Best Chowders in Massachusetts
As long as there have been fishing and cooking, there has been chowder. In one form or another, over many centuries, coastal cooks have served up some variation of local seafood simmered in a thick liquid—a dish more stew than soup. On the northwest coast of France, 17th-century fishermen cooked their concoctions in large cauldrons called chaudières, and some say this is the origin of the word “chowder.” Others say the word comes from jowter, a 16th-century Cornish term for “fishmonger.”
But no matter. Chowder is ours now, an object of fierce loyalty, and a creamy clam stew—thickened with potatoes and milk, seasoned with bacon and onions and brine, and served with common crackers—holds a particular place of honor in Massachusetts. Maybe it’s because the waters off Cape Cod are prime breeding grounds for the quahogs that are its central ingredient; maybe it’s because Bay Staters take pride in panning the clear-broth chowder of neighboring Rhode Island. All that matters is that they love it enough to produce some noteworthy renditions all over the state.
Chatham Pier Fish Market
Served in takeout containers, this chowder puts on no airs. But it has incredible fresh-from-the-sea flavor, a hint of smoke from the bacon, and just the right amount of milk to thicken it without overwhelming it. 45 Barcliff Ave. Extension, Chatham. 508-945-3474; chathampierfishmarket.com
Between the creamy chowder, stuffed with chopped quahogs and accented with sweet onions, and the sunset views over the harbor, this little shingled Martha’s Vineyard shack draws a hungry crowd during peak season. 29 Basin Road, Menemsha. 508-645-9239; thebitemenemsha.com
The oyster crackers are house-made, and the stew is a hearty mixture of quahogs and cherrystones for intense clam flavor. A light hand with the flour keeps the chowder saucy, not gloppy. Westin Copley Place, 10 Huntington Ave., Boston. 617-424-7425; turnersboston.com
For a place that branded itself on its meat, Kelly’s does surprisingly well with seafood. We found a sprightly, creamy broth, rich in potatoes; it’s a bit lighter on the clams, but fully aromatic and delicious. Locations in Allston, Danvers, Medford, Natick, Revere (where it all began), and Saugus. 781-233-5700; kellysroastbeef.com
Farmer Brown’s Farm Stand
Farmer Bob Brown and his wife, Kathy, have found their true calling in the chowder they serve at this year-round market. It’s a thick, stick-to-your-ribs style, supremely creamy, but fresh and brimming with clams. 210 Maple St., Middleton. 978-774-7110; farmerbrownsfarmstand.com
This tiny North End eatery serves some of the best seafood in Boston. The chowder trades the usual thickened base for a vibrant, intensely clammy broth. The secret? It’s lightly enriched with milk, cream, and potatoes and accented with a hint of oregano. 63 Salem St., Boston. 617-742-3474; neptuneoyster.com
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.