Menus these days are massive. They’re thick as a phone book, laminated or bound, and include information ranging from the homeland of each head of lettuce to the distressing fact that shellfish, peanuts and undercooked food can kill you.
Recently, a friend showed me a menu from the Clam Box. Back in the day, that restaurant (on the site of the current Bertucci’s) was one of the most popular spots in town. Westporters — and travelers on the nearby “Connecticut Turnpike” — loved it for its simple seafood, plain interior and
servers waiters who just asked for your order, without introducing themselves by name and complimenting you on your choice.
Its menu was similarly down to earth.
Times have changed, of course. You can’t get a shrimp cocktail for $2, a 2-pound lobster for $10.50, or “loads of french fried onion rings made to order” for 85 cents. (Onion rings “made to order”?)
The Clam Box menu is a window into the past. It was a true seafood restaurant, from appetizers of clams and oysters on the half shell, to clam, oyster and lobster stews; all the way through the “fried fish in season belly burster,” Canadian smelts, Rocky Mountain rainbow trout, Long Island bluefish, Boston “mackrel,” newburg dishes, finnan haddie au gratin, Alaskan King Crab (garlic butter on request), Baltimore crabmeat cakes, and combination lobster meat, crabmeat and shrimp salad (served with potato salad and cole slaw).
Today, the Clam Box is just a memory. So too is Allen’s Clam House. Mansion Clam House is still around — and though it’s one of my favorites, its prices have zoomed beyond clam-shack territory. (The king crab and Maine lobster bear the dreaded “$M/P,” for “market price.”)
Sure, $5 for lobster au gratin isn’t what it used to be. You can’t buy a home in Westport for $25,000 either. (Although the way housing prices are going, you never know…)
But being handed a cardboard menu, with plain-as-day choices in easy-to-understand English, might explain why the Clam Box lasted so long.
And is still remembered so well.