Monday, June 25, 2007

Heading to L.L. Bean? Stop at Cindy's for the best fried clams on Earth

Freeport, Maine is best known as the home of L. L. Bean, and a growing number of outlet stores.

On a shopping trip in the summer of 2003, we decided to take a slightly slower drive back to our hotel in Portland, and instead of getting right on Interstate 295, we went south on Route 1, and made a wonderful discovery - Cindy's seafood stand.

The sign said CLOSED and we drove past, but one of the kids said she saw a light on, so I made a quick U-turn and pulled into the driveway.

I didn't know if business had been slow that day, or if owner Bob Pottle and his crew were just taking pity on famished clam fanatics; but they were extremely gracious, staying late to make us some magnificent munchies. The food was so good, we drove back for lunch the following day.

Cooking whole-belly clams is a delicate process. If they are undercooked, they can be really disgusting, with soggy dough falling off. If they are cooked too long, they become rocks or ashes.

Bob has perfected the art. His clams are crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, with the best batter I've ever tasted (also used on mushrooms and onion rings).

Clam chowder is heavenly. Lobsters, either whole or in chunks on a roll, are fresh and flavorful. Depending or market conditions, you might find a big bargain.

I got some neat stuff at L.L. Bean; but the next time I went to Freeport, it was for clams, mushrooms and onion rings, not fishing rods, moccasins and back packs; and I go back twice each summer.

Hours are 11 AM to 7 PM Sunday through Friday (closed on Saturday). The address is 174 Yarmouth Road (Route 1), just north of Exit 17 from Interstate 295. You can call 207-865-1635. When summer ends, the food stops flowing, and host Bob Pottle and family switch gears to sell Halloween and Christmas items.

The food stand has been open since 1980 and is named in honor of Bob's daughter. The signs don't mention the SUPERB fried clams and steamers, but it's not a secret anymore. Bob has very high standards. If he can't get perfect clams, he doesn't buy any. Bob is justifiably proud of his cooking and baking, and if he senses that you're a serious eater, he'll probably offer you samples of some of the items you haven't ordered.

Cindy's is more than a restaurant. It's also kind of a museum and amusement park. There's lots to keep you busy while your food is being prepared. You can get souvenir T-shirts, mugs and more, and pose for phunny you can leave with more than a smile and a full belly.

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