Fall’s arrival means that it’s officially clambake season in Cleveland—at restaurants, at special events, and in friends’ backyards. The photo to the left is from the Willoughby Elks’ Annual Clambake a few years ago. I missed their clambake this year, because I was out of town. It’s always a good meal.
An Ohio clambake is a little different than a typical New England Clambake. An Ohio clambake steams everything together in one big pot, and the clams are not local—they are shipped in from the east coast. A typical clambake usually includes a dozen clams, perhaps a half-chicken or steak or lobster, ears of corn, and white, red or sweet potatoes. Served with clam chowder and/or clam broth, fresh rolls slathered with butter and a side of creamy coleslaw. My best friend from high school and her family used to put one on every year. You can read more about clambakes and hers in particular in one of my first blog posts from 2009 here.
If I ever get married, I will be married in October and have a clambake for the reception or rehearsal dinner. Clambakes are just a great time to get together. You can go to a restaurant for a clambake or put together your own. Some restaurants serve clambakes every Friday and Saturday night in October, some have a clambake on one specific day, and some only serve it one weekend night through the month.
This season I treated myself to two special clambakes in restaurants, and a friend had me over for a clambake she purchased from SweetBerry Fresh Market in Wickcliffe. You need to preorder them. The SweetBerry clambake was $14.99 per person and included a dozen clams, 1/2 a chicken, a huge sweet potato, an ear of corn, cole slaw and a dinner roll. You can also order 100 medium-neck clams for $49. She did not boil everything together, but instead prepared everything separately in her kitchen. I’m not usually a fan of chicken with a clambake, but I tore into the white meal of the chicken and loved every bite. I shared some of my dark meat with my dog. I managed to eat everything but the sweet potato, and she had made a pear cake for dessert. We sat around the table and caught up. It was a nice way to spend a Friday evening.
I chose The Lobster Pot in Willoughby Hills for my first clambake of the season in a restaurant. I was craving seafood and headed up there on a Friday night. It was later in the evening (just past the dinner hour rush), but I still had to wait about ten minutes for a table. I upgraded my $25 clambake to add a whole lobster for another $25. The clambake came with a cup of chowder (which was a little too heavy with the flavor of celery but still tasty), a dozen clams, red skin potatoes, an ear of corn, and cole slaw. I paired it with a nice chardonnay and enjoyed the entire meal very much. The lobster was awesome. They precracked it in several spots to make it easier to eat, but I did use the provided cracker as well on a couple of the joints. Even though the red skin potatoes were simple they were delicious and hit the spot. I only had one clam that didn’t open. The corn was perfectly cooked, and the cole slaw was creamy and only needed a dash of pepper to make it perfect. It definitely hit the spot.
I treated myself to a clambake at Sokolowski’s, which is the one I recommend, last Saturday. Sokolowski’s serves their clambake every Saturday in October and do not advertise it on their social media. They don’t have to. I got there at 5:15 and the line was out the back door and into the parking lot. We stood in line for a little over an hour and slowly made our way through the restaurant. I witnessed one old couple make their way through the restaurant and jump to the front of the line. Don’t be that person—even if you have reserved a clambake (which Sokolowski’s recommends) you still have to stand in line with the rest of the plebians. There were a lot of delicious choices being offered that night – including grilled red snapper, mussels in a cream sauce, grilled trout, battered cod or perch as well as the usual kielbasa, meatloaf, chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. I decided if they were out of clambakes by the time I reached the steam pans I would get a dozen clams, a bowl of clam chowder and a kielbasa dinner to go (so I could eat the side salad there). Luckily they still had clambakes by the time I ordered at around 6:30.
I obviously quickly ordered the clambake ($40) and chose the 12 oz NY strip steak instead of the 1/2 chicken, candied yams instead of red skin potatoes, and sweet corn instead of green beans. The clambake also apparently came with garlic toast (but I never was offered that and grabbed a dinner roll instead) and a slice of pumpkin or apple pie for dessert. I chose a Fat Heads Bumble Berry Ale to top it off. I started with the clams, because they get cold quickly. I dipped the tender clams in the melted butter and didn’t have a single closed clam indicating a bad one. The clam chowder is the best clam chowder I have ever eaten – with chunks of chopped clam that are clearly not from a can, perfectly cooked red skin potatoes and lots and lots of delicious flavor. I managed to eat half of the steak, yams and ear of corn. I even loved the clam broth here, which I normally don’t bother with. Once stuffed, I got a box for the steak, yams and corn, grabbed my pumpkin pie (which was wrapped on a plastic plate I could just bring home with me) and headed home, looking forward to lunch or dinner the next day.
I won’t be in town for the last clambake weekend of the season, but I think I did the season justice. I wanted to post this in case one of you wanted to grab a clambake before the season ends.
SweetBerry Fresh Market
30022 Euclid Avenue
Wickliffe, OH 44092
The Lobster Pot
2749 SOM Center Road
Willoughby Hills, OH 44094
Sokolowski’s University Inn
1201 University Road
Cleveland, OH 44113