Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chowder Day In Bodega Bay, One Taster's Experience

Hi everyone! I’m Kathlene’s daughter and I’ll be doing a guest post today. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of management (ie: my mom) but she DID raise me for 21 years so I suppose she can’t be free from ALL blame.

Last weekend my mom and I had the fun of taking part in Bodega Bay’s famous Chowder Day, where local restaurants give out free samples of their clam chowder, and we the public vote on who we think has the best. Let’s do a blow by blow of each one!

Map of participating restaurants

The Sandpiper
Most Bodega Bay residents are familiar with the tragic tale of the Sandpiper. After more than fifty years as one of the town’s most beloved restaurants, the Sandpiper’s corporate landlords forced them to pack up and move to a new location up the hill. The whole thing was very sad- you kind of expected Jimmy Stewart to show up and deliver an impassioned speech, melting the heart of a bitter old judge who didn’t believe in Santa Claus, and forcing him to overturn the eviction. Unfortunately, despite more than 6,000 signatures and an overwhelming amount of community support, the Sandpiper was still forced to move.

Their new location (which is actually the old location for Claudio’s Trattoria, another fantastic restaurant) seems to be working out pretty well, however. The place was hopping by the time we arrived. As mom and I walked up to the door, I smiled and waved at an elderly couple that were leaving. They scowled and let the door slam in my face. Thanks, elderly couple! Now the entire internet knows what you did.

My mood improved a lot by the time we made it inside. The employees were warm, friendly, and bearing cups of clam chowder! Yummy! The soup itself was herby and thick with vegetables. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I thought it was fantastic!

The owner was nice enough to answer all of our questions about the chowder and the new restaurant location. I wished I had the guts to ask for another sample, but I chickened out. Overall, the service was lovely, and the chowder was great. I highly recommend it.

Terrapin Creek Café
By the time we made it to the Terrapin Creek Café, there was a line out into the parking lot. A handwritten sign told Chowder Day visitors to park along the street, probably as a courtesy to the nearby shops.

I was saving a place in line as mama parked the car, when all of a sudden an elderly couple (different one than before) wearing matching Costco parkas just shoved right in front of me, stealing my spot. I wanted to tap them on the shoulder and ask, “Excuse me, is this Chowder Day or Rude Old People Day? Because I’m here for some soup, not sass,” but by this point mom was walking up and I thought better of it.

The soup itself was, well, orange! Mom asked if it was New England or Manhattan, and the man who served it to us insisted that it was New England, despite the fact that it was reddish-orange. Now, I’m not usually a fan of spicy foods, but this chowder was fantastic. I found it EXTREMELY spicy, and many patrons were completely stumped while trying to figure out exactly what was in it. The general consensus was that it included garlic and wine. Honestly, I’d be more inclined to call it a gourmet stew than a soup. Even though the spice was almost too much for me, I’m definitely coming back on another night to try a whole bowl.

As we were leaving, a group of teenagers walked by holding some clam chowder ballots. I overheard one of them say, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we just wrote down that all of them suck?” Yeah, that’d be hilaaaarious! Wouldn’t it be even FUNNIER if I splashed piping hot spicy clam chowder right in your face? Teenagers these days!

Spud Point Crab Company
It’s really, really, really hard to compete with the Spud Point Crab Company. Their chowder is unlike any other kind in the world- it’s more of a garlic chowder than a clam chowder, honestly. After I had my first bowl, shortly after moving to Bodega Bay, it was a long time before I could order clam chowder anywhere else.

Mom and I parked up the street. I heard her say, “Uh oh, compact? This isn’t a compact car,” followed by a loud crash, which was more funny than scary. While walking to the restaurant, we heard an even louder crash as another car made the same mistake we did. Oops!

Spud Point is a family-run operation, and they all appeared to be there. An adorable and unforgettable addition to the usual crew was a little girl wearing a giant hat that looked like a cartoon crab. Fabulous!

Tony Anello, co-owner, was there overseeing the operation. We went up with our little cups of soup and told him what big fans we were- he was very gracious and kind.

The Boathouse
I’m sorry to admit that I had never been to The Boathouse before. They definitely came in first place for presentation- each sample of clam chowder came garnished with paprika in a little dish along with some crackers, bright red napkins and a real spoon. A lot of care and planning seemed to go into their setup; there was even a big gazebo-style tent outside.

The clam chowder itself wasn’t the best. It really bums me out to have to say that, but it’s true. However, The Boathouse isn’t known for its clam chowder. What it IS known for, however, are its fish & chips.

Mama let it slip in the car that she hadn’t had fish & chips since she was a little kid. After sampling the chowder, she and I went inside and ordered some up to share. I took one bite and…OH MY GOD! It was SO good. Like, soooo good! Hands-down the best fish and chips I’d ever had in my life. And their FRIES were fantastic too.

So, I highly recommend going to The Boathouse for lunch or dinner or the next time you get a chance. You may not be particularly enthused by the clam chowder, but boy oh boy you will just LOVE the fish & chips.

Island Style Deli
A few months ago, my mom made an offhand remark in reply to one of the comments on this site expressing her concern that the Island Style Deli seemed, well, out of style for Bodega Bay. Hawaiian food is very tropical, and this is a cool coastal fishing town. It just seemed kind of out of place. Well, she has since received a number of letters totally ragging on the post, defending the Island Style Deli with the fire of a thousand suns.

Let me just say this. Bodega Bay has a lot of awesome restaurants, but they essentially serve the same sorts of food. Seafood, burgers, and chicken/steak/generic restaurant fare. That’s fine though, as they all do it differently and with a particular flare unique to the restaurant itself.

I think it’s nice to have some variety, and that’s all I will say on THAT topic before we get flooded with another 50,000 e-mails about it.

The Island Style Deli’s clam chowder was pretty herby, although in a completely different way than the Sandpiper’s. It was almost sort of exotic. I liked it a lot, and they included a coupon for two FREE cups of chowder with purchase of two lunches or dinners for future visits which I thought was very nice!

The Tides

I saw a guy who looked just like Truman Capote at The Tides while waiting for my sample. As much as I love The Tides, it’s totally depressing to stare at a tank full of live crabs, staring back at you with tiny, sad eyes as you order food. Kind of put a damper on my chowder experience!

Tides’ chowder is super rich and creamy. Unfortunately, I dropped my cup on the pavement shortly after leaving the building. This was a total bummer since I was really enjoying it! I didn’t remember The Tides having such good chowder- maybe they have a new recipe now? Mom insists it’s the same and she loves it, hmm . . . Either way, it was awesome while it lasted, and I apologize to the janitor who had to clean up my spilled soup.

Bluewater Bistro
We just love the Bluewater Bistro. Their chowder was especially unique in that it had salmon as well as clams and the usual clam chowder fare like potatoes, celery etc. It may even be tied with Spud Point Crab Co. as my favorite for this year!

The Bluewater Bistro has a whole new menu that I encourage you to check out. The brand new pizza oven that never seemed to get used (only available upstairs in the bar and only on some nights? Whaaaat?) finally gets to shine on the regular menu! You can order the pizzas to go now, too, so I expect to gain 5-10 lbs in the coming weeks. Yay!

The votes are in, and the official winners are as follows: For the 6th year in a row, Spud Point came in first, with the Tides a very close second, and Bluewater Bistro not far behind. The other four restaurants came within a few votes of each other.

All in all, mom and I had a blast at Chowder Day! Good job everyone!


Dana said...

Laurel, you are hilarious. I loved the rude old people and teenagers and really must come out to try the Island Deli :)

Kathlene said...

Isn't she a crack-up? She notices so much that I'm oblivious to. I'm glad she loved all the chowders, we had a ball!

Anonymous said...

Sorry I missed it this year. Laurel, you did a great job. Sorry, the old people weren't very nice. They were older than me, right? Ask your mom when I come for fish and chips.


Sam Petersen said...

Laurel, great post. Loved it. I'm sorry I missed Bodega Bay's Clam Chowder day and will try for next year. A lesson learned: don't forget to check in regularly with Kathlene (and clever guests) at their Bodega Bay Life blog.

Cherrie said...

Very entertaining post! When I came to visit your lovely Bodega Bay, I ate at the Tide's. I loved their clam chowder! Wish I could come visit again so I could try the others!

Kathlene said...

Thanks Cherrie! The Tides has delicious clam chowder! Laurel was so bummed when her's spilled. :-(

Anonymous said...

loved the post and all the photos and detailed descriptions!! thanks for sharing with all of us.


Anonymous said...

Laurel, I loved your guest appearance. You have a wonderful
flair for writing in the now. I cannot wait to have fish and chips at the Boathouse and I don't even know where it is.

You clearly have a gift for writing and for relating your experience to
others. Please don't give up on all old people. I don't know what has
gotten into the elderly people who are being so rude out there. Maybe they were afraid the restaurant would run out of chowder. People get weird when they get caught up in scarcities. Your thought about soup, not sass seems right on.

Good for you. Excellent job on this assignment.

Reverend Mary

Anonymous said...

Hey Kathlene,

Hope all is well. Your daughter did a great job on this I enjoyed it, maybe one year I will play visitor!


Anonymous said...

Laurel you may have a future in copy writing! Enjoyed your posts and please give us a call next year and we'll join you

Anonymous said...

I think you are very accurate in your conclusion of the wondeful clam chowder available in our tiny village. But, the "fries" at Boathouse are "chips", hence "fish and chips". Just an observation. Thanks for the blog on our peaceful piece of heaven, it's fun.

Leah said...

Love your daughter's post. When we come to visit Bodega Bay we've only eaten fish and chips at the Sandpiper. Would your daughter say the boathouse fish & chips are better than Sandpiper?

Kathlene said...

They're really different experiences. The Sandpiper is sit-down restaurant with menus and waiters. The Boat House is more rustic, kinda like an old-fashioned beach snack bar where you order at the cash register then find a seat.

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