West End Girls, But It's EAST END CLAM PIE!
I’ve never been shy to self-depreciate but this post is gonna make me sound like an idiot. It’s because admittedly, I have a childlike knowledge of The Hamptons and actually all of Long Island for that matter. Heavy traffic, Diddy’s White Party, Ina & Jeffery and the New York Islanders. Other than that, everything else I know about the tip of Long Island, I learned from watching Kourtney & Khloe Take the Hamptons.
But then over the pandemic I discovered something amazing about Long Island that I never knew, the Bonac Clam Pie. That and thanks to a DNA test, I found out I have a long lost biological sister with eight kids who has lived out there my entire life, but I’ll save that for another blog post.
No, Not Clam Pizza
Bonac Clam Pie, not to be confused with the New Haven Style clam pizza, is a hearty seafood dish that originated in East Hampton in the mid 1600's. Centuries old recipes brought over from Europe and perfected in the New World have been passed down from mother to daughter and father to son from the original Bonackers who settled the area. Along with his wife Kim, Clint Bennett Jr., a 14th generation Bennett, whose ancestors worked side by side with the local Indians learning how to fish the Bay, opened Bennett Shellfish over 6 years ago selling oysters, clams, lobsters and fish; anything fresher is still swimming in the ocean. And Kim might just make the best clam pie on the East End. If you don’t believe me, ask the Facebook page Bonac Eats, a popular group embracing Bonacker culture and cuisine, and they will be quick to let you know.
All clam pies generally contain the same core ingredients; locally raked quahogs chopped in their juice, chunky cut potatoes and island grown celery and onions cooked in a creamy, briny broth, baked inside a flaky pie crust. Imagine a thick clam chowder in a bread bowl served in a chickenless pot pie instead. And no two recipes are exact. Some are made with rendered bacon, others add handpicked herbs from their garden. And then there are some pies made with an intensely flavored homemade clam liquor that will trick your senses into believing you are sipping directly from the ocean. TRUTH BE TOLD- I wrote most of this before actually tasting a clam pie. I JUST ATE IT! 😍 If you've ever enjoyed a chowder, you will LOVE THIS! Kim's clam pie is 🔥- Top 5 Food of this year!
Remind me what a Bonacker is?
Nowadays Bonacker is the term for any resident of East Hampton. But it was originally the name given to the working class English inhabitants who settled the area to the northside of town known as Springs; be warned it's definitely not “the” Springs or you will immediately be outed as a foreigner. To paraphrase a NY Times article, the well-off built fancy houses along main street while the working-class fishermen, baymen and farmers built their community next to the Accabonac Creek earning them the nickname.
Unlike many other colonial seaside settlements from Virginia to Maine who made pies filled with all types of seafood, it’s only the tip of Long Island where you can find the clam pie. Clams were often thought of as peasant food or something only "Indians" ate. Thankfully the Bonackers disagreed making this shellfish dish exclusively their own.
Where Can I Get It?
In addition to Bennett Shellfish, ask a local who makes the best clam pie and they might refer you to a neighbor down the street or their second cousin once removed. So unless you have months to dedicate infiltrating the Bonac social scene for an invite to "Jack" or "Paul's" house for supper, you are best off planning to come out during the annual East Hampton Town Trustee’s Largest Clam Contest which features the best homemade clam pies and chowders.
Also check out Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett, another well regarded market for their frozen clam pies. And on your trip in between make sure you stop off at the roadside Clam Bar at Napeague . Enjoy their tuna app, fried chunks of rare yellowfin in a zeppole like tempura batter served with a horseradish mayo.
It turns out I was an idiot. The East End is much more than just celebrity sightings and Billy Joel song references. There are a lot of picturesque downtowns filled with salt of the earth locals, insanely manicured hedges all over and a few amazing wineries along the way. And just enough city attitude to remind you that you are still in New York. I'm definitely hooked!