It’s not often that dining forays off College Hill actually deepen my appreciation for the stuff available to us through good ol’ BuDS, but a recent jaunt did the near impossible. I wanted so badly for Blount Clam Shack, the quintessentially New England outpost of fried seafood and 1950s kitsch, to be great. Unfortunately, these expectations proved lofty. Blount’s not awful; it’s just not worth it.
You may recognize the name: Blount is, after all, the supplier of those soups they serve at Jo’s and The Gate. Each year the locally owned franchise goes through some 800,000 pounds of clams, harvested fresh from New England waters, which make for an abundance of hush puppy-esque clam cakes, old-school fried clam rolls and whole belly clam platters. In addition to creamy New England clam chowder and its red Manhattan counterpart, Blount makes a Rhode Island specialty called the clam bake, which tastes like a beachfront cookout poured into a giant stewpot: potatoes, corn, chorizo and clams in a clear, salty broth. Don’t be mistaken; there’s other seafood, too — haddock here and there, scallops and a guest appearance from the lobster roll. They’ve even got a burger section, which is incredibly bewildering since 1) you’re at a clam shack and 2) you’re across the street from Rick’s Roadhouse.
The question is: Do you even want to stick to the clams?! Yes, they are fresh. Tasty, even! And the clam roll, as you can see, came overflowing with crispy-fried bivalves (the toasted bun can’t even handle it right now). But at $15, that’s some damn expensive junk food. I don’t care how good the clams are; if they’re serving packaged tartar sauce, something is wrong. The lobster roll ($12) doesn’t even have flavor or abundance in its favor; it’s watery and flaky, bearing no resemblance to lobster as it should be. As for the clam cakes, they were like something from the Cornballer, tough and brickish and none too clam-ified.
One of Blount’s redeeming qualities, though, is its soup. Gotta hand it to them, the chowder is good. Sure, it’s hard to go wrong with New England clam chowder, and yeah, you might’ve even had better (Blount’s, as you can imagine, is mass-produced and kinda generic-tasting)… but theirs is all the same a stand-up version of the elixir. There’s an all-you-can-eat soup bar, too, which is a cool $5.95, or $2.95 should you opt to tack it onto an entrée from the menu. Note, however, that these soups are minestrone, Italian wedding, and the like — they do not include the chowders and lobster bisque, which are strictly over-the-counter. Good value if you’re into that kinda thing, though.
Counter service, incredibly chipper staff, and grab-and-go options all contribute to Blount’s accessibility. (On our way out, the woman behind the counter beamed and asked, “Was everything GREAT?”) There’s a wall of freezers right near the restaurant’s entryway where you can grab most of the soups, ready-made dips and even entire clam bakes to lug home with you, reheat and make everyone believe you’re a master chef. And the dining room, done up with nautical accents like submarine windows, pictures of Blount from days of yore and light fixtures made out of nets, has a sentimental factor that almost makes you believe you’re at the beach… and not just “seaside” on the Providence River.
All this said, Blount does great business. The clam shack, which only opened recently, was poppin’ at lunchtime, with plenty of hungry families and suited-up businessmen huddled in the booths. It’s a nice addition to its industrial Jewelry District neighborhood, which is also home to Rick’s, Olga’s, and the rather sketchy Apartment. For most Brown students yearning for a meal off-campus, I’d recommend tons of restaurants over this one. But should you ever decide to try it, I don’t think it’ll be going anywhere.
How to get there: Walk down Wickenden toward Whisko, keep walking across the bridge, and walk a couple more blocks. Turn right on Richmond Street (Olga’s will be on your left and Rick’s on your right). Blount’s up the block on the left.
High: Nothing like a big mug of old-fashioned chowda or a heaping pile of golden fried clams…
Low: …well, except for a big bowl of the same chowda, eaten in the comfort of your own Gate, or a heaping pile of fried clams that isn’t f***ing $15.
Bottom line: Blount’s not bad. There’s just not any reason for us to go there.