, lemonade, coffee, and soda are served nonstop throughout the length of the clambake
When I began my working career, the company I was employed by had a very active and involved employees association. The first Saturday in August was always reserved for the employee clam bake at Hinerwadel’s. Employees were given tickets at half price and allowed to bring one guest. It didn’t take long for this to turn into a father and son annual outing. Each year my dad would tell me to not drink too much because we had 364 other days in the year for that. Instead, this was a day for feasting. His other advice was to never drink hard liquor if I was going to eat clams because that would cause extreme nausea. Without hesitation, I never questioned his sage advice. Throughout the summer months, my dad would call me on a hot Saturday morning and ask, “Are you going to get the clams today or should I? If you get the clams I’ll bring the beer. If you don’t want to get them then I will and you pick up the beer.” The girls would be in the pool while dad and I ate clams, both raw and steamed and had a few cold brews together. Oh, how I long for those moments once again.
Even though I have Sirius radio in my vehicle, I seldom play it if my wife and I are on a long drive. After all these years together, we still enjoy our conversations with each other. One topic we endlessly spoke about on our trip to Myrtle Beach was the number of seafood buffets in that area. We were both salivating like Pavlov’s dogs in anticipation of gorging ourselves on the bounty of choices we would be presented with. I had mentioned to my wife how much I thoroughly enjoyed the seafood calabashes while on a previous business convention trip there. Yes, we were giddy with excitement because these dining experiences cannot be found in the northeastern states.
We knew we were quickly approaching our destination when both of us noticed that familiar, warm ocean haze that hangs in the skyline taunting the visitor with expectations of sand, surf, and warm waters. We checked into the hotel, took Dexter (our 15-year-old West Highland white terrier for a walk), unpacked our luggage for the extended stay, and then took a walk on the beach. It was gorgeous and then our stomachs started to growl with hunger pangs. So, after over 8 hours in the car we both found ourselves back in the vehicle again looking for a place to have dinner.
I enjoy reading reviews of various hotels, restaurants and attractions on TripAdvisor. I feel that is one site where people get to actually rate a place and then offer their own personal feedback that is public. As we drove by a few seafood buffets and I enthusiastically pointed out to my wife how few cars were in the parking lots. “See, TripAdvisor mentioned that place was overrated,” I would boast. Suddenly, in this far off land of novelty shops, souvenir stores, bars, and restaurants, we spotted our oasis. We were about to set anchor in a sea of deliciousness. You see, that tasteless bagel we had for breakfast was now, thankfully, only a faded memory.
We pulled off the main thoroughfare into the Giant Crab Seafood restaurant (http://giantcrab.com) with its distinctive crab, ship, and lighthouse facade. The lot was jammed with cars and my wife had a minor meltdown when she noticed a line outside the front door of the establishment. I suggested we see how long it would be before being seated. Lo and behold, the line of people was only those who wished to have their photos taken. We were immediately shown to our table and gluttony was soon to commence, especially considering they offer 170 items. I made it a point to avoid all salads and bread and immediately dove into steamed crab legs, crab cakes, mussels, oysters Rockefeller, stuffed flounder, shrimp, and clams. At one point, our waitress, sensing I was ready to explode, suggested I stand up and jump around in order to leave room for dessert. I obediently followed her advice and I swear the next day someone was approaching me with a harpoon while I was on the beach.
Thank you, Giant Crab for your contribution to my 5-pound weight gain from my summer extravaganza.
Written by Dennis L. Page