Thursday, August 14, 2008

Happy as a Clam

I am, but not because we ate here.

Let me back up. We went to the beach today, as is our wont on 100+-degree days. Today, by some twist of full moon Twilight Zone disturbia, it took us about three hours to make the 80 mile drive to Seaside, or the "Coney Island of the Oregon Coast", as I like to call it. When we crested the bluffs that overlook the mouth of the mighty Columbia and crossed Youngs Bay to make our way south from Astoria, we were met with cold, gray fog. Uncharacteristically optimistic, I mused that it was suddenly perfect weather for clam chowder. And clam chowder we sought.

But not before I got my sweet tooth on.

Decisions, decisions. I settled for some flavor called Moose..something. Moosefoot?

Ooh, it was so good and drippy and fudgy! Not the least bit moosy.

This store also boasts the largest selection of specialty sodas in the Universe, for better or worse. I love root beer ever so much, but many of these ones were too sweet and lacked the crisp sassafras bite. Did you know that while the root of Sassafras spp. is used for flavoring the beverage (hence, "root" beer), the ground, dried leaves are used to make filé, which is used as an alternative to roux for thickening gumbo.

Candy apples and chocolate-covered twinkies. Is there any better anti-depressant? This kid was so cute, pink cheeked and eager to please. He gave me a free sample of rocky road fudge (my favorite) after I asked if I could photograph him for my blog. If I were 15 years younger I would have such a huge crush on him. Teenagers having summer jobs in candy stores is a good vibe.

The friendly beach town is also the source of many nightmares. Creepy/unintentionally hilarious window displays are pretty much par for the course. The richly-embroidered hats were for sale in the Freedom Sportswear store. This store also had giant, fluorescent yellow sweatshirts that said the oddly specific "Seaside, OR Summer 2008", or just had a silk-screened image of the holy crucifix. Flo yellow is not Jesus' color. He's more of an autumn, really.

Anyways, so we did end up getting some chowder and crab cakes at the Happy Clam.

After tasting samples of the clam and seafood chowders, I opted for the tangier seafood chowder, which included bay shrimp, chopped scallops and cod, in addition to clams (not sure if they were razor or littleneck). The waitress insisted there was no cheese in the soup, but there was definitely something about this chowder. Beer? Mustard powder? It tasted like a good cheddar and beer soup with seafood. The clam chowder was passable - nothing wrong with it, but not stellar.

This photo is a testament to the power of a well-composed shot. Not that I'm bragging. But this this is a handsome-looking plate of food, right? You're drooling a little, I can see it from here. Unfortunately, looks are all it has going for it. The "crab cakes" were a complete travesty, a bastardization of a perfect food, and a disrespect to my Cancer brethren. The insult was that crab had been overworked and diluted with far too much breading. The injury was that the cakes were left for dead in a deep fryer until they turned to leaden pucks of MDF.

The food was really the least of the Happy Clam's worries, though. When you come in, you first notice that the only people here are the two staff and one very young woman (probably the daughter of the waitress?) with her infant in a stroller. The walls are mostly bare, except for some sad-looking paint-by-numbers of broken boats and moorage, a neon Pabst sign and some fake houseplants. There are flies smacking into each other and the window. You just get the sense that this place is poor.

It did, however, provide us with a seat, a view, a beer and some chowder, without having to wait for a table. If you're interested, their menu's (sic) are available at their unsurprisingly design-challenged website, which actually does a much better job of summarizing the Happy Clam experience than any snarky blog post from an uppity city bitch .

The Happy Clam
21 N. Columbia
Seaside, OR


Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

Great writing Heather! You've certainly captured the "vibe" of this place in your usual "voodoolily" style. Oh! those mannequins are creepy and your choice of colours for Jesus are too funny. I agree the last shot is really well composed with great backlighting...shame about the taste though...cheers and thanks for a fun read!

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

Don't you just hate places like that? Living in FL we see places like this all the time and it irks the shit out of me. Why even bother if you are going to serve crappy food?

Our theory is if you have an ocean view you figure you don't have to try hard. The people will come for the view (never come back again but so what). Now if you have no view you have nothing to fall back on. Your food had better be good!

Manggy said...

No joke, when you opened the post I thought you were going to show us the horrors of clam ice cream. Hey, it exists (at least in Japan)! I dunno if it tastes good, though. Maybe you would prefer it to the crab cakes? I feel a little sad for the restaurant :( Well, at least their namesake is... Passable. Sigh

I love the children of the corn window display. It's just so appealing, I have no idea what they were thinking.

I love that your would-be crush has a Pac-Man ghosts T-shirt underneath the apron!

Syd said...

Mushy crab and too much breading is quite a sin in my book.

Wow. "Happy Clam" and not a single pussy joke.

peter said...

I know, I was thinking the same thing. The MDF crack is pretty funny; I work with it all the time and it's one of the least appetizing substances I know.

Nothing says "crab cake" like a delicate topnote of formaldehyde.

Laura Paterson said...

Ha ha ha - bloody funny stuff... I'd go for the sweeties, but skip the chowder. You do realise you've just made that kid famous, and he'll probably get laid now?

Re. the link... I was clicking close by the time I got as far as the Menu's button...

glamah16 said...

Beingfrom Maryland orginally, and therefore a Princess of Crabs( that sounds gross)I could tell at first look that was nothing but breading. I actually though it was a veggie buregr. The whole day trip sounds idyllic. Yes it is good to see teenagers in wholesome jobs.

Lo said...

Another tale, well told!

A cheddar beer seafood chowder sounds a lot like something they'd serve over here in my neck of the woods! You sure you were on the Oregon coast? :)

Heather said...

Petah - You are the king of backlit foods, but yours actually tastes as good as it looks, I bet. ;)

Judy - I think I joked that it felt like we were on the Jersey shore, even though I've never been there.

Mark - I feel sad for the folks at Happy Clam, too. It was like being in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.

Syd - The Happy Clam - now 90% less bearded! That's all I got.

Jube - I just don't know how much anger one has to work out to ruin a crab cake like that.

Kittie - That kid was Seth Cohen. I'm sure he doesn't need my help getting tail.

Court - I thought they looked like falafel, but I'll also accept veggie burgers.

Lo - I'm pretty sure it had to be the Oregon coast - the 60 degree fog (when it's 100 degrees in Portland) was the dead giveaway.

Norm Schoen said...

The website really does sum up the experience. It reminds me (sadly) of the area where I grew up (SW Idaho, Eastern Oregon). Remember in these restaurants, quantity trumps quality every time.

Emily said...

Heh heh, princess of crabs.

Great review! I want some of that Moose ice cream.

The dolls are reallllly creepy.


Those were crab cakes? I thought they were sausage patties. Maybe from the Pig & Pancake? :)

I knew you were in Seaside (just by the pics!) before I even read the post. So funny. Seaside is what it is. Total cheese. I have fond memories of that place as a teenager -- my friend's Dad had a beach house there and her mom would take us down on weekends in the summer and we'd go hang out on the strip looking for cute boys. Total white trash teenage activity. Ah, good times.

Anonymous said...

Man, picture perfect words. As I was reading I was all, 'damn I don't get to the charming little coast towns often enough, I should go to seaside next weekend.' then the candy store part came up and i'm all 'the tasty foods you can only find at the beach, of the romance!' And then it came down to the crab cake description and I'm all 'Oooohhh yeah, it's never as good as you remember is it?' So, thanks for reminding me that I don't leave town enough. Thanks for stirring up nostalgic feelings for simple low brow foods. And thanks for crushing the romance of it all by reminding me that it's probably gonna suck. Thing is though, it's always the the memories of those things that are great, so maybe it's worth passing a hockey puck or two to have them. What do you think?


Leigh said...

This is like Willy Wonka, but with foos. "Come with me...and you'll a world of pure imagination...!!"

Brittany said...

The clam joint looks a little frightening, but sounds like a fun day!

Moose ice cream and disturbing dolls. I'm there.

Thistlemoon said...

What a great article! I love your travel posts - they are always so entertaining to read! Great job!

Nikki @ NikSnacks said...

Those fries looked alright...
I seriously thought you'd ordered a hamburger steak at that place.