The Clam Bar is parked in the former location of Benny’s Famous Fried Clams on West Commercial Street. Photo by Meredith Goad

First, a little advice before you hop in the car and head over to The Clam Bar, a new food trailer parked where Benny’s Famous Fried Clams used to be on the western end of Commercial Street: Wear clothes you don’t mind having to throw in the wash right after you eat. The food here can be messy, even with plenty of napkins available, but it’s worth it.

The food trailer is a place holder, in a sense, until the owners can get the old Benny’s building (emphasis on old) renovated. That process is taking a lot longer than expected, according to Garrett FitzGerald of Bar Harbor Lobster Co., the business behind The Clam Bar. FitzGerald also owned the Royale Lunch Bar on Union Street, which closed last year, a victim of the pandemic.

Late one Friday afternoon, I decided to drive by The Clam Bar and see how crowded the place was, thinking I must be crazy to deliberately fight Friday traffic headed for I-295 and what surely would be crowds of locals and post-Labor Day tourists getting a jump on the weekend. Fortunately, I got there early enough that when I arrived I found the place practically empty – although it soon started filling up with people dropping by for food or a drink.

Jalisco steamers swimming in a spicy broth with a little brisket. Photo by Meredith Goad

The menu is small, but everything on it is tempting. I had planned to go with all clams – a bowl of the Jalisco steamers and a clam cake sandwich I’d seen online – but the sandwich wasn’t on the menu that day. So I went with the steamers and a loaded hot dog. I don’t usually eat hot dogs unless I’m at the ballpark, so this would be a treat for me.

The trailer also sells cocktails, beer and wine, including Bluet wild blueberry sparkling wine. It was Friday, a nice day, and I knew I would be there a while, so I decided to indulge. A margarita would have made more sense, but I went with a painkiller ($10) so I could take a photo to send to my sister. It’s an inside joke too long to go into here, but we often enjoy a painkiller when we see each other, which isn’t very often since she lives so far away. She always sends a photo when she has one without me. Now it was my turn.

The guy who took my order mixed my drink quickly and sent me off to one of the half-dozen nearby picnic tables to wait for the food. It didn’t take long, about 10 minutes, and he brought it to my table. He wasn’t just being nice because I noticed he did this for everyone.

The steamers ($16) arrived in a deep bowl covered with a lid to keep them hot. They were swimming in a consommé spiced with jalapenos, shishito peppers, and onions. Also floating in the broth – and scattered on some of the steamers – were pieces of brisket, something you don’t usually see served with clams, but it was delicious. There were nine steamers in my bowl, and the spice level was perfect. The one drawback? This dish was really messy, even with a full napkin dispenser on the table. It was a little chilly when I left the house, so I had thrown on a brand new sweater, which soon had drippings all over it. Just a warning to other customers like me who don’t always think things through.

The loaded red snapper hot dog at The Clam Bar in Portland.

The hot dog ($10) was a red snapper nestled into a lightly grilled, buttery split-top bun and covered with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms, cojita cheese and chili ketchup. Another messy dish to eat, it came with a big pile of kettle-cooked potato chips.

Also on the menu that day was a lobster roll with citrus slaw and crema on brioche for $25, and oysters at three for $10 or a dozen for $32.

FitzGerald tells me that sometime in October – maybe around Indigenous Peoples’ Day – the food trailer will likely transition to new hours and a new menu, one that is “a reinvention of Royale” and that serves coffee for the cold months. The Clam Bar already included the Royale porchetta sandwich as a special on the menu at an event about a week ago.

One more caveat: Between the heavy traffic on Commercial Street and the planes flying really low on their approach to the Portland International Jetport, this is a noisy spot. But those steamers are worth it.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.