Bar Harbor Restaurants: On the Quest for the Best New England Clam Chowder

chowder and lemonadeIf you’re in New York ordering clam chowder, you’re thinking Manhattan red versus New England white. But if you’re in Maine, believe it or not, the dichotomy can be even more extreme.

(You have to find the real thing. And, in my opinion, the success of the clam chowder is almost as important as the lobster roll when I’m visiting a local lobster pound.)

It’s all about the flour.

In New York – and even in Maine – people break Maine’s cardinal rule of great New England chowder: no flour. The so-thick-it-stands-up-to-a-spoon stuff is not the real thing in Maine. Instead, Mainers count on thickening the “chowdah” with the starch of the potatoes. Evaporated milk adds a creaminess. And the flavor deepens by sitting in the pot for a day or so.

Another key element of a great New England clam chowder is the salt pork. My mother always used salt pork in both corn and clam chowders (as well as string beans). Although she was from Massachusetts, her roots were French-American (Bellevue), a heritage which she shared with many Mainers. Some of the really good Maine cooks (I like Martha Greenlaw’s recipes a lot) substitute bacon for salt pork in clam chowder.

So, there we have it: bacon or salt pork, along with onion, for base flavor, potatoes and evaporated milk for the creaminess, butter, pepper – and the fish! The fish?

Last week on Mount Desert Island – we were hiking, biking, and kayaking in Acadia — I had chowder with clams, haddock, lobster, and scallops. Somehow mussels were out of this particular cycle. Here’s some of the best we tasted.

Jordan Pond House (Park Loop Road, Seal Harbor, 207-276-3316) has both a lobster stew and a seafood chowder that features scallops, shrimp, haddock and potatoes in a creamy – but not flour-thickened! – broth. Big plus: it’s served with their popovers.

Thurston’s (1 Thurston Road, Bernard, 207-244-7600), our favorite lobster pound for dinner, rotates from scallop to haddock to mussel chowder, but all are aged at least a day.  You believe it when you taste it.

Down East Lobster Pound (1192 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton, 207-667-8589) is the sleeper here. We were amazed at the amount of clams and haddock in their chowders. Ounce for ounce, there’s more fish here. And the buttery, milkly flavor is wonderful.

For more information and opinion on eating, exploring, and relaxing on a visit to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA. There’s a long list of restaurant reviews, as well as itineraries, tips for kids, and ideas on what to do on a rainy day.

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