Quahog clams claim to make the best chowder

But don’t tell that to a cherrystone.

opened quahog clams

Four quahog clams will make enough chopped clams and juice for a quart of chowder.

Most everybody has a favorite clam: clams for “casino”, clams for “raw on the half shell”, clams for steaming, and clams for chowder. In New England, the quahog is used primarily for chowder, and some people insist it’s the best clam for that purpose. Quite simply, many people like its flavor. For me, I like the fact it’s large enough so you only need to open a few. It’s shell is hard and thick so it stays fresh longer, but the flip side is it takes strong hands to do the prying.

Enter Chowder! There’s nothing like a little steam to coax those adductor muscles to relax, thereby allowing you to slip a sturdy oyster knife in for a quick twist. Now you can pry out the clam and it will still be raw – ready for chopping.

Clams thrive world-wide. Every region has its unique variety. The Connecticut shore is no exception. What we have in Groton and Mystic, Connecticut is a very special place to experience the joy of clams: Grossman’s Fish Market.

Several residents at this “home” where I have found myself living, have sung the praises of Grossman’s so I figured I’d better make Hugh and Phil happy and get down there to see what the hoopla was all about…and glad I did. Not only did I find a sparkling clean, neat, refreshingly not fishy-smelling market, but I also happened upon its part owner, Sean Coleman. He invited me back for a proper interview, and this is when I learned of the place’s local history.

Incidentally, perhaps the air was so delightfully clear because all the trays of fresh fish are just that: Fresh!

Where it all began:

Grossman's in 1916

Otto Grossman on his doorstep in 1916.

Otto Grossman opened a small, roadside fish market and raw bar in 1916 on the route between Mystic, Connecticut and the adjoining port town of Noank. It was open year-round and featured a raw bar.  And it grew!

He painted notices of specials on the front window. One such sign read “SORD FSIH”. When a customer came in and pointed this out to Otto, he simply said, “I know, and you’re now in my market” – or not exactly that same quote, but you get the idea. Otto was smart, clever, and knew human nature. He also knew that to thrive, you had to have continual access to the best product at the best price.

Eventually, Otto sold the business to its second owner, Earl Bradshaw, who had been an employee. He had absorbed Otto’s dedication to a strong work ethic and procuring the finest fish available. Earl, in turn, continued to grow the business, still on the Mystic to Noank roadside.

Enter Peter Danesi III. Pete worked for Earl, allowing Otto’s spirit to transcend through the years, resulting in Pete’s acquiring Grossman’s Fish Market in 1960. While still thriving “as is”, Pete added a little at a time, such as a raw bar counter. For a while, he offered gourmet cheeses, but that ended when they became so popular the supermarkets stole his thunder.

And then the fun began:

rowboat with herbs

Fresh herbs to flavor the popular seafood wraps

Grossman’s thrives as a family affair. The wholesale business continues strong. The building in Groton has been gradually transformed into its present glory: a store bursting with fish and everything connected to them. They have established a brand now, complete with T-shirts, mugs and glassware, spices prepared to their liking, canned goods, and other paraphernalia.

There is some seating both inside and out for those who want to set a spell for a quick cup of chowder before taking their catch home. The two outside umbrella-covered picnic benches sit beside the rowboat, filled with fresh herbs that are used in the deli wraps they make and serve there.

A catering service has been added now – Beachside Catering. This is available in New London County.

Their proudest achievement:

This will be the third year for their OPERATION LOBSTER DINNER. Pete, Sean and family are committed to community involvement and started an event for local military families to express thanks for their service to the country. With the help of businesses that have chipped in, they put on a free complete lobster dinner for 400. It was held at their Groton market in the past, but has grown so popular that it will be held on base this year.

The proceeds will be given to “Work vessels for Veterans” – a Noank-based charity providing boats and other craft so veterans will have a way to make a living when they return from oversea duty. Last year, this produced roughly $5,000. This year, they hope to clear $10,000.

clam chowder and lobster bisque

Grossman's brand label

To sum it up – if you are in the Groton or Mystic area, a visit to Grossman’s will be worth your time. It is only a few minutes off I-95 at the eastern end of the New London/Thames River bridge. This is the second most confusing exit in the U.S. – the first is in New London itself. Update your GPS and follow “the voice” to 479 Gold Star Highway, or CT-184. Enjoy!

See Grossman’s website for more exciting products: food, cooking tools, T-shirts, mugs, glasses, etc.

And from Assateague, explanation of a clam’s anatomy, (truly fascinating) see: Insides of a clam.
A Google map to get you between the two Grossman’s: Groton to Noank

For other Striped Pot articles by this author, click here.
Except for the photo of Grossman’s first market in Noank, all photos are © 2011, Gail Hunter.

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