NARRAGANSETT, RI - Maine has lobster and Massachusetts has fried clams. But when it comes to summertime dining in Rhode Island, it's all about Clam Cakes, and nobody makes them better than Aunt Carrie's.
Located in Narragansett, Rhode Island, Aunt Carrie's has been frying up these lumpy bumpy golden brown balls of goodness for nearly a century. As legend has it, Carrie Cooper invented the clam cake back in early nineteen hundreds by adding fresh clams to her corn fritter recipe. Today, those same clam cakes are served up by Aunt Carrie's current owner, Elsie Foy, who's been working here since she was a teenager.
"This is where I met my husband. Aunt Carrie was my husband's grandmother."
Through all those years, not much has changed, especially when it comes to making their clam cakes.
"We have our own special flour mixture, with our secret ingredients," Foy said. "Then you just add some clams and a little bit of water and some eggs. You mix it all up well and drop it in some nice, hot oil. We have three huge old fashioned doughnut Fryolators and you can put eight dozen in each one of those."
On a busy day, those fryers are always full, with batch after batch being fried to perfection.
"It's nice and fluffy inside," she described, "still moist. You can still see the steam coming out of this clam cake."
Since they're all made by hand, and dropped using antique spoons, Foy said each clam cake comes out in its own unique shape.
"One year we had a collection of a zoo going here, that was like, 'oh that one looks like a duck, that one looks like a giraffe.'"
But whatever the shape, Aunt Carrie's clam cakes are always golden and crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside, and loaded with plenty of clams. Taste just one and you'll know why they're an Ocean State institution. And here's a secret tip:
"If you've never had one and you tell me that, I'll just give you one to try," Foy revealed.
Just about everyone who comes to Aunt Carrie's orders some clam cakes, but that's certainly not all they order - especially when they get a look at the overloaded Seafood Platter.
"We're going to give you all on one big plate: a couple of whole clams, a couple of strip clams, a couple of shrimp, a couple of scallops, a piece of fish, some French fries and one clam cake."
Another big hit is the classic Lobster Roll, and for a twist on the traditional version, check out the Lobster BLT.
"My son-in-law , he puts bacon on anything. So we tried it on the lobster sandwiches and so now we have an ACBLT - an Aunt Carrie's Bacon, Lobster and Tomato sandwich."
To go along with your sandwich, how about some soup - or more specifically, chowder? The classic is a thin South County style made from Aunt Carrie's original 1920 recipe, but you can also get it with some creamy milk or tangy tomato. No matter how you order it, a couple clam cakes for dunking are a must.
"You can eat clam cakes by themselves, but to have chowder without clam cakes - I can't imagine that,"Foy said.
As you can probably tell, everything at Aunt Carrie's is old school, from the rustic dining room, to the old fashioned fryers, to their mid-century mixer.
"We call it Betsy," Foy said. "It's from World War Two, and this is what we mix our bread in in the morning."
That's right. Every morning the kitchen bakes up big beautiful loaves of homemade Raisin Cinnamon bread.
"I don't know how it started, why it started, but we've always made the raisin cinnamon bread and some people will ask for that first," Foy explained. "It's just gooey goodness."
Most of the meals here start with a basket of that delicious bread, and when it comes to a full-on feast, nothing beats the value or volume of the Rhode Island Shore Dinner.
"You start off with a bowl of chowder and four clam cakes," Foy described. "And then we give you a full pan of steamers, which is almost two pounds of steamers, and then we give you some fish and chips after that. If you're not full from there, you can have a one and a quarter pound lobster. And of course you get dessert after that."
As for dessert, there are all kinds of homemade pies, like Blueberry, Apple, and Banana Cream, plus classic New England Indian Pudding, and the top selling Strawberry Shortcake.
"That warm biscuit, those cold strawberries, and that sweet whipped cream," Foy described. "How do you get any better than that?"
You really can't, because at Aunt Carrie's, customers can take comfort knowing that same great food will always be there.
"We've tried to keep the same traditions. My husband was third generation. My kids are fourth generation. We're serving the same kind of foods and menus that they did back in the 1920's and 30's, so people know they're going to come back and have the same thing. And hopefully it's giving them a really good fuzzy memory and they want to come back and celebrate that again."
Aunt Carrie's is at 1240 Ocean Road in Narragansett, Rhode Island, or online at auntcarriesri.com.
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