Some philosopher – I think it may have been Aristotle or Plato – once said that men always have one of three things on their minds. In case you didn’t know, the male “short list” consisted of food, sex and money. Not to get too personal, but two of those items still apply to me. OK, maybe all of them.
No. 1 on the list at my advanced age is food. I know this might surprise you, but the Fairfield restaurant that I miss the most is – surprise! – Howard Johnson’s.
I know, the empty shell of a building is still there near the Interstate 80 onramp, but it’s been more than 25 years since they last served food. It’s not that we thought that HoJo’s had a gourmet menu, but there was one item that was worth the 14-minute drive from our home in Woodcreek to North Texas Street. I believe it was a feature only on Fridays, which was just as well, because we might have eaten there seven nights a week. I’m talking about the – get this – all-you-can-eat fried clams. Was I in a position to judge that they were quite possibly the world’s best?
To answer that question, I’ll point out that Clare and I lived in Somerville, Mass., while I was going to Boston University. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that we went to every inexpensive seafood restaurant in the greater Boston area, so we became novice experts on fried clams.
To offer some historical perspective, if it was fresh seafood we wanted, the fishmonger just a few blocks away sold raw steamers – “steamers” are clams, for you westerners – for 25 cents a pound. You figure it out: 10 pounds of clams in the shell came to $3.25, which even for a “starving” student was affordable. Especially because Clare had a real job at Xerox in nearby Waltham.
The phrase “sticker shock” probably doesn’t apply to restaurant menus, but, maybe 25 years ago, we were living in Fairfax – not Fairfield – when we went to Alfred’s (or maybe Albert’s) near the Broadway tunnel in San Francisco. I ordered a dozen clams – raw, on the half shell – and paid about $7.50. That may have been the last time that I ordered raw clams in a fancy restaurant. Now suppose you wanted to go to the “source” to get, if not clams, then oysters. That would be Johnson’s Oyster Farm in the town of Marshall, in Marin County.
Johnson’s specialized in raw oysters and they sold them by the dozen. There was one problem, which might just have been mine. The oysters were so big that swallowing them was, well, an ordeal. You couldn’t cut them in half, since there was no silverware at the oyster farm. Biting these monsters in half was not really appetizing, so they had to go down whole and raw. For some reason, this took all the fun out of eating oysters.
Fairfield did have a great fish purveyor on North Texas Street. It was run by a gentleman named Calvin, who not only had a wonderful selection of fresh shellfish, but knew everything about seafood. Calvin’s closed more than 20 years ago, probably around the time that Howard Johnson’s shut its doors.
What’s more, his prices didn’t seem to have gone up much since the year or so we lived in Somerville.
I have to confess that I miss the clams at Howard Johnson’s so much, that the other night as I was distracted by the name of a 13th century Japanese warlord named – you guessed it – Hojo.
Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]