Best Clam Shacks and Ice Cream: Portsmouth to Old Orchard

Ice cream at the beach (Photo by Stillman Rogers)

Ice cream at the beach (Photo by Stillman Rogers)

Beach season is here, and friends heading to the NH and southern Maine seacoast asked me where to find the best clam shacks and ice cream stands. I grew up on that coast, and return lemming-like (do lemmings really do that?) each summer, so I was ready with my favorite places for these and other shore treats.

Ice Cream: Hands-down favorite in Brown’s, on the road to Nubble Light (on Cape Neddick) at York Beach. Take the first right just at the northern end of Long Sands – you’ll want to see this iconic light house anyway, sitting photo-ready on its little island just off the end of the point. Expect lines at Brown’s on weekends or hot evenings; it’s no secret, but worth the wait. Station someone to watch for an available picnic table and grab it while the rest of your family stands in line.

While you’re in the neighborhood, stop for saltwater taffy at The Golden Rod, in the little cluster of shops at Short Sands. You can watch it made there, and carry off a box of “Goldenrod Kisses” just as summer people and locals have been doing since it opened in 1896. They also make their own ice cream there, which you can eat at an old-fashioned marble counter – a better choice than Brown’s if your beach day is upset by rain.

For fried clams, I head for The Ice House on the road to Newcastle (Rte. 1B, which turns off Rte. 1A just south of Portsmouth). There’s no view or atmosphere, but the clams are delicious. The Ice House is on the right, just past BG’s Boat House, which is also good for seafood, especially when you can get a table on the back porch overlooking the water. Farther up the coast, I go to The Clam Shack, near the bridge in Kennebunkport.

Farther north, at Old Orchard Beach, you’ll find the coast’s best fries at Pier French Fries on Old Orchard Street, which runs inland opposite the pier. Pier French Fries is easy to spot by the line crowding the street in front. They ought to know how to make them by now – they’ve been here since 1932.

While you’re in the neighborhood, drop in at Ocean Park Soda Fountain on Temple Ave. in Ocean Park, an old fashioned place south of Old Orchard Beach. Enjoy a root beer float while the kids work on their ice cream cones.

Back to the clams, what’s my definition of good fried clams? Easy: big juicy bellies so fresh they still have the briny flavor of the sea, rolled in crumbs (not dipped in batter like fish-‘n-chips) and fried quickly at exactly 360 degrees, so they cook without the crumbs absorbing a lot of fat. And never overcooked — the consistency should be clams, not strips of garden hose. The “crust” should be crisp, not taste of oil and not overshadow the clams.

For more suggestions, and all things travel on the Maine coast, consult the Maine Travel Maven.

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About mstrav

Barbara Radcliffe Rogers is the author and co-author of more than 30 travel guidebooks covering destinations as far-flung as Newfoundland and Spain's Canary Islands. Wherever she travels, local food is a passion, whether it's hunting for white truffles in Italy's Piemonte or sampling farmstead cheeses in Vermont or Normandy. When at home -- and while traveling -- she loves to ski, kayak and relax afterwards in a spa.
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3 Responses to Best Clam Shacks and Ice Cream: Portsmouth to Old Orchard

  1. franfolsom says:

    I agree about the french fries Pier French Fries are the best. I have not tried Brown’s ice cream yet. The little girl in the picture is so adorable with her little hands wrapped around her cone. Is she related to you?

    • mstrav says:

      Yup, she’s my favorite model and travels with us at every possible opportunity. Just don’t try to get the ice cream cone out of those little hands! She might get dangerous.

  2. Stillman Rogers says:

    Reblogged this on Best Getaways and commented:
    On the other hand, if you happen to be along the New Hampshire or Maine coast this summer….

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