Q: We are new in town and my mom is visiting to help us move. She loves clam strips. Can you point me to Charleston’s best fried clams?
A: For such a well-intentioned question, this sure caused a stir on the Food section’s Facebook page. As I understand it, the writer was trying to express her gratitude in a way her mother would appreciate. I highly doubt it was her aim to offend Northerners and Southerners alike.
But a contingent of longer-term Charlestonians suggested the correspondent switch her focus to oysters, pointing out that clam strips are “not what Charleston food is about.” New England transplants chimed in to add, “Clam strips aren’t clams!” (As David Leite wrote in The New York Times, clams are to New England as “barbecue is to the South.” Takes run hot.)
Clam strips are clams but not the kind that are generally preferred in places where beans are baked and pie shells filled with blueberries. According to New England Today, the vast majority of its readers will only eat the whole bellies of soft-shell clams. But clam strips, cut from the foot of hard-shelled Atlantic surf clams, are better known beyond the coast because clam strip inventor Tom Soffron in the 1940s teamed up with fellow entrepreneur Howard Johnson. Clam strips were a road trip favorite for decades.
South Carolina has plenty of clams and they’re delicious, whether baked at Rappahannock Oyster Bar, steamed at Wild Olive or served raw at The Ordinary, to name just a few places where representatives of the local delegation turn up regularly. But the state doesn’t have a homegrown version of traditional strips because the Atlantic surf clam doesn’t venture south of Cape Hatteras.
Still, the writer’s plan isn’t sunk because a number of Charleston area restaurants bring in strips to batter. There are strips on the menus at See Wee Restaurant, The Darling Oyster Bar (which throws in cabbage, carrots and avocado mayonnaise with its appetizer portion), Blossom, Hyman’s Seafood and Nick’s Gyros and Phillies, a very popular South Carolina fast food chain with two North Charleston locations.
Since I haven’t tried clam strips anywhere in the area, I have no idea where the strips are best. But based on general frying aptitude, I might be inclined to try the clam strips at Marina Variety Store. For $6.99, you can buy a plate of “super-sized” strips with marinara sauce.
That said, if your mother isn’t wedded to the kind of clam strips she eats at home, she might like the $5 crispy clam wrap at Leon’s, perhaps with a platter of oysters to start. But it’s her call, of course. I hope she enjoys her stay.