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Worth a trip: Fried whole belly clams at New England Seafood Company Fish Market

"Our friends in Boston laugh that we have to say 'whole belly' clams. In the Northeast, that's a given," said Jeff Mazza, who with his brother Bob, owns Lakeview's New England Seafood Company Fish Market (3341 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-871-3474). Ironically, Mazza can thank a fellow Bay Stater for the fact that Midwesterners need to be told that the Mazzas are keeping it real.

A clam has a hard bland appendage known as a foot that it uses for digging; the chewier, more flavorful part is known as the belly, which includes the siphons, stomach and gills. Clam digger Thomas Soffron of Ipswich, Mass. didn't like the squishy belly, so he cut them off and sold slices of the bland foot to the Howard Johnson hotel chain, which introduced fried clam strips to many landlocked Americans.

Unfortunately, the belly holds the flavor. Thankfully, the Mazzas are avenging Soffron's mistake quite nicely. Mazza said, "My great grandfather left a beach house on Salisbury Beach (Massachusetts). Every summer we'd eat lobster rolls and juicy fried whole clams sitting on a deck overlooking the ocean. Our clams are about one thing: missing home."

Bob captures that taste of their childhood by dredging fresh whole Ipswich clams in a batter of corn flour and cornmeal seasoned with a dash of Old Bay and fries them to order. The result is a crisp, airy exterior and slightly chewy interior ($22.75 includes three quarters of a pound of clams, fries and cole slaw. A smaller 6- to 7-ounce portion of clams only costs $12.95). The belly lends a slight foie gras-like funk and the clams drip with juice. After popping a whole order, you might see Bob Mazza's work as some kind of culinary wizardry. Jeff sees it another way, "He's not one of those culinary school geniuses. This isn't rocket science, just good food from the heart."

Michael Nagrant is a RedEye special contributor. Reporters visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. redeye@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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