I have probably eaten my weight in New England Clam Chowder over the 7 1/2 years that I’ve lived in Portland. It’s an amazing fete really, considering that, before the move, my blood ran red with Manhattan Chowder. Now, to bring up the name, “Manhattan Clam Chowder,” you might as well bring up politics or religion at the dinner table. So, we won’t discuss such things here.
We, my friends, are here to talk about New England Clam Chowder as the latest installment of the “O-Rama” series. This month I copped out a bit by choosing an easy, and popular, spot in town, Gilbert’s Chowder House, located on Commercial Street. I mean, you can’t really go wrong when they’ve got “Chowder” right there in the name.
Vrylena, who had never been to Gilbert’s before now, joined me for a lunch time visit and summed up it up quickly and adequately when she said, “It seems like a place that you take people who are looking for someplace ‘Portlandy.'” Both the interior (naturally it’s a Nautical theme) and the menu (mostly soup and fried seafood) are easy to cozy up to and decidedly unpretentious. It’s a frequent spot for the Missus and I to visit with guests from out of town.
While they have six chowders listed on the menu, I have only ever eaten the clam one and the day we visited it wasn’t much to write home about.
The soup was thick and, thankfully, not gluey (which is a chowder sin in my book). The potatoes dominated the broth and they were mushy to the point of breaking down every time I ran my spoon through the chowder. There was also a sweetness to the base that I couldn’t quite attribute to anything other than a good dose of clam juice. It grew on me with each bite, but was a bit off putting at first.
They state on the menu that bacon resides in all of their chowders, but I was hard pressed to find any hint of it. There was no smokiness or texture to signal its addition. The clams, which should be a highlight for obvious reasons, were minced the point of almost being unrecognizable if not for their color different in the stark white broth. Personally, I like the clams to be plentiful and left chunky, so that each bite contains a good helping of them. Sadly, each bite contained more potato than anything else.
It’s disappointing because I’ve had some wonderful chowder on past visits to Gilbert’s. Perhaps the high turnover in the summer months just makes for a better, and fresher, chowder. Either way, this one fell short of my expectations and failed to impress V. on her first visit in.