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The “stuffies” at Kittery are wonderful. Overflowing with fennel-flavored Italian sausage, they’re Brooklyn on the half-shell.
In the 1630s, when the first Dutch settlers started poking around in the swamps between what are now Carroll Gardens and Park Slope with an eye toward turning it into agricultural land, what they found were Canarsie Indians pulling clams from the Gowanee (“leader” in their Indian language) Creek. Eventually, it and the complex of waterways known by the English as Mill Creek would be dredged and consolidated into the Gowanus Canal, the new spelling reflecting the Dutch version of the name. Since the earliest days, Brooklyn has had a love affair with the clam.
Kittery’s fried clam plate is bursting with the soft-shell clams sometimes called “piss clams” in Brooklynese.
Indeed, in the 19th century, the shores and beaches of Brooklyn were loaded with carts selling raw clams and seaside clam shacks. It seems the borough’s residents couldn’t get enough of them. By the early part of the 20th century, Sheepshead Bay was clam central, with perhaps a dozen clam shacks–many on stilts–lining the waterway. One gave rise to Lundy’s, a seafood palace that lay claim to being the largest restaurant in the world. Another, and the only place that remains from that era, is Randazzo’s Clam Bar, where fried clams, raw clams, chowders, and rolls are still sold.
But despite some lean years, the clam is making a comeback in Brooklyn, and the focal point is in the area surrounding the old Gowanee. Littleneck opened last year on Third Avenue, and this year we have Kittery, which is the subject of this week’s Counter Culture review.
While the place takes its name from Maine, much of the menu is pure Brooklyn, including clam rolls, fried clam platters, baked clams (called “stuffies), and, of course, raw clams on the half-shell–a challenging dish which all but Brooklynites may disdain to eat. There’s clam chowder, too, of the New England variety. What’s up with that? Well, the red, Italian-influenced variety is called Manhattan clam chowder for a variety of historic reasons. (Go to Randazzo’s, and you’ll find both types served. The creamy type may be originally Dutch.)
Served in a white enamel bowl with oyster crackers, Kittery’s clam chowder features the bivalve flavor front and center, modified with cream, chives, and bacon.