New Amsterdam Market won’t officially be back in business until June 5, but two Sundays ago, they kicked off the 2011 season with Floralia, a festival dedicated to Flora (the goddess of flowers and vegetation). Goddesses are cool and all, but I was more interested in the news of fried clam bellies at the market. Fried clam bellies (whole soft-shell clams) are one of my favorite foods of all time. Many summers ago, I used to go every weekend to a clam shack out in Stamford for fried clam bellies. Most people in Stamford waited for the local Dairy Queen to open for the season. Me? I was all about the clam shack. So May 1, as soon as we woke up, David, Romeo, and I set out on a mission to eat fried clam bellies.
The market was hopping that day, and the line for Ipswich Fried Clams was insane. In fact, the line was so long, they had to move it off to the side so as not to block the other vendors. When it was your turn, one of the market staff would call you to the table. For the most part, this system worked. Unfortunately, there were a few people who unknowingly (and some knowingly) tried to skip the line. These people, however, did not succeed. Not on my watch.
After about a twenty minute wait, I finally got my hands on a fried clam belly sandwich ($6), a Martin’s potato roll filled with three to four fried clam bellies. Pickles, lemon, and tartar sauce made with pickled ramps were served on the side. The clams — dipped in evaporated milk and breaded in flour and stone-ground white corn from Kenyon’s Grist Mill — were well-fried and well-seasoned with a beautiful, thin crust. However, the clams were a bit on the small side and somewhat lean, meaning they didn’t have the fat, creamy bellies I adore. Also, I would have appreciated more clam bellies per roll for the price. As for the ramp tartar sauce, it was good (thick and tangy), but considering the ramp flavor was very mild, I could have done without it. Especially if it had any part in inflating the price. Still, considering a cab ride to Beekman Street is a hell of a lot easier than hauling it to Connecticut or Long Island, six dollars isn’t so horrible. I’ll probably be queuing up for clam bellies again in the coming weeks.
For something more substantial, Marlow & Sons were grilling goat and rabbit meat over a wood fire. I opted for goat ($7) and it came piled high on a grilled flatbread drizzled with harissa yogurt and topped with caramelized onions, a pickled ramp, and fresh cilantro. A little more punch from the harissa would have been welcome, but overall it was quite satisfying. Goat, harissa, and yogurt work wonderfully together.
For dessert, I stopped by Liddabit Sweets for a bag of beer & pretzel caramels ($6.75), made with Ronnybrook heavy cream, Martin’s Pretzels, and beer from Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn Brown Ale and East India Pale Ale). I kid you not, these were the best caramels I ever ate in my whole life. Soft in texture, almost like taffy or yut (엿, Korean rice candy), the caramels practically oozed of butter and malty beer. And the pretzel bits inside added just enough contrasting texture and a nice, salty bite. I seriously can’t imagine a better tasting caramel.
For David, who found the beer aroma in the caramels too strong (is he loco?), I got a blueberry-jasmine ice pop ($3.50) from People’s Pops. $3.50 is a lot for an ice pop, but the ones from People’s really taste of fruit. Once in a while, it’s worth it.
New Amsterdam Market will be back Sunday, June 5 (11am-4pm). Until then, Liddabit Sweets can be found at Essex Street Market, Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg, and People’s Pops at various locations. As for Ipswich Fried Clams, you’ll have to wait. I’m hoping they’ll return bigger and fatter. When it comes to soft-shell clams, size matters.